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The Real Problem With US Elections Isn’t Russia

It’s over a year since the presidential elections. Yet some folks seem ever more obsessed about possible Russian influence; what with revelations of Moscow gold spent on Facebook ads for clickbait showing adorable puppies and the outing of alleged Kremlin operative Jill Stein. With the hindsight of history, we can now look back at what some Democrats have called the crime of the century and see how it could have been averted.

What a crime it was! After all, the US is the one that is supposed to have a monopoly on “democracy promotion” in other countries. Our government most recently endorsed the fraudulent re-election of the incumbent in Honduras, who was a product of a coup backed by the Obama administration. And let us not forget Bill Clinton’s well timed loan to good ole Boris Yeltsin in Russia. The WTO should fine Russia for unfair practices and infringement on the US concession.

For, as Obama proclaimed, we are an “exceptional” nation with correspondingly exceptional electoral practices. Where else are corporations considered people and spending obscene amounts of cash to influence politicians protected as free speech? Our press is free to anyone who can afford to buy one. We wouldn’t want rich and powerful foreigners competing with our domestic plutocrats, unless they represent such bastions of zealotry as Saudi Arabia or Israel.

Looking beyond the myopia of the Washington consensus, the most outstanding fact about the 2016 US presidential election was not who won…given the alternative.

No, the most outstanding fact of that election and of elections in the US in general is that close to half of the adult population doesn’t vote. Only 55% of the electorate cast ballots in the hotly contested 2016 presidential race, and that was considered a great achievement. Compared to other developed nations, the US is among the ones with the lowest voter turnouts…and for good reasons besides the unpalatability of the proffered candidates.

It is not for lack of nifty ideas that the US has low voter turnout. Any number of measures could be instituted to increase voter participation in US elections: making election day a national holiday, eliminating voter identification laws, allowing registration on election day, automatic voter registration (AVR), and even making voting mandatory.

The political will to increase voter participation is lacking by the two major parties lest their duopoly be challenged. The consequence is that few measures are enacted to increase political participation, despite lip service to the contrary. Meanwhile plenty is being done to suppress the vote.

What if everyone voted?

Yes, what if everyone voted? The answer is that our politics would look very different than what we have now. For this deep reason, the two-party duopoly wants to keep voter participation low for fear the populace would make the wrong choices. It is an open secret that the Democratic National Committee preferred suffering a Trump victory over allowing even such a compliant progressive as Bernie Sanders getting a shot at the Oval Office.

A group of disproportionately powerful people exist in most societies. These rich and powerful in the US are the ones who have the highest class consciousness. They are called the ruling class. One of their means of exercising power is through the two major political parties.

This ruling class is not monolithic, so they have two political parties to work out and represent differences within their class. As Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere observed, “The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”

While leaders in each of the two parties like to win, their fundamental loyalty is to their class as seen in Al Gore’s refusal to contest the Florida election results in 2000. Likewise, John Kerry admitted he took a fall for his class in 2004. The Democrats, in both instances, chose to accept defeat rather than give the appearance to engaging in uncomely intra-class conflict.

Viable third parties are needed if other class interests are to be represented. Ralph Nader – and he should know – cites measures restricting participation of third parties in the US:

+ Gerrymandering, which ensures that very few incumbents are at risk in one-party districts. Of the 435 seats in the US House of Representatives, only 33 to 40 were considered contested in the 2016 election.

+ Restricting participation in debates. The national debates are controlled by a private non-profit corporation.

+ Setting prohibitive ballot access laws, obstructing third party candidacies. Each state has its own arcane rules making it difficult for a new party to mount a national campaign. The de facto one-party state of California with its “top two primaries” regularly has the bizarre spectacle of two Democrats running for the same office in the general election with all other parties barred from the ballot.

+ Also instituting proportional representation and ranked choice voting (see links for explanations of how these measures would work) would encourage people to vote third party because the spoiler dilemma would be removed.

But most of all, the exorbitant expense of engaging in almost any electoral activity is what limits political access to those who can buy it. If the best that money could buy from the two-party despotism – a cold $2,386,733,696 in 2016 – was a Mr. Trump, we should all be promoting third parties.

Which is the lesser evil?

The problem is not just Trumpism but a more fundamental one of class rule. Barring a challenge to class rule, we’ll at best only get a more mannerly, genteel representative of the rich from the Democratic Party, who will be better at selling their class agenda than the current reigning barbarian.

The idea of relying on the Democratic Party is a seductive interim measure, especially since no third party presently even comes close to contesting for state power. Somehow the Democrats feel in some subjective way to be better than the Republicans. And anyone seems better than Trump.

But reflect for a moment. If the choice is always the lesser evil, then the time for a third party challenge to rule by the rich is never, and the US will continue to spiral into greater evil.

Which of the two major parties is the lesser evil is becoming less clear by the day. It’s an unenviable choice between Clinton threatening to “totally obliterate” Iran with a population of 80 million or Trump’s more recent pronouncements to “totally destroy” North Korea with a population of 25 million. Barbara Lee, considered the most liberal Democrat in Congress, tweeted that dialogue between the presidents of the US and Russia somehow cast a shadow on Trump’s loyalty to the US: “Outraged by President Trump’s 2 hr meeting w/Putin, the man who orchestrated attacks on our democracy. Where do his loyalties lie?”

The so-called “defense” budget funds the US empire abroad and is used as an excuse for not sufficiently supporting social programs at home. Yet instead of challenging Trump’s already dizzying $54 billion proposed increase to that bloated budget, 60% of the Democrats voted in the $80 billion increase.

Bernie Sanders’ admonition about accelerating inequality resonated with many. Yet neither party of the rich is willing or able to address an alternative to what, for most Americans, has amounted to forty years of neoliberalism, resulting in stagnating wages, deteriorating health and education services, and creeping insecurity from wars abroad and the surveillance state at home.

Obama presided over the greatest income redistribution to the rich in US history. His quantitative easing (QE) policies gifted trillions to the affluent, vastly increasing income inequality according to such cheerleads of neoliberalism as Forbes, Bloomberg, and Brookings. Now just three American tycoons have a greater combined wealth than the entire poorest half of our citizenry.

No wonder more potential voters identify as independents than either Republicans or Democrats. While not widely publicized, polls consistently show a majority of Americans want a choice that is independent from the two-party duopoly.

Fighting Phantoms

The Democrats continue to fault phantom Russians, unable to accept that Clinton’s presidential loss was consistent with the other Obama-era losses of 11 governors, 13 Senators, 69 House seats, and 913 state legislative seats/30 state legislative chambers.

Russian sources purportedly spent $100k on Facebook ads, though most ads appeared after the 2016 election. To put $100k into perspective, that amount is 0.004% of the total spent on the election.

But let’s give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt and assume their constituency is as easily and cheaply duped as claimed. What happened? Comparing the Romney-Obama run to the Trump-Clinton race, the usual number of Republicans in certain key Electoral College states went to the polls in 2016, while the Democrats lagged in participation compared to 2012.

Assume for a moment that there’s hard evidence backing up the Democrat’s alibi for losing the 2016 presidential sweepstakes to the most unpopular rival in history. Then increasing voter participation in the US would go long way to flooding out any ostensible Russian meddling.  To activate the electorate, we need more attractive candidates who represent the majority of Americans. And to achieve that, we need political parties that represent the interests of working folks and not just the rich.

More articles by:

Roger Harris is on the board of the Task Force on the Americas, a 32-year-old anti-imperialist human rights organization.

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