American Democracy, the Standard of the Industry
The United States has been touting its particular brand of democracy for a couple of centuries now. As time goes by they have convinced us that there is no other valid formula, that their unique corn-fed variety is the default for good government. Myth has morphed into axiom; American democracy has become the only way to go. The world’s greatest marketing department has decreed it. After all, American democracy has two centuries of successful history behind it, it has the sacrosanct “checks and balances,” it invented the “self-made man” and the greatest propaganda machine the world has ever known. It has won every war it ever undertook (by their own reckoning) and has underwritten the creation of the greatest economy in history. It must be good; they’re rich, aren’t they?
But an Impartial Observer Might Conclude That It’s in Trouble
Let’s take a closer, longer look at the greatest democracy in history. What is the measure of a democracy, anyway? A proper democracy is a joy to behold, but it’s not limited to mouthing tired clichés and patriotic posturing. Isn’t it really about the extent to which a country’s free-and-fairly-elected government makes life livable for its entire population? Anything short of that universal well-being is failure and leaves Democracy an empty shell. By that standard, the United States comes up sorely deficient. A huge swath of the American people is abandoned to their luck. I won’t bother counting the ways for you; the evidence is all-too-visible, all over the country and from all over the world.
The American founding fathers drafted a constitution for their time. Aside from its cavalier attitude toward the slaves, which we’ll discuss later, it espoused lofty ideals, universal application and some ingenious guarantees against the perversion of authority. The most important of these was the “separation of powers.” The theory was that the legislative branch would draft the laws, the executive would enforce them and the Supreme Court would rule on their constitutionality.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, “The Bill of Rights,” enumerated specifically the constrictions on the power of their government to regulate the lives of American citizens. So far, so good. But the founders did not foresee the preponderance of power that would accrue to the executive branch over time. It was the executive that exercised immediate, hands-on control of the United States government. Any disagreement with executive decisions had to be submitted to the arbitration of the courts or the legislature, a complicated, time-consuming process. Meanwhile, the presidential administration went ahead with its projects.
It’s also relevant that the court of last resort in these matters was—and is–the United States Supreme Court. But it is the President of the United States who appoints the Supreme Court justices. This factor, a serious anomaly in the separation of powers, has at times been determinant on matters of great importance. This is why the liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is clinging to her court seat today, despite her 85 springtimes, in an effort to hold out for the election of a Democratic president so he or she can name the next Supreme Court justice.
Feral Power Turned Loose on the World
The tendency to assume power on dubious grounds did not improve with time. Today the President of the United States has virtual carte blanche when it comes to such important matters as making war. The Constitution stipulates that it is the exclusive right of the U.S. Congress to declare war. But recent American presidents have been creative in excess. They don’t bother declaring war; that would be illegal. They simply go ahead and wage it, at any time in any place and for whatever reason, however specious. From such gossamer threads dangles the fate of the world.
Nor are they coy about it. The executive branch—in the voice of neo-con Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, announced it clearly in a document entitled “Defense Strategy for the 1990s,” the regional defense strategy report for the 1994-99 fiscal years. Later known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, this “defense strategy” came out of right-wing Washington think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), and had its presentation in society when Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, made it public in 1993. The release of the document, which detailed a policy of unilateral American power worldwide and pre-emptive strikes to thwart military threats from other nations and prevent any other country from attaining superpower status, engendered widespread controversy regarding U.S. defense policy. A “pre-emptive strike,” you see, is a euphemism for “unprovoked attack.” Here’s a sample quote from this seminal American foreign-policy document (See if you don’t detect a predisposition to consider the countries of Western Europe as potential “hostile powers.”):
Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.
Today, May 7, 2018, the declaration of world domination that is the Wolfowitz Doctrine trumps any other law, regulation, decision or precedent, on both the national and international scenes, when it comes to prioritizing American interests worldwide. This policy was hammered home in 1997 by co-founder of the Trilateral Commission and former U.S. National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a book called The Grand Chessboard:
The most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from Eurasia or even to diminish significantly its decisive arbitrating role.”
” … the expansion of NATO is essential. By the same token, a failure to widen NATO … would shatter the concept of an expanding Europe and de-moralize the Central Europeans. It could even reignite currently dormant or dying Russian geopolitical aspirations in Central Europe.
Federal Election Results are Skewed
Even if Congress had a more expedient way of exercising its power, both dubious internal practices and recent inroads into election financing have greatly diminished its legitimacy and moral authority. The bottom line is discernable in Congressional election results, where incumbent candidates have an unfair advantage due to their “brand recognition,” assured financing and astute use of election-meddling tools such as gerrymandering congressional districts to their own benefit.
With all of these advantages for the veteran legislators, and barring exceptional circumstances, it is practically impossible for a newcomer to win a congressional election. According to opensecrets.org, nothing in this world is as predictable as the probability of congressional incumbents being reelected. This trend is more exaggerated in the House but also pronounced in the Senate. The bar graphs below reflect the reelection rates for the House and Senate between 1964 and 2016. As you can see, the House results hover over 90% of incumbent victories and the Senate’s not far behind. Does this look like a statistical portrait of free and fair elections?