Democratic Virtues in Electing a President

Photograph by Joshua Frank

Privatizing the US elections?

I enjoyed listening to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates speak of their hopes for the future of this country. What I did not like was the NBC umbrella over the aspiring candidates. Why should large TV monopolies run the presidential campaigns?

Who gave this “media” money-machine the right to have its employees ask questions of the presidential candidates? First of all, these “reporters” are by no means objective. Their sole preoccupation is the advertisement dollars their company earns during the “debates.” Second, some of the questions they asked reflected their priorities but not necessarily those of the candidates.

As a result of this undemocratic practice of giving the process of electing the next president to the big media, the twenty Democratic presidential candidate failed to address climate change in a meaningful manner. Climate change is a life and death concern for us and the rest of the world.

Mumbling while the world burns

Some of the candidates agreed global warming was important. But no one of them was given a chance to explain what he / she would do about the country’s fossil-fuel addiction. It’s this addiction that has corrupted politics and changed everything.

With president Trump and his administration denying climate change, the petroleum industry is working day and night, reaching new heights of irresponsibility and moral bankruptcy. It’s drilling, fracking, and extracting 12 million barrels of oil per day. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warned the international community in Abu Dhabi, June 30, 2019, of a “grave climate emergency” embracing the planet. Climate disruption is hitting all of us now, Guterres said. It has come about at a much faster rate top scientists had predicted.

Masters and slaves

The same disconnect became obvious in the TV-supervised discussion of inequality in the United States. Only Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seem to have grasped the political danger of inequality.

Sanders is right saying democracy practically dissolves in the political reality of 3 Americans (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett) having more wealth and power than 150 million Americans — half of the population of the country.

This outrageous inequality compares nicely with the class-ridden, master-and-slave inequality of dark ages. In fact, these three billionaires act like independent states. In all likelihood, they are paying no taxes, and, in theory, they are in a position of hiring their own armies. They buy and sell politicians, subverting democracy in unimaginable ways.

However, with some exceptions, neither most of the presidential candidates nor other Americans seem to understand the political gravity of astronomical differences between citizens of the same country.

Democratic ideals

Each of the Democratic candidates had a few minutes explaining his / her reason why they would like to govern the country: bring the troops home; there’s no problem with migrants entering the country, legally and illegally; open economic opportunities for blacks and other minorities; do something about gun violence; America needs free state college education, forgiving of student debt, and free pre-school; workers need the support of the government to include most of their brother and sister workers in unions; increase the minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour; manufacture most of the stuff we need here at home.

A couple of Democratic candidates hinted Sanders’ proposals on Medicare for all, federal regulation and taxation of Wall Street bankers, and free education smelled of socialism, an ideology practically un-American. Some said China is a national security threat.

Author candidate, Marianne Williamson, has spoken eloquently about moral awakening and moral leadership. She is the only presidential candidate that urged offering $ 100 billion reparations to black Americans. She is white and she is right.

The country should make a material gesture of apology for the violence it inflicted on Africans kidnapped and brought to America as slaves. Use this money to train black students for organic farming. Fund black Americans to buy farmland: give them the post-Civil War promised equivalent of 40 acres and a mule.

However, the TV context of the “discussion” all but ignored Williamson. It degenerated into lots of ambiguity and little light.

Senator Kamala Harris attacked the front-runner and former vice-president Joe Biden. She said Biden was not pro-black decades ago. Biden froze. He said he served this country’s black president Obama faithfully. He also took pride in his humble origins and his life-long public service: always being the negotiator and mediator, working across lines for the public good.

The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, also reminded the audience he is raising a black son. In addition, the mayor boasted he is running a gigantic city that, for all intends and purposes, is ready for the current and forthcoming difficulties of climate change, inequality, college education, minimum wage and racial crisis. Yet, he said nothing about the predatory Wall Street bankers who have raised inequality to the level of science. He is protecting them.

Electing a president

Becoming a president should be very difficult. Simply allowing citizens with money and funders for more money to campaign for the presidency is not enough. In fact, money should be taken out of elections. There should be minimal amounts of federal money for presidential candidates covering their travel costs, but no money for TV advertisements. Large national TV networks should have to give free and equal time to presidential candidates.

Equal care is necessary in selecting the next president. The person aspiring to the country’s highest office must have a reservoir of ethical, political and environmental knowledge and passion for his / her country and the world.

The aspiring presidential candidate should also have a life-long record of honesty, justice, and public service. He / she should be able to convince Americans that his / her priority would be their welfare and security. An America of healthy citizens and healthy natural world, and how to craft an administration to bring that about, should be the highest virtue of a presidential candidate. The successful candidate should make clear that money has no role in state and federal elections and, second, America would replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy.

It goes without saying that billionaires should not be allowed to run for office.

Equally important, C-Span TV or PBS TV should be sponsoring the debates, not private media giants, which should be forbidden from making money from politicians seeking public office. Injecting democracy in the election process might also strengthen democracy in America.


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Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

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