American Democracy: The Art of Winning

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By Hook or by Crook

In the mid-seventies, when they started building underground parking lots in Granada, whenever I would drive into town I would have to park on the outskirts and walk into the center. On the walk I would pass the old Pharmacy Faculty, which had been moved to a new building and replaced in the old one by Political Science. So I’m walking up that little-frequented street one day and I notice the sign over the door. It says “Facultad de Sociología y Ciencias Políticas.” That was when it hit me. The prevailing political model, which the United States has exported all over the world, calling it “democracy,” is not about noble ideas and the fight for human rights. It’s about sociology: opinion polls and pandering to lowbrow voters and powerful interests. It’s about opportunism, not idealism, as they would have us believe.

Where do the sociologists fit into this scheme of things? They design and run polls to determine scientifically what it is that voters want, no matter how insane or banal those desires may be. Election shifters have no need to introduce voters to any higher ideas or projects for their intellectual or moral advancement. Their mission is just to promise the marks the pre-digested kibble of advanced consumer society and win elections.

The Benefits of Dumbing Down

This scheme of things has another advantage. It guarantees the gradual stagnation of citizens’ thoughts and aspirations for a better society or for any suggestion of collective solutions. (The dreaded socialism! The only Americans who benefit from Socialist programs are members of Congress and the Armed Forces. They get the works, notably health and dental care, and living pensions paid for at the taxpayers’ expense.) The end result of this process of stagnation is–in case you hadn’t noticed–the dumbing down of the majority of the country’s unfortunate citizens. This is how the United States got presidents like Harry Truman, George W. Bush (and his expert and essential puppeteer, Dick Cheney), and Donald Trump.

Other positive aspects of the dumbing down of American citizens are the creation of thousands of inmates for the country’s for-profit prisons and a massive pool of recruits to feed the armed services.

The Unique Objective

The only objective of American politicians is winning elections, and at that they are masters. Winning is the be-all and end-all that justifies all means, however sordid. Candidates in federal elections adhere to agendas that have been designed for them by election experts, including the essential sociologists. Though these agendas are nowadays generally financed by corporate sponsors, and sold as programs to benefit the voters, the truth is that they are designed uniquely to win elections.

Where do ethics enter into the equation? They don’t. What enters into the equation is expediency and adherence to a pre-determined ideological agenda tailored to the needs of the big-bucks sponsors. That’s the desired end. Whether the means of achieving it are ethical or not is irrelevant.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the United States government is no longer a democracy. A regime that was always predatory has morphed over the past couple of decades into a total corporatocracy with the classic corporate values. The irony of this chilling fact is that it was achieved through entirely legal means. What is meant by “legal,” anyway? It means “in accordance with the law.” Who makes the federal laws of the United States of America? Who legalizes all the clearly anti-democratic pieces of this puzzle? The United States Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. There, you see, it’s not that complicated, after all.

For the full list of election manipulation devices that have been legalized by the House and the Senate you would have to ask a member of Congress or a veteran lobbyist. But here are a few examples to initiate your list:

  • Superdelegates
    superdelegates600In American politics, a superdelegate is an unpledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention who is seated automatically and decides for themselves for whom they vote. These Democratic Party superdelegates include elected officials and party activists and officials. They are free to support any candidate for the presidential nomination. There were 437 DNC members who were superdelegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. With these numbers, they can usually sway the election of a Democratic Party preferred candidate, though in 2016 they missed.
  • Gerrymandering
    Gerrymandering, in its simplest form, is the re-drawing of Congressional
    Districts to include voters favorable to the candidate’s party and exclude
    those who would be more inclined to vote against them. Incumbent
    members of Congress can use this mechanism to virtually assure their
    re-election.
  • Bargaining for Industrial and Institutional Campaign Contributions
    The United States Supreme Court held (5–4) on January 21, 2010, that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations. This decision effectively equated corporations with private citizens when it came to campaign donations, thus opening the floodgates to the virtual purchasing of elected officials. 
  • Super Pacs
    What they don’t achieve through direct campaign financing, corporate and other institutional interests can manage through the use of super PACs, which can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend those sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. In any case, it’s clear that the vias for buying election results are wide open.

Once Upon a Time

I once actually believed that there was a time when American politics was about brilliant and conscientious politicians who had ideas and ideals and wanted to promote them for the good of society. To find that time you had to go quite a ways back, maybe to Abraham Lincoln or maybe even George Washington. Or perhaps not even Washington, who was probably conditioned by being perhaps the richest man in the colonies, thanks to Martha’s extensive land–and slave–holdings.

However that may be, I am still so naive that I would like to believe that at one time or another there had been an element of decency in American politics, some remnant of consideration for the commonwealth. Maybe Franklin D. Roosevelt embodied some of that. But I’m still not sure. What I do know for certain is that modern American politics–and by extension, most of the rest of the world’s “democracies”–is bereft of any hint of ideas or idealism. Anybody who believes otherwise is a dupe and a sap, I fear

Today’s aspirant to public office doesn’t need ideals. All he needs are corporate sponsors, the ability to read a script and a team of sociologists and other “elections experts.” As for “the ability to read…” Donald Trump has shown us that even that is not absolutely essential. This atypical President is not alone. He’s accompanied on his belicose magical mystery tour by many cohorts of a similar ilk. It will be terrifying to see where they take their country–and the world.

People who write articles, if they want to maintain their readership, are advised to end their pieces on an upbeat note. I would love to be able to do that. But I can’t.

Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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Is American Democracy on the Critical List? 1/3

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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?

House reelection graph

Senate reelection graph

Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3

 

Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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