US Democracy ?

Managed democracy is a powerful solvent for any vestiges of democracy left in the American political system, but its powers are weak in comparison with those of Superpower. Superpower is the sponsor, defender and manager of American imperialism and militarism, aspects of American government that have always been dominated by elites, enveloped in executive-branch secrecy, and allegedly beyond the ken of ordinary citizens to understand or oversee. Superpower is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction, clandestine manipulation of foreign policy (sometimes domestic policy, too), military operations, and the fantastic sums of money demanded from the public by the military-industrial complex. (The U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on Earth combined. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion; the next closest national military budget is China's at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.) Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism: Sheldon S. Wolin

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” - John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814.

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule -- at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it. Gilens and Page

U.S. "has no functioning democracy": Jimmy Carter (7/18/2013)

Question from David Barsamian: "In Hegemony or Survival, you say that there is a “severe democracy deficit” in the United States.

Answer from Noam Chomsky: "I’ve discussed this in more detail in a later book, Failed States, running extensively through public opinion studies and actual policy. There is an enormous gap between public opinion and policy. In 2005, for example, right after the federal budget was announced, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which also studies domestic issues, did an extensive poll on what people thought the budget ought to be. It turned out to be the inverse of the actual budget: where federal funding was going up, an overwhelming majority wanted it to go down. The public opposed increases in military spending overall and supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, which is going up even more now. Where the budget was going down—social expenditures, health, renewable energy, veterans’ benefits, the United Nations—right across the board, the public wanted spending to increase.

I asked a friend to see how many newspapers in the country reported this. Apparently not one. This is extremely important news. The population is radically opposed to government policy. Isn’t that important news in a democracy? What does that tell us about American democracy? (From Noam Chomsky's book "What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World)


Dark Clouds over the Capital"The central American myth is that democracy is the American way of life. Democracy, however, requires an educated public. The sad reality we face is that the prospect of a public educated to issues and alternatives is perceived as threatening to the privileges of the minority that hold most of our wealth and power, so virtually all of our institutions work to disarm this threat. Operating with an effective confusion of "information" with propaganda, our media, our schools, our corporations, and our government support information technology and produce an increasing flood of its product. Through what I call "the strategic use of trivia," members of the public are under the illusion that the "information" they receive is educating them on subjects that matter. In fact they are by and large being fed what the institutions that perpetuate the power of corporate America wish to feed them." Myth America: Democracy Vs. Capitalism By William H. Boyer
It was always a mirage to imagine that you could have a political democracy expressed in elections and not also have an economic democracy. It's really simple. If you allow an economic system in which 1 percent of the people have more than half the wealth and the other 99 percent have to share the other half, then the 1 percent are not going to be so stupid as to not realize that one of the ways you secure yourself is to control the political system. Occupy the Economy, Challenging Capitalism: Richard Wolff pg 85
...when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear virtually no relationship to the preferences of poor or middle-income Americans. The vast discrepancy I find in government responsiveness to citizens with different incomes stands in stark contrast to the ideal of political equality that Americans hold dear. Although perfect political equality is an unrealistic goal, representational biases of this magnitude call into question the very democratic character of our society. Martin Gilens
When the rich and poor disagreed about an issue, policy hewed closely to the preferences of the rich, and was "wholly unrelated" to the preferences of the poor. The same was true, more or less, when the opinions of the rich differed from those of median-income Americans...."influence over actual policy outcomes appears to be reserved almost exclusively for those at the top of the income distribution. Martin Gilens "Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness" from Don Peck's book Pinched. pg 147
Market theology and unelected leadership have been displacing politics and elections. Either democracy must be renewed, with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime--plutocracy by some other name." Kevin Philips, Wealth and Democracy 422 (2002)
Our current president has gone to war and has symbolically marched back into "the city" wearing his commander-in-chief persona and has declared that our nation is - until further notice - in a permanent state of war, which will likely last for the rest of our lives. He implies that this permanent state of war justifies his unilateral reinterpretation of the Constitutions in ways that increase his power as president at the expense of Congress, the courts and every individual citizen. Indeed, he has even partially militarized domestic law enforcement by ordering uniformed military personnel to commence surveillance within the country on American citizens, businesses, and civic organizations that, in the view of the military, might pose some threat to our nation. In times past, this was unthinkable, but it has been met with very little protest. From Al Gore's Assault on Reason.
Fifty years ago, Harry Truman replaced the old republic with a national-security state whose sole purpose Is to wage perpetual wars, hot, cold, and tepid. Exact date of replacement? February 27, 1947. Place: White House Cabinet Room. Cast: Truman, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, a handful of congressional leaders. Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg told Truman that he could have his militarized economy only if he first "scared the hell out of the American people” that the Russians were coming. Truman obliged. The perpetual war began. Representative government of, by, and for the people Is now a faded memory. Only corporate America enjoys representation by the Congresses and presidents that it pays for In an arrangement where no one Is entirely accountable because those who have bought the government also own the media. Now, with the revolt of the Praetorian Guard at the Pentagon, we are entering a new and dangerous phase, Although we regularly stigmatize other societies as rogue states, we ourselves have become the largest rogue state of all. We honor no treaties. We spurn International courts, We strike unilaterally wherever we choose. We give orders, to the United Nations but do not pay our dues. We complain of terrorism, yet our empire is now the greatest terrorist of all. We bomb, invade, subvert other states. Although We the People of the United States are the sole source of legitimate authority in this land, we are no longer represented In Congress Assembled. Our Congress has been hijacked by corporate America and its enforcer, the imperial military machine. We the unrepresented People of the United States are as much victims of this militarized government as the Panamanians, Iraqis, or Somalians. We have allowed our institutions to be taken over In the name of a globalized American empire that is totally alien In concept to an our founders had in mind. I suspect that it is far too !late in the day for us to restore the republic that we lost a half-century ago. from Gore Vidal's book Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace.

