Let’s stipulate for the moment that The United States of America is a representative democracy and not, like many on the left believe, an oligarchy or a plutocracy.
The European think tank International IDEA certainly thinks so. International IDEA recently labeled the U.S. a “backsliding democracy.” This designation is in line with what most Americans believe—that American democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing.”
This crisis of American democracy is not by accident or by chance. (In politics, nothing is by accident or chance.) The plutocrats who hold the strings of power are working overtime to cancel democracy. Real democracy means sharing power with the masses, and why would powerful elites want to do that? Real democracy means that the wealthy would pay their fair share of taxes, and an end to foreign wars that weaken America while enriching arms manufacturers—and they certainly don’t want that to happen. It would mean strong voting rights legislation, an end to the electoral college.
Plutocrats don’t mind giving lip service to democracy—if it helps to keep the masses in check—as long as it doesn’t impact their bottom line or their stranglehold on power.
It has never been a better time to be a plutocrat. I don’t mean the obscene amounts of money they are making, the tax cuts, the government contracts, the ability to buy elections, the control they have over our elected leaders. I mean that more and more average Americans are beginning to line up with the plutocrats in their desire to give what’s left of our democracy the boot.
You can’t really blame them. Americans see an impotent Congress that cannot repair the most basic things that need fixing—like the healthcare system, prescription drug prices, rising inequality, and stagnant wages. They see their jobs disappearing. They see a doddering president who cannot keep any of the promises he made on the campaign trail. They see workers becoming more and more powerless. They see riots and protests and school shootings. They see a country that is becoming more and more divided daily. They see little cause for hope.
This too is no accident. If the rich and powerful can make American democracy seem broken and beyond repair, then Americans will be less inclined to do the hard work to keep it.
Which is why more and more Americans on the right are saying to hell with democracy. What we need is a strongman who can fix things and perhaps eliminate our enemies: the press, liberals, immigrants. Even United States senators, like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, have dismissed the ideal of American democracy. “Democracy isn’t the objective: liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are,” Lee tweeted not long ago. “We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
Despite what we were taught as children, America has never had a particularly strong representative democracy. From the beginning most Americans were wholly shut out of our political life: Women, Blacks, Native Americans, anyone who didn’t own property. People of the “wrong” religion. But we had come a long way. We had made progress.
The oligarchs, and their three stooges Reagan, Clinton and Bush, halted that progress in the 1980-90s with their successes at union busting, lowering taxes on rich corporations, ending limits on corporate cash in our elections, and creating media monopolies until today American democracy is at its weakest period since at least the Great Depression.
Of the two major political parties, the Democrats would seem to be the party most likely to try to preserve and strengthen American democracy by wresting power away from the plutocrats and returning it to the people. But so far they haven’t even tried. Soon the Democrats in Congress will lose what little advantage they have, and the House and Senate will be handed over to right wing extremists who are poised to deliver the death blow to democracy. Perhaps this outcome will bring some much needed clarity. When democracy is gone, Americans will no longer be able to delude themselves that they live in one.