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.

###

Thanks for commenting, sharing and following.

 

 

What I Remember from the States 1/2

Mike Booth remembers the US after half a century of life abroad.

 

Silverton, Colorado
Silverton, Colorado

In a Spanish Polish Restaurant

Quite a few years ago my best friend, Mark Little, took me to a Polish restaurant near Fuengirola, just off the Mediterranean coast of Málaga. I was anxious to go because he had told me that the owner had grown up in Siberia when her parents were exiled there, and I wanted to meet her. Her appearance didn’t disappoint. She looked like a kindly grandmother with a ruffled apron, her grey hair in a bun. She wanted to know about me. I told her I wrote feature stories for a magazine down the road, nodding at Mark. Then I got to pop the question. “Mark says you were exiled to Siberia when you were young. Would I be intruding if I asked what it was like?” “Nooo,” she replied with a big smile, “not at all. It was wonderful. Anyplace is wonderful when you’re 15 years old.”

My experience with the States was a bit like that. It was wonderful. Continue reading “What I Remember from the States 1/2”

There’s an Algorithm Going Round Taking Names

Mike Booth discusses the scarier implications of modern electronic surveillance in America.

Analysts prepare for the Cyber Storm III at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) in Arlington Virginia

Meet Covert Big-Data Warrantless Surveillance of Americans

Don’t Say Johnny Cash Didn’t Warn You

Johnny_Cash_The_Man

There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around Continue reading “There’s an Algorithm Going Round Taking Names”

Criminalize-Prosecute-Incarcerate, the American Way

how

Are Americans Just More Depraved?

In reality, they probably aren’t but it would seem so. According to Drug Policy.org, with less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States houses almost 25% of the world’s prison inhabitants. In relation to their populations the US is the country with the most prisoners in the world. That’s more than Russia, more than China, more than Iran…

But if Americans are not five times as evil as the rest of humanity, why are so many of them in jail? It’s a long story, a veritable trail of tears, with its roots in some of the country’s most hallowed traditions: ultra-conservatism, racism, religion and the lust for power and profit. The MacGuffin has always been drugs. Continue reading “Criminalize-Prosecute-Incarcerate, the American Way”

Democracy Ain’t What It Used to Be

shell-game_narrow

Wikipedia: The shell game (also known as thimblerig, three shells and a pea, the old army game) is portrayed as a gambling game, but in reality, when a wager for money is made, it is almost always a confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud.

A Burning Bush on the Way to the Dentist’s Office

One day I’m walking to the dentist’s office  and I notice the bold bronze letters glowing over the door of a Granada University building: “Facultad de Sociología y Ciencias Políticas.” That was when it finally hit me. The traditional base elements of democratic politics–idealism, honesty, goodwill, life, liberty and the pursuit of the happiness of the citizenry–have been substituted for sociologized “political science.” The essence of western democracy has been downgraded to pandering to the lowest common voter, by means of numbers, statistics and opinion polls. The modern political model, which the United States has exported all over the world, calling it “democracy,” is no longer about noble ideas and the struggle for human rights, equality and citizen well-being.  It’s about opportunism, not idealism, as the leaders of the Free World would have you believe.

Abraham Lincoln would not recognize his country’s governors today. Continue reading “Democracy Ain’t What It Used to Be”

American Chicken Hawk Militarists Boldly Lead the Charge–From Behind

President Donald Trump arrives at Newark International airport
Washington’s illustrious company of Chicken Hawk Militarists, war-mongering politicians who didn’t actually do any military service, has a new Chicken Hawk in Chief, President Donald J. Trump. It’s a dubious honor.

The Chicken Hawk, the Most Ignominious Bird of All

The military service records–or lack thereof–of American war-mongering politicians are an excellent place to scrutinize their particular kinds of patriotism. The patriotic sentiments of those lacking in military experience are usually not of the Nathan Hale “I-only-regret-that-I-have-but-one-life-to-give- for-my-country” variety. The most common type of patriotism to be found among your non-combatant militarist politicians is of the vocal variety. Their mouths are admirably patriotic, the rest of their makeup not so much. These reluctant warriors who strongly support military action everywhere, all the time, yet went out of their way to avoid military service when of age are aptly referred to as “Chicken Hawks.” The term has a nice ring to it and an interesting set of connotations. Continue reading “American Chicken Hawk Militarists Boldly Lead the Charge–From Behind”

How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–3/3

drone_truck

The Abuse of Power Is a Downward Spiral

What we have seen in the transition from the Obama to the Trump administrations is that the abuse of power under one administration leads to the abuse of power under another. Trump may be driving it more recklessly, but he’s still operating a machine the Obama administration built.

During his last year in office, responding to increasing criticism, Obama gave a speech attempting to clarify the boundaries of his drone target selection and his “signature killings,” based exclusively on behaviors observed on the ground considered indicative of possible terrorist activity, whatever that means.

“America’s actions are legal,” the president asserted of the drone war, which he claimed was being “waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.” Self-defense? Obama might be able to claim the self-defense justification if he were killing enemies in the heat of battle in Ohio or Utah, but Iraq or Somalia? Not quite. This is just another case of clear and present bullshit. Continue reading “How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–3/3”