by Greg Godels, published on ZZ’sBlog, October 5, 2020
The idea of the US as a citadel of democracy is based on an enduring myth. The frequent references, even on the left, to “saving our democracy” or “protecting our democracy” from Trump, the Russians, the Chinese, Islam, or any other forces lurking in the cabinet of popular demonology, is sheer nonsense. There is little to save or protect, and the threat resides elsewhere.
The idea of invading, occupying, or undermining the governments of other countries to promote “our” democracy is, therefore, equally nonsense.
Certainly there are many ready to vigorously contest these claims. How can a country that has the longest unbroken history of regular elections not be democratic? What could be more democratic?
But consider the following nationally relevant policies that opinion polls consistently show represent the wishes of over 60%– at least 6 out of ten– of US citizens:
- A public national health care program modelled after Medicare (single payer)
- A $15/hour minimum wage
- An answer to racism, especially police violence (police violence is a problem 89%/racism is a serious problem 72%)
- Free college education
- An answer to income inequality
- Some measure of gun control
- Corporations and the rich should pay more in taxes
- Not privatizing the Postal Service; establishing postal banking
- Stronger antitrust laws that could break up the largest companies
- Support for labor unions and organizing
- Environmental action
- Covid safety over economic activity
Yet, they are all unrealized and out-of-reach.
Beyond these specific policy positions and public stances, opinion polls show a strong general preference for the public good over the interests of corporations and other private interests. In essence, the majority of US citizens are wedded to policies that coincide, whether consciously or not, with the policies associated most closely with the Scandinavian social democracies.
This profile of majority “progressivism” is even more striking in light of the rare and thin support, the often hostile reaction to these ideas in the mainstream media. The major news and entertainment corporations paint and support a different, more conservative set of policies. Nonetheless, a robust progressive agenda remains popular.
At the same time, barely 1 in 5 US citizens express trust in government most or all of the time. Not surprisingly, in light of the apparent broad support for egalitarianism, the high point in trust over the last sixty years coincided with President Johnson’s Great Society reforms that purported to eliminate poverty and lessen the social and racial inequalities of US society. At that time, nearly 8 out of 10 US citizens said they “trust the government in Washington most or all of the time” (Pew Research Center).
These same polls show that most people want the US government to play an active role in ameliorating social problems and guaranteeing a better life, while, paradoxically, showing little confidence in their elected representatives.
Despite the fact that urgent, central policies advocated by a solid majority of the people are never realized or even seriously debated, despite the fact that the channels of information so vitally important for democratic decision-making are corrupted and in ill-repute, despite the fact that the institutions established to deliver democracy are mistrusted, our rulers and their trusted servants expect us to believe that the US is a thriving democracy.
At the same time, they throw up every roadblock to dampen voter participation and effectiveness: workweek elections, registration hurdles, qualification challenges, gerrymandering, etc.
If democracy is a political system or political process that serves the will of the people, then the US system is demonstrably undemocratic. It may appear to be a shiny instrument, but it produces extremely poor results for the people.
Apart from the ineffectiveness of the electoral system, the US Constitution and its subsequent amendments are said to guarantee certain democratic rights. In effect since 1789, the original constitution established the rules of the political game in a way unprecedented by any other historical document to that time. It advanced popular democratic procedures unlike any enacted before it. The Bill of Rights, ratified two years later, strengthened US democracy even further (with the fatal caveat that millions of US citizens– women, slaves, indigenous people were denied these rights).
As a result of a bloody civil war, a tenacious women’s movement, and a bitter, violent civil rights struggle, the original democratic achievements have been strengthened further. Yet the enemies of democracy– the economic royalists, as FDR so aptly called them, and the bigots– have unrelentingly chipped away at those rights, employing a larger and more damaging hammer until the present. Today, little is left to celebrate.
The rights to be free of religious tyranny and to speak freely without fear have been undermined by religious zealotry and police-state vigilance. The right to a free press has been trivialized by the corporate domination and monopolization of the media.
The right to privacy and discretion is erased by a totalizing security state that hears and reads every out-of-step opinion of its citizens. The technical means and resources of the US security agencies put every previous charge of “totalitarianism” to shame.
The formal judicial guarantees of the Bill of Rights are stripped of force by the commercialization and marketization of justice. The rich buy the best lawyers, while the rest of us secure representation commensurate with our wallets. Moreover, the laws are written, enforcement geared, and the punishments devised to crush the poor and shield the rich. With only 24% of those polled showing “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of confidence in the criminal justice system (Gallup), it hardly stands as a pillar of democracy.
In the midst of an election that vets its candidates through a costly primary process only available to the rich and famous, an election that ultimately rides on candidates collecting billions of dollars, an election that allows only two narrow paths (two parties) to snatching the golden ring, talk of democracy seems cynically misplaced.
It may well be true that what remains of “our” democracy may be at stake, but it bears reminding that what remains is far removed from what people deserve. The battle for democracy is really only in its infancy in the United States and it must be launched against a long tradition of anti-democracy waged against popular forces.
The erosion of democracy emanates from the power of wealth. Democratic procedures have been hijacked by wealth.
And the power of wealth emanates from inequality.
Further, inequality emanates from an exploitative system.
Therefore, democracy only grows where the exploitative system is corralled or eliminated.
This simple, but logical truth escapes the many celebrants of our tissue of democracy, long on procedures, but short on results.
In the end, the will of the people is the ultimate measuring stick of democracy. The US falls far short.