This Isn’t Democracy…

Tim Wu recently had an interesting–albeit depressing–op ed in the New York Times.

Wu disagreed with the constant emphasis on American polarization and division, pointing out that there is really remarkable consensus among voters on a number of policy issues.

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxesfor the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rulesfor broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.

There is considerable research confirming this point. The opinions and desires of even large majorities of ordinary American citizens are far less likely to be the basis of policy than the desires and opinions of the wealthy and well-connected.

As Wu notes, this state of affairs is generally defended by arguing that “rank and file” of Americans aren’t experts on economic issues, and that economic policies should be developed by those who are.

It is true that policymaking requires expertise. But I don’t think members of the public are demonstrating ignorance when they claim that drug prices are too high, taxes could be fairer, privacy laws are too weak and monopolies are too coddled.

It is also true that majorities sometimes want things — “like bans on books, or crackