The US Is Not a Democracy, Never Was

US_Constitution

Nor Is It a Secret, Never Has Been

Consider this, from the March, 2018 issue of The Atlantic:

The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist—their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influence the government was no accident.

This denial of democracy carries awesome weight, considering that it was published in The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in the period 1787-88 and formed part of 85 essays encouraging the ratification of the United States Constitution, of which Madison was the principal author. One would be hard pressed to find an opinion with a finer American pedigree.

How is it, then, that the United States sells itself today as the model democracy, a model to be revered, emulated and exported?

A statue of the Goddess of Democracy is seen before the start of candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong

First things first. The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. How then  did the US calling card flip from “republic” (a state which is governed by an elected head of state) to “democracy” (a system of government by the people, exercised either directly or through directly-elected representatives)? This distinction, like all the rest of political philosophy is open to discussion. Some people withold that, in a direct democracy, authority pertains to the people; while in a republic it lies with the government, rendering the government the master, and the people its servant. On that seemingly-clear but distinctly-murky field the battle rages. After more than two centuries of ideological struggle not much has been clarified but the aftermath has left the field strewn with ideological scraps that can be recovered, polished up and marketed.

As the social and political realities of the country evolved, so did it’s professed political philosophy. With the arrival of masses of immigrants, the conquest of the American west, industrialization, and Andrew Jackson’s pitch to the “common man,” all of which culminated in the 1860s with the Civil War, the country’s politicians found it expedient to veer towards the more-egalitarian-sounding “democracy.” Nothing had actually changed very much except for the sales presentation.

Some Advances and Impediments

It was not until after the Civil War that some significant Democratic advances were achieved. In 1913, the 17th Amendment stipulated that senators had to be elected directly by the people, not by state legislatures. In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the vote. Perhaps most importantly in 1965, the Voting Rights Act set out to assure the voting rights of black Americans.

Gore_Vidal on Democracy

Those advances notwithstanding, the United States was still burdened with the heavy ballast of the distinctly anti-democratic Electoral College, a “safety barrier” between citizens’ choices as expressed in elections and the candidates ultimately elected by others. American citizens still do not vote directly for presidential candidates in national elections. They vote for 538 “electors,” who then decide who will be President. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. A state’s allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for its Senators. Occasionally the results in the Electoral College are at variance with the “popular” vote. In those cases the votes of the 538 electors trump those of the entire voting population of the United States. One wonders how many American voters are aware of this situation and its far-reaching implications.

Thom Hartmann sums it up soccinctly on CommonDreams.org:

“The Electoral College has brought us two presidents (George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote by 500,000 and Trump, who lost by 3,000,000) who were rejected by a majority of Americans. This is fundamentally undemocratic.”

How Did the American People Become Victims of Such a Roccoco Voting System?

Electoral College distortion

They shouldn’t be suprised. Voting systems that instert buffers between voters and the candidates who are ultimately elected have a long history and are still the preferred option in some advanced countries such as Holland. The undeclared philosophy that underlies all of them is the conviction that the untutored and unwashed mob should not be trusted to elect its own governors. The different variations on electoral colleges guaranteed–and continue to guarantee–just that. Even the Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals.

The Electoral College inserted into the American constitution by the founding fathers is a special case. It was  included there to solve the spiny problem of a slave population that was not entitled to vote. After careful consideration, the framers of the Constitution decided that the votes of all free citizens would be counted plus three fifths of the number of the unfree–black slave–population. The mechanism for implementing this system was the Electoral College. Voting rights, by the way, were limited to white male property owners.

A Few Flaws in American “Democracy”

The much-touted “separation of powers,” supposedly a mechanism built into the Constitution to assure that no single branch of government (Legislative, Executive and Judicial) could assume unfettered control of the country, is perfect in theory, but less so in practice. Theoretically, only Congress can declare war. In practice, the last time the US declared war was in 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Since then the country has been virtually continuously at war without declaring anything. A series of US Presidents simply attacked and/or invaded countries around the world capriciously, a grave lapse of democratic procedure, not to mention international law.

A series of “emergencies”–most notably 911, but there are others–have been instrumentalized in order to erode democracy by providing pretexts for the executive branch to decree constrictions on civil rights at home and human rights abroad. The Congress was actually complicit in this exercise in curtailing its own Constitutional powers.

The separation-of-powers provision of the Constitution was flawed from the outset, as the President was given a medium and long-term stranglehold on the judiciary. According to the Constitution it is he/she who appoints Supreme Court justices to lifetime terms. This can be construed as a too-generous privilege for Presidents with twisted ideological convictions or limited understanding of the historic reach of their appointments.

This is the Court That Ruined the Country

Citizens United Court
The justices who decided the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

The most garish recent example of this was the Court’s 2010 decision to uphold the Citizens United contention that corporations and other organizations were persons for the purposes of election campaign donations. Enough time has passed since then for us to discern that, thanks to Citizens United, members of the US Congress can effectively be bought by uber-powerful economic interests, precisely at a time when congressional oversight and regulation in many areas is increasingly important. This Supreme-Court-declared cesion of sovereignty to big-money private interests may prove to loom as large in American history as the Civil War or Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Thanks in part to the Electoral College but also to regular misuse of election procedures and voter qualifications the American pseudo-democracy has been further damaged. President Donald Trump tried to put a patch on this state of affairs with his post-2016 Presidential Commission for Election Integrity. To head this high-sounding investigating body he chose a well-known election meddler, rendering the whole project a farce (Flawedfromthestart.org.)

One wonders how American elections would fare under the scrutiny of the Carter Center. Since its foundation in 1982 President Jimmy Carter’s foundation has undertaken the impartial expert monitoring of 107 elections in 39 countries. The objective of this monitoring process, according to their website, is “to help establish and strengthen democracies.” (CarterCenter.org). Unfortunately the United States does not figure on this list of countries scrupulously monitored for free and fair elections.

And They Export This Half-Baked Democracy?

Amazingly, yes. But then, the Americans can export anything. Their biggest success is sugar water. After that comes jet fighters that do everything badly and regime change that will set your country back three generations. The export version of American democracy is so versatile that it can be delivered by drone.

To expect the world to accept their moth-eaten version of democracy is a bridge too far. Perhaps that’s why they’re having trouble peddling it around the world. Seen from the point of view of an impartial observer,  it looks more like a smokescreen more useful for concealing their regime-change program. We have seen the democracies they have achieved in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libia… There’s a term for a person–or a country–that preaches one thing and practices another: hypocrite.

Is There a Way Out?

There may be. Have a look at this: https://youtu.be/TfQij4aQq1k.

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Author: Michael Booth

Michael Booth, the creator of TrumpAndAllTheRest.com, is a US-born expatriate journalist, publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions. His latest project is a photographic homage site to the Spanish village that adopted him many years ago: http://somospineros.com.

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