Our American friends will go to the polls today for the mid-term congressional elections (and you would have to be very naive to think that the timing of Saddam Hussein's conviction and death sentence, following a manifestly unfair trial, had nothing to do with that fact).
The Founding Fathers of the United States were not perfect - they shared many of the prejudices of their age in matters such as slavery and the treatment of native Americans - but they were intelligent men who recognised their own imperfections. Politicians themselves, they understood that politicians were dangerous and should be treated with profound distrust. In a young nation populated by many fleeing from tyranny in Europe, they had no wish to establish a new tyranny in their new land.
In their wisdom, these men devised a Constitution under which the political system was cleverly designed to ensure that no one individual or group would wield too much power. The federal government was given limited power over the states, and at both state and federal level, power was distributed widely. Legislative, judicial and executive powers were separated, with each of the three branches expected to act as a check on the other two. Later amendments such as the Bill of Rights and the introduction of a term limit on the Presidency further extended these safeguards.
This worked pretty well for a couple of centuries, but however brilliant the Founding Fathers were, they were not fortune tellers. They could not foresee that political parties would evolve from loose agglomerations of like-minded individuals into two fiercely partisan fundraising and vote-getting machines, both of them conspiring to keep independent candidates off the ballot. They could not know that economic power, localised in their own day, would become concentrated in the hands of enormous national and global corporations, enabling the federal government to regulate more and more aspects of American life on the grounds that they were interstate matters. They were unable to predict the ever-increasing power of what the last decent Republican President dubbed "the military-industrial complex", and the influence it could wield through lobbying and massive campaign contributions. They did not anticipate that a small number of mass media outlets would have the reach and power to convince millions of Americans that lies were truth. They certainly could not have known that advanced technology would one day enable the government to spy on the movements and communications of the entire population. And they did not expect that those charged with overseeing elections would abuse their position to gain unfair advantage for one party over another. or that Americans would record their vote by means of machines with negligible security provisions and no audit trail, most of them supplied by a corporation owned by a dedicated supporter of George W. Bush. Last but not least, the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen that the fear and panic engendered by 9/11 would cause many normally sensible people to abandon reason and logic for hysteria.
[Sorry folks, I don't have time today to dig out the links for all this stuff, but a few minutes with Google and you'll find abundant evidence.)
All of which has led us to today, when an evil, greedy and dishonest Republican administration with majority support in both houses of Congress and a generally compliant Supreme Court has been able to disembowel the Constitution, eviscerate human rights guarantees, sweep away restrictions on the kidnap and torture of anyone they consider an enemy, start an illegal war that has cost over half a million lives, devastate the environment in the pursuit of profit, and further enrich the already wealthy while making life ever tougher for the poor. (I could go on all afternoon with a long list of Bush's crimes, but that'll do for starters...)
I have no great hopes for the Democratic Party, which has been frankly feeble in opposition, but even the loss of a majority in one house would lessen George W. Bush's ability to stomp all over the liberties of the American people and the world. And that would be one small step back towards civilisation from the moral morass in which the USA is now sinking, dragging the rest of the world down with it.
This is one election that really matters.