There can be no definition for democracy that would be universally accepted. Much like the word ‘love’. People can dedicate their lives to and with someone and call that love. One can live in an abusive relationship but still ‘love’ the abuser. Democracy is no different. What it might have meant to the Ancient Greeks is far different than what it means today or how it is practiced, and how it is practiced is the reality we must accept.
Countries all over the world think of themselves as democratic. There are places with a much higher percentage of voting among the people than in the United States. Are they more democratic? In some places voting is mandatory. Some countries have one party rule, but the people vote. Some countries like Iran have a select group of people who decide who can and cannot run for office yet they think of themselves as democratic. In this case, many people are voting but not for their preferred candidates. In the United States, for most members of Congress and the President, it is Wall Street that decides who’s in and who’s out.
The United States thinks of itself as the world leader in democracy. So let’s look at it closely. It now costs literally billions of dollars to run for president, and of the two who are given any chance to win, one of them is going to lose. They can lose by 1 percentage point or less, but nearly 50 percent of those who voted will not have any representation at the executive level. And with a low voting turnout, compared to other democracies, tens of millions who are eligible but don’t vote are in no way represented by the victor. We do not build coalitions with other parties; we do not even permit other parties to be in the running. In so many ways, we do not have a two-party system but more like one and one half, as both parties represent the interests of Wall Street, not Main Street. A Princeton/Northwestern study in 2014 identified the US as an oligarchy, not a democracy. It concludes that what the donors want is what is usually promoted and voted on in Congress, even if that does coincide with public opinion. Big Money rules and gains more and more power with each successive election to Congress or the White House and neither party objects to the point of trying to reverse that, especially with Citizens United. (Individual Democratic senators have pushed to repeal it but it steadfastly remains part of our electoral landscape.)
The US electoral system is far away from the concept of democracy or representation. Only two parties rule, and both are agents of Wall Street. These two parties control every states’ electoral process, making it extremely difficult, and often impossible, for alternate parties to be constituted and wage effective campaigns for office. Our national media is fully behind this. Today, former President Trump and his minions are controlling state houses to prevent blacks and poor people from even voting as they would most likely vote for Democrats. (Yet it is ironic that the poorest states in America consistently vote Republican.) And these are people who have already earned the right to vote simply as citizens. To think that either party would want an anti-capitalist to vote on their beliefs or run for office is pushing the imagination to hallucinatory levels.
One attempt to make the US more democratic is the notion that we need to have term limits- bring back the days of Thomas Jefferson’s ‘yeoman farmer’, the plain folk, who should lead our nation. Yet the idea of term limits would also destroy the very notion of democracy and fair elections. After all, who but the most wealthy can run for office? What kind of worker who really has the pulse of their community could mount such a campaign against a well funded competitor, win, and go back to the profession they had before? The well placed lawyer, CEO, business leaders are the ones who can afford, and will also profit from just a few years in public service. The teacher, the social worker, the bricklayer. All can be perfectly suitable for high office, but their jobs will likely not be there for them when they are term limited.
There are exceptions, of course, as there are always exceptions in politics. One usually sees the waiter AOC as the most prominent one. A restaurant worker who takes on one of the most powerful Democrats in a primary and defeats him. But Ocasio-Cortez has quickly sold out to the Democratic Party establishment. She votes well on some issues but on one of the main issues she campaigned on, Medicare for All, she abandoned to the whims of the Mama Bear leadership team, who is adamantly opposed to tax paid universal health care in favor of the health insurance industry.
If elections is a barometer for what a democracy is, then we might as well expunge the word from any dictionary. The idea of Lincoln’s ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ is great for a cliche, but not for reality.
As I said before, the US thinks of itself as a world leader in democracy. It confuses and conflates economic and military might to it. Would the US think this of itself if it were equal economically and militarily to India after British colonialism ended in 1947? India is the largest ‘democracy’ in the world, after all. The US economic power, and thus its military strength, was created on the backs of enslaved Africans, the genocide of its indigenous population, and its geographic good luck to be surrounded by oceans, distancing itself from Asia and Europe. Even though slavery has technically ended, it still exists. The 14th Amendment allows for slavery if there is ‘due process’. Our prisons are perfect examples of slavery today.
Even the furniture in Congress today, on which laws are written outlining what freedoms we can expect, are manufactured by prison labor before it even goes up for bidding. Chain gangs in the south build roads. Undocumented immigrants are placed in for-profit prisons and used to run their operations. Prisons use their inmates for field work, manufacturing, and even call centers. Pay is sometimes a dollar a day.
America’s Indian wars and the ‘reservation’ system to concentrate different tribes was the basis of Hitler’s concentration camps. The US wasn’t alone in this as the British employed it liberally in South Africa during the Boer wars. The land was stolen from American Indians for western (white) expansion and when natural resources were discovered. Ironically, the 2 of the 4 US presidents on Mount Rushmore (built with funds from the Ku Klux Klan) were slave owners and that land was sacred to the Lakota Sioux, but stolen as soon as gold was found and the Sioux ethnically cleansed from the area by the US Cavalry.
The question remains, would the US think of itself as the leader of world democracy if it didn’t rely on slavery and genocide to become the economic and military powerhouse that it is today?
How the US interacts with the world is based on a belief in ‘US exceptionalism’. This may be a modern term but it is only an extension of Manifest Destiny, a belief that a god granted his blessings and power to expand its empire, first internally and now world-wide. President Obama was a major proponent of US exceptionalism, believing in the righteousness of America and that it can only do good in the world, yet so often its actions are more evil than good.
It is true that there is a sense of altruism in our spirit, even world wide. Although many would say we don’t pay our fair share, we as a people open our hearts and wallets to people all over the world in distress, especially when its climatic disasters. We have economic policies to bring up the living standards of people all over the world, even though the motive behind it is often purely capitalistic. But when countries try to improve their own lot by themselves, and at the expense of US economic power like increasing minimum wage in US factories there, the US lays its heavy hand on them and crushes them mercilessly. We only have to see what the US has done to countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti, to mention only a few of Wall Street’s targeted countries.
President Biden’s Summit For Democracy was a virtual world wide forum ‘to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.’ (State Department) Yet the list of countries invited was almost a who’s who in anti-democracy and authoritarianism: Bolsinaro’s Brazil, Modi’s India, Duterte’s Philippines, just to name a few. Was it a concerted effort to bring democracy to the world or simply to cement a capitalist bond and isolate its greatest challengers- Russia and China?
Russia has always been a favorite target of the US. Even immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917 the US and other Western European ‘democracies’ sent troops to fight with the White Army against the Red Army. Even though Russia is not a communist country anymore, US aggression has been non-stop. It has expanded NATO to the very borders of Russia. And as much of a racist, xenophobic, right winger Tucker Carlson of Fox News is, he was right when he said that Russia is not planning on invading Belgium. It only wants to protect its borders. Democrats and other ‘liberals’ would tar and feather him if they had the chance.
The entirety of Russiagate was a fabrication of the Clinton campaign and the DNC to explain why it lost to Trump in 2016 and with the full backing of much of the media. It doesn’t matter that they anointed the only person possible who could lose to him. They needed a scapegoat. Russia has always been in the US’s crosshairs. The problem for the US is that Russia has decent, economic relations with Western Europe, especially with regards to its vast gas resources.
China, on the other hand, is still a mystery to the US. We have had a love/hate relationship with them since their revolution in 1949. Started out with the Republican campaign against Truman with ‘Who Lost China?’ to the Republican embrace of China by Richard Nixon, and decades thereafter of Wall Street meets Communism! China is now the US’s number 1 trading partner, seconded by Canada. It will very soon surpass the US as the world economic leader and the US nearly sees this as an existential threat. The reasons for the rapid growth of the Chinese economy is not mysterious. While the US spends literally trillions of dollars on war and empire building, China spends its money on high speed rail systems connecting all parts of China. It goes into countries and provides economic aid and opportunities, without conditions based on human rights, something the US pretends to honor abroad. We cannot discount, however, that much of China’s economic foreign policy is ‘debt imperialism’.
American foreign policy and democracy are not linked, as much as the political class would like us to believe. Wall Street sets the agenda. The US will engage economically with anyone in the world, regardless of their human rights records. It may use the patina of democracy as a basis but in reality, it is inconsequential. It will as happily trade with Denmark as it would with Saudi Arabia. It will supply arms to ISIS by one branch of the US intelligence apparatus yet fight it with another. It will rail against communism, and even fight a genocidal war against such a country, like Vietnam, but when the dust settles, it welcomes it as a trading partner.
Democracy, as elusive as it is, is imperiled in America. Never really having it the way it’s described in our civics books (meant for elementary school minded citizens), what we do have now is quickly evaporating. Republican statehouses, and soon at the federal level, are seeing voting rights extremely curtailed. But let’s be clear about something. The Democratic Party, fighting to reverse Republican attacks on voting, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, is ONLY concerned with protecting the Democratic Party, not democracy. No where does it promote anti-capitalist parties from forming without the hindrances set by them and Republicans throughout the states.
What happened on January 6, 2021 was likely the Fort Sumter moment of our next civil war. Then-President Trump attempted to derail the one aspect of American democracy believed to be sacred- free and fair elections. The attempted coup is on-going. Hitler’s beerhall putsch did not bring the Nazis to power but set the stage for it. January 6 was the precursor. Republicans are pushing elections for Secretaries of State to control who can vote, and who counts the vote. Although falsely attributed to Stalin, the idea of it not matters who votes but who counts the vote is relevant.
Like Hitler had his Sturmabteilung (SA), Trump has his Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and many other white supremacist militias at his calling. We will see how powerful he remains after the 2022 elections. If the Republicans take either or both houses, nothing will stop them from making ‘democracy’ in America the open mockery it always has been.