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Just Quit Calling It Democracy Already

You know that we don’t live in a democracy, right? and that, except for a few, fleeting historical moments, there’s never been democracy, right?

You know that, for instance, there was no democracy in ancient Athens (where women were treated like property, and slavery was rampant, and only property-owning male citizens had any social power), right?

And you know that, as a matter of fact, there’s been no democracy in the USA for most of its history, too, right? That, as a matter of logic, there was no democracy when chattel slavery was widespread, and that democracy was nothing but a racist, sexist fiction when women were essentially the property of men, and all but wealthy, white men were excluded from participating in decision making, right?

Yes, you knew that. How could you not? But did you know that, in spite of the above, democracy has, on occasion, emerged in the USA as well? Well, it has. The social, political, and economic gains achieved by working people, the poor, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, and everyone else who’s managed to shake off some of the weight of the literal and metaphorical chains of the reigning order have been accomplished by democratic deviations from the norm (by breaking the rules, not to mention the laws). That’s where your democracy resides – as an exception to the rule, a rupture in the fabric of the generally anti-egalitarian social order.

As opposed to national histories, one can view this tendency as central to human history itself. As central as it is ubiquitous, one sees it emerging all over. Just look at Standing Rock, North Dakota, the ongoing national prison strike against slave labor, and the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s where democracy is – not to mention in Colin Kaepernick’s spreading disobedience (and in Edward Snowden’s and Chelsea Manning’s resistance, as well as in the millions of other, less visible, refusals occurring all over the planet). Those are the places where democracy lives – not in the rule, but in the egalitarian exception.

In spite of the many generations of egalitarian refusal and resistance, though (resistances that have in many respects brought us to, or created, the present moment), the fact of the matter is that we still inhabit a wholly plutocratic reality. How else is it the case that though a super-majority of people think that the USA should join the rest of the so-called developed world and extend universal healthcare to all we still have a for-profit health care system? Why’s this so? Who does it benefit? Isn’t it because of the golden rule? You know the golden rule, right? I think it’s in the bible: those with the gold (and the weapons, and the influence it buys) make the rules. Isn’t this the holding in Citizens United? Also known as plutocracy – the rule of the ploutos (the rich) – our “representative democracy” represents just this.

Why else is it the case that monetary considerations prevail over all others in this society? Or that, though most in the US don’t want the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be signed into law, and have succeeded in pressuring even Clinton and Trump into rejecting it, Obama nevertheless recently vowed that he would attempt to push it through Congress? Is that democratic? No, it isn’t. It’s plutocratic, though – through and through. So, here’s my question: why don’t we do ourselves a favor and quit referring to this society as democratic? It only makes us sound like fools.

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Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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