The west is squandering authority on democracy and human rights: it fails to practice as it preaches. Kishore Mahbubani, The Guardian, Friday March 28 2008

"...Democracy in America today is in deep trouble. Weak, shallow, dangerous, and corrupted, it is the best democracy that money can buy. The ascendancy of market fundamentalism and antiregulation, antigovernment ideology makes the current moment particularly frightening, but even the passing of these extreme ideas would leave deeper, longer-term deficiencies. It is unimaginable that American politics as we know it will deliver the transformative changes needed." The Bridge at the End of the World: Gus Speth (2008)
"Democracy ? The people's representatives? How quaint in a world in which our real rulers are unelected, shielded by secrecy, and supported by a carefully nurtured, almost religious attitude toward security and the U.S. military." The United States of Fear:  Tom Englehardt
"You can see this Republican approach today in voter suppression schemes, aggressive gerrymandering of House districts, expansive use of Senate filibusters, and nasty media outlets that rely on disinformation and propaganda, rather than facts and reason." Consortium News. (This leaves out the self-imposed fiscal crises designed to make the economy crash,  dirty tricks, and packing of the courts.)

And so the sale of our democracy rolls on (6/7/2014)

Princeton concludes what kind of Government America Really Has, and it's Not a Democracy (4/16/2014)

The Last Gasp of American Democracy (1/5/2014)

North Carolina Conservatives declare war on Democracy (1/5/2014)

Jimmy Carter: US “has no functioning democracy” (7/18/2013)

Today's Republican Party Doesn't Believe In Democracy (3/14/2013)

The GOP's Sabotage of Democracy (12/23/2012)

The Selling of American Democracy (7/13/2012)

Arundhati Roy in Chicago - March 18, 2013


Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy (2/2/2010)

Is Democracy Melting ?

 
Moyers: 'Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck'  

Moyers: 'Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck'

For all of America's shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, "The system works." Now all bets are off. Read more »

 

Is the US a democracy?

America is today the leader of a worldwide anti-revolutionary movement in the defense of vested interests...supporting the rich against the poor. Historian Arnold Toynbee (quoted in A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn et al)

How the two parties in the US exclude real debate: an example from Connecticut ("To be Green" video) http://www.the40yearplan.com/article_041107_To_Be_Green.php

Why I left the Civil Rights Division.

Big Brother Democracy

They Rule

Concentrated wealth, also seen as income inequality, is not just unfair (for it can deprive large parts of the population of civil liberties or even life support), it is inversely related to democracy. That is why the US budget does not represent the wishes of people when polled, why lawmakers often do the wrong thing, and why we have lost our Republic.

Further, we have entered a vicious cycle where wealthy game the system to favor themselves at the expense of everyone else. Over time, this creates the boom and bust cycles of the economy seen dramatically in 1929 and again in 2008. Republicans are largely responsible for removing the New Deal restraints that damped down the business cycle.

Corporations have become the controlling interest of government. (This is also, by the way,  the definition of Fascism.)  Regulatory agencies are dominated by industries that are supposed to be regulated. The military has become a security force for multinationals, especially oil companies.

It is clear now that political parties can over-ride Constitutional checks and balances. Their commitment to empire is likely to destroy our republic.

Media reflects the state of the economy, so it is, itself, highly concentrated. Its message mostly right wing.

Look closely at almost any issue and you will find that large monied interests (usually represented by Republicans) oppose democracy: heathcare, pharmaceuticals, transportation, weaponry, pensions, wages, software, education, ... When you have seen examples from these and many other areas, what you find is class warfare and the wreckage from the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision.

US Elections are thoroughly rigged, and reform is not even an issue. The 2000 election, decided by a partisan Supreme Court was more properly characterized as a coup, not an election.  Clean elections are a prerequisite for democracy and we don't have them. Even if elections were honest and fair, candidates are not bound to do the people's agenda. Public policy is not much influenced by elections. Oligarchs rule.

We vote for candidates (all quite different, none exactly on the right message), instead of voting for an agenda. Our public servants should be working for peace, using the best diplomacy, protecting the environment, providing everyone healthcare, and directing the economy toward productive purposes...not to weaponry that could be used only for Armageddon. An office holder not vigorously pursuing the people's agenda should be unceremoniously booted.

Information streams are polluted. Media are concentrated, exploitive spammers, managed by party hacks, cowed into submission, infiltrated by psy-ops, spoon-fed the official line. Government is secretive. There is an assault on the press. Except for official voices, there is silence in the media. A diversity of points of view is essential for a democracy, but concentration of media corporations and government intrusion prevents the possibility of democracy.

'Privatization' is a tool that removes public functions from accountability.

The WTO, an instrument of globalization, can overrule in secret any local law. This is governance by multinationals. The agenda is toward economic restructuring, union busting for cheap wages, and the imposition of the will of the global elite. There is no regard for the condition of the environment, or the well being of people. Corporations rule... or more accurately...misrule. 

Massive military spending required by empire results directly in a shift of the economy to armaments, and recently an accelerating militarizing of all aspects of civil life.   It has also spawned an arms race that is inherently very unsafe. Not only is militarization incompatible with democracy, it makes civilized social programs such as healthcare unaffordable. As Nazi Germany demonstrated: a country determined to use all of its resources for empire can do so only by total disregard of its own people and, in the end, was reduced to rubble.

Dissidents beware: Our communications of all types are now under complete surveillance. Whistleblowers prosecuted. Suppression of dissent is an important part of  new "security" measures. Peace activists or protesters of the SOA are now considered terrorists. Academic opinion is subject to policing through cutoff of government funds. Higher education is funded heavily for military purposes. Courts have ruled that it is ok for media to lie.

The Patriot Act was but the visible part of an assault on the Bill of Rights. Telephone, internet search records, library borrowings, and commercial sources have all been used in massive databases for data mining without any oversight. Call that democracy ?

The events surrounding 9-11 were not examined in a responsible way, yet the Bush administration used them to justify its own agenda. People would never have agreed to these actions had they been fully informed. The Press and the Congress failed to do due diligence in the lead up to the War in Iraq, and time has shown that the basis for war was a lie. No one was held accountable.

The future of the US will be marked by poor relations with the rest of the world, financial instability, overpopulation, energy crisis, environmental catastrophe, inflation, and endless war. There will be little employment security, rising costs, declining wages, deteriorating infrastructure, expensive corporate healthcare, increasing surveillance, more intrusive government, higher taxes, and a continuing race for the bottom. It will meet the same as the fate of every other empire.

If the US had real democracy, candidates would be bound to dowhat people want. How well they do it would be the criteria with which they are evaluated. Torture, renditions, secret government, broad surveillance, fiscal irresponsibility, neglect of health issues, response to concerns of the public are just a few of the categories that our current crop of candidates mostly fail.

We should vote for the agenda, not for the candidates. The effort would be a team activity in which there is no doubt of the goals.

  •  peace. (Unfortunately not on the table right now.)
  • democracy. (Government that actually benefits the people. Sorry, that's not on the table either.)
  • fair elections. (This is a precondition for democracy. This is not really under consideration right now.)
  • economic reform (There can be no democracy if there is extreme income inequality.)
  • justice, which is to include the right of habeas corpus, due process, and a duty to  observe international agreements that have been signed in the past.
  • media, an essential element for any democracy, is firmly controlled by the plutocracy and there is no credible effort to change that.

It is all about peoplehaving the ability to determine our direction. It is clear that our steering mechanisms are extremely weak.

See some ideas for reform.

The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations." Noam Chomsky

Video

How Democracy Works Now

Links

YouGov America
Committee for Direct Democracy Home Page
Continuing International Congress on Direct Democracy
C2D - Centre d'Etudes et de documentation sur la démocratie directe
The Democracy Online Project
Resources for Democracy
Best Direct Democracy & Electronic Democracy Solutions

Bibliography

Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government: Joshua Kurlantzick

Dollarocracy: John Nichols and Robert McChesney

The Silenced Majority: Amy Goodman

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It: Lawrence Lessig

The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement: David Graeber

When the People Speak: James S. Fishkin

Moyers on Democracy: Bill Moyers

Democracy at Risk: Rescuing Main Street from Wall Street: Jeff Gates.

Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy: Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

How Democratic is the American Constitution ?: Robert A. Dahl

Democracy Matters, Winning the Fight against Imperialism: Cornel West

Failed States: Noam Chomsky

Home Editorial News Books Blogs Links Feedback