The shining light of American democracy—a beacon for the world—is actually a smoldering dumpster fire
Americans do not live in a democracy.
Right-wing pricks will tell you that's a good thing. They will say that America's founding father's—in their immense wisdom—established the United States as a Republic, not a democracy, specifically to avoid the danger of the unruly masses inflicting their tyrannical will on out-groups and minority populations.
Leaving aside the fact that these revered men did not generally believe in the humanity of women, Black people, native Americans, and presumably men with facial hair—and that democracy mostly frightened them with the possibility of the unwashed masses voting to take away their powdered-wig money—there were actually some nice ideas in there.
For instance, they enshrined some rights with the intention of preventing the kind of religious conflict and ideological oppression that had torn Europe apart for centuries. That's great and all, but they never enshrined any right to vote, and if their intention was to use the intermediaries of a representative republic to prevent a majority from monopolizing democratic power and inflicting hateful tyranny on a powerless minority of the population, there's some bad news...
The roots of America's democracy problem www.youtube.com
While our system has gotten more democratic in some ways—we now elect our senators through a direct popular vote, rather than having them selected by state legislatures—the consolidation of political power among a small percentage of wealthy elites has resulted in a powerful minority inflicting hateful tyranny on both the powerless majority and on truly oppressed out-groups.
It doesn't matter if most people don't want overpriced private healthcare, environmental degradation, regressive taxation, prohibitive abortion laws, immigrant concentration camps, and corporate overlords with the power to quash collective bargaining. The legislation that serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful—either directly, or by providing a distraction from the issues that actually affect our daily lives—is the legislation that consistently gets passed.
That's how the system is built at every level. As former president Jimmy Carter put it, we now live in an "oligarchy" where "unlimited political bribery" leads to "a complete subversion of our political system."
The Electoral College
The electoral college may be the most obvious example of how warped America's "democratic" institutions are. Each state was originally apportioned a number of electors based on their population of citizens, with each enslaved black person equal to 3/5 of a citizen. While those enslaved people would not be represented by the government, the men with the moral fortitude to treat them like subhuman cattle would be, and they believed that they deserved a louder voice because of all the human beings they owned.
Each state had the right to decide how its electors would be selected, either by popular vote or by state legislators; then those electors, though they had a "pledged" loyalty, could cast their vote for whoever they wanted to be president and have occasionally abandoned their pledges to vote for someone else.
The National Popular Vote v. the Electoral College [POLICYbrief] www.youtube.com
If that sounds like a frustrating board game where they made the rules excessively complicated as a substitute for making them, you know, work...you're starting to get the hang of it. Of course, nowadays we also have a national popular vote where we listen to what every voter wants—because every vote counts!—before turning our attention back to the electoral college and the handful of swing states where votes actually count.
In 40% of elections in this century the popular vote winner has lost the electoral college, and the will of the governed has been ignored in favor of some arcane rules written by men with syphilitic brain damage.
There is currently a push for states to embrace the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would assign a winning number of electors to whichever candidate won the national popular vote and eliminate the familiar routine of candidates chasing each other around contested states and ignoring most of the country.
But while the compact is only a few large states away from going into effect, it seems unlikely that it will come into effect any time soon. Because while you might think that voters in Texas would resent the idea of their votes having less than 1/3 the power of voters in Vermont or Washington D.C., they have been sold on the idea that their interests are best served by the current incarnation of the Republican party—which is heavily favored by the electoral college—rather than a version that was forced to actually listen and adjust to the populace...
And even if the compact went into effect, it's there's a good chance that the Supreme Court's current, wildly conservative 6-3 majority—5/6 of whom were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote—would overturn it.
Speaking of Texas and the disenfranchisement of voters, can you guess how many Left-wing congresspeople represent the famously liberal enclave of Austin?
If you guessed 1 out of 5, congratulations! If that's not what you guessed, you're probably pretty confused about why a city with a population under a million even has five congressional representatives (New York City, with a population of over 8 million, has 13 representatives in Congress), let why four of them are Republicans. The answer is gerrymandering.
Named after some old-timey guy named Gerry, Gerrymandering is the ancient practice of reshaping the boundaries of a voting district into grotesque contortions according to partisan calculations. If you can pick your voters, you can make sure that the voters never pick someone you don't like.
One of the most common versions of this is known as "cracking and packing," where a population with politics you don't agree with—say, the liberals in Austin–is either split up and diluted into various conservative-leaning districts or carefully contained to one hyper-liberal district—as with Louisiana's 2nd district, which contains both Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
This is how the Republican party has maintained a stranglehold on power since the 2010 redistricting, despite representing a smaller and smaller portion of Americans. This is why Pennsylvania Democrats—who won a significant the majority of votes in state races in 2018—still ended up being the minority party in the state legislature.
Gerrymandering is why—despite more Americans preferring the generally inoffensive corporate milquetoasts of the Democratic party (e.g. Joe Biden)—to the greedy, hateful and even more corporate shills of the Republican party (e.g. Donald Trump) are still dominant at the level of state legislatures, and remain nationally competitive.
In 1886—fewer than 30 years after ruling that Black Americans couldn't be citizens in the Dred Scott case—the United States Supreme Court decided on dubious grounds that, if the 14th amendment insisted that formerly enslaved people counted as full people (effectively repealing the "3/5 compromise"), then rich people's companies should count as people too.
It was the only way to make sure that the kind of rich assh*les who used to treat Black people like subhuman cattle—as well as their northern counterparts—could still have way too much power. it meant they couldn't be held accountable for any crimes they committed or debts they incurred through their companies.
What Uber and Lyft don't want you to know about California's Prop 22. (For more info, read my thread:… https://t.co/17xj9CkMV7— Adam Conover (@Adam Conover)1604290482.0
Then, in 2010, the narrowly conservative Supreme Court ruled on the Citizens United case and endorsed that concept of personhood, with the addition that those corporate "persons" have as much freedom of speech as you or I—though, lacking mouths, they can only speak with their millions and millions of dollars.
That green, paper speech can be used to influence and manipulate political discussions to the preferences of the wealthy investors, meaning that companies like Uber and Lyft can fund advertisements that make it seem like their gig economy employees—"contractors"—would hate having health benefits and a minimum wage.
That's what's happening in California right now with the proposition 22 vote, where voters don't even know that the the deceptive "Yes on Prop 22" ads they're being fed are funded by massive corporations trying to rob their employees of those benefits.
The embrace of corporate money in political advertising is mirrored in the abandonment of public election funding in favor of big money donors. Increasingly, politicians only need to cater their messages to the ultra wealthy, and to the pet issues of their most devoted political bases—ignoring most citizens.
In another stunningly brilliant move by the Supreme Court (boy, wouldn't it be great if we could have placed three humane justices in the last four years...) in 2013 they gutted the voting rights act, ruling that the limitations on certain states to alter their voting systems without oversight were not necessary, because there hadn't been any racist alterations lately. In other news, if you haven't burned your hands on a baking sheet in while, you can probably throw out your oven mitts...
Since that time, those previously overseen states have closed over 1,600 polling places and instituted various discriminatory voter ID laws, as well as purging hundreds of thousands of voter registrations. Incidentally, when voter turnout is up, Democrats tend to perform better...
In The Republic, Greek philosopher Plato (who was awful and ridiculous in many ways, but just leave that aside for now...) determined that strong universal education was fundamental to the functioning of society.
Without a proper education, individuals could not help to make informed decisions for their own interests and the general welfare of society. And if only some individuals are educated, there's nothing to stop those individuals from steering society—including education—to their own advantage.
Plato's best (and worst) ideas - Wisecrack www.youtube.com
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening with people like current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in charge of American schools. Arguing for "school choice" (and for the kind of religious establishment the founding fathers tried to prevent) they deprive free public schools of their already skewed funding (tied to property values, because...evil), encouraging parents to seek private schooling, which is often a great option for the wealthy, and often an inadequate insult for working class families.
How are people supposed to properly exercise their democratic rights if their massively underfunded schools never taught them the basics of America's political system? The answer is: They aren't.
People like Betsy DeVos benefit when most of the citizens don't know their rights or understand what has been stolen from them. People like Betsy DeVos—and Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell—benefit from the fact that we don't live in a true Democracy, and from the fact that most Americans don't have the education to realize how much better things could be—how much better they are in countries with functioning Democracies.
People like you and me (assuming you aren't a multi-millionaire) benefit when enough of us vote to push back against the oligarchy and assert our preference for Democratic rule. And maybe—if we keep it up—we might even get it one day.