America likes to blow the horn of democracy everywhere in the world, letting everyone know we are the greatest example of what a democracy can be. We believe in urging every nation we can that they should follow our example so they can be more like us.
And yet we are not even a true democracy at all. We really should stop pretending that we are. The all but final ascendancy of Donald Trump to the throne of the president proves how hypocritical we are.
The simplest definition of a democracy is “a form of government in which all eligible citizens are meant to participate equally – either directly or, through elected representatives, indirectly – in the proposal, development and establishment of the laws by which their society is run.”
In theory and intent, and maybe once upon a time, that is what the United States was. We have the basic facade even still that this is how we operate, that all eligible citizens make the decision in who represents us and what our core laws and principles are.
But in every practical way, we are nothing like that. Let’s start with the fact that a very small percentage of Americans actually vote at all. Granted that is not because they do not have the right, but simply due to apathy or a sense that one vote won’t really matter. The truth is according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, voter turnout in the 2012 Presidential election was 57.5%, and Presidential election years are usually the years where we see the most interest in voting as opposed to mid term years. So just over half the people at best determine our leadership and laws.
But I don’t even focus on voter turnout to make my case that ours is not a real democracy. More important is the fact that in our system money and power are weighted the most, not equal representation among the people. It is why almost all senators are wealthy even before they take office. Our system has evolved in such a way that the only people who end up at the highest level and who have the greatest influence on making laws are those with loads of money or those who are backed by loads of money and therefore accept the influence of that money. There is no equal vote between an average citizen who has no influence but to cast a vote on election day and a powerful lobbyist or lobby, like the NRA or the pharmaceutical manufacturers who can put intense pressure on votes in Congress and back candidates with huge amounts of money in elections. The growth of PAC’s or Political Action Committees, essentially spelled doom for our original concept of a democracy. It is why Bernie Sanders resonated with so many. Many, especially young people, see the problem. But unfortunately the way it is is just too hard to overcome.
We really should accept the fact that what we are is an oligarchy. An oligarchy is, according to one definition, “a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.”
Yep. The shoe definitely does fit. Perfectly.
One study from a Princeton and Northwestern University team, which came to the same conclusion about our system said that being an oligarchy explains why “mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren’t in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.”
I am not even saying we should be ashamed of what we are. I am just saying we should stop pretending to be otherwise. If what we are is a system run by the rich and powerful, then let’s go out and be proud of it and preach that to the world. We might actually get more respect for it since it won’t come across as so hypocritical.
Money drives America in every way, including in who rules and how. I accept that and still think we are the best place in the world. In fact the key to our sustained illusion of a democracy is not that most people don’t really know we are ruled by the few with real influence and currency, but it remains because most believe that they too can one day join that oligarchy if only they work hard enough.
Whether that is true or not is a story for another time.
Let’s just deal with one illusion for the moment.