Pick up any dictionary, look up the word “democracy” and this is what you’ll find — “government by the people, rule of the majority.” You won’t find a shiny star-spangled banner pictured next to the definition, although that will come as a surprise to many Americans. There’s a reason why.
American democracy is far from where it should be (or where it thinks it is), yet exactly where its founding fathers intended — in the hands of an elitist ultra-wealthy class. Americans are taken by the idea that they were democratic idealists, but that simply wasn’t the case. Skim over the Original Frame of the Constitution and you’ll find abundant “undemocracy” — from the Electoral College and permitted slavery to non-suffrage for women and white men who had no property.
Think about this for a second — a mere 10 to 15 percent of early America had the right to vote.
From the outset, America’s leaders sold the country as though it was built for the many, when in fact it was built for the few. Unfortunately, the framers’ “let us decide for you” mentality became deeply ingrained in the psyche of the American government and people. Today, it goes by the name of “American exceptionalism.”
America believes it is exceptional — a beacon of democracy that must serve as the protector of freedoms around the world. President Abraham Lincoln referred to this belief as an obligation in the Gettysburg Address of 1863, stating that Americans have a duty to see that “government for the people, by the people shall not perish from the earth.” But before debating the obvious question of whether or not America has the right to impose its ideology on other sovereign nations, perhaps we should look more closely at whether or not it is a democracy at all.
It’s true that America has elections and its citizens have the right to vote. But it’s also true that America has the lowest voter turnout of any industrialized Western country.
If voting is so key to ensuring a people’s voice is heard and the United States is so democratic, then shouldn’t we expect more Americans to exercise this right? We should, but the fact is Americans are avoiding voter booths in droves, more than ever before. Why is this the case?
There’s an easy explanation.
Americans are losing faith in their ability to have a say in their political system and how it affects their lives. A recent national poll shows that confidence in the Supreme Court has hit an all-time low of 23 percent, while faith in the presidency is 11 percent and in Congress a laughable 5 percent.
Many Americans are finally seeing their system for exactly what it is — a plutocracy where the people have little sway over government. Unlimited campaign donations allow corporations and the wealthy to literally buy elections. This is no conspiracy theory. The Supreme Court has twice ruled — in 2010 and 2014 — to support elitist interests in government, striking down laws and limits on corporate election contributions. One recent example of corporate influence over U.S. politics is the Koch brothers, who have already announced plans to donate $1 billion to the 2016 presidential candidate who best represents their interests.
But America’s undemocracy isn’t just about elections. In this plutocracy money is the blood that runs through the government’s veins, and everything else is of little value — even its citizens’ health. The lack of responsibility that American officials feel toward constituents is shameless.
Recently the world’s attention turned to Flint, Michigan where the governor fired elected officials, appointed his cronies, put his own financial interests above the people and severely jeopardized the health of the population. After ordering the city to use polluted river-water for drinking water instead of clean water from Lake Huron, over 100,000 residents were exposed to lead poisoning for more than two years. At the same time, he allowed a GM factory to use the clean lake water for vehicle manufacturing after the CEO complained that the river-water was corrosive to metal.
This is just another example of American politicians favoring the wealthy over those who they are supposed to represent.
Is this the sort of democracy America is forcing down the throats of other nations? If so, then as we have seen in Flint, Syria, Iraq, all over the Middle East and in many regions throughout the world, the only thing exceptional about it is the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe it brings.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is now criticizing Russia for not using diplomacy to solve the Syria crisis. It’s hard to take this statement seriously when in America such undemocracy is at work.
Jeff Monson is an MMA fighter and political activist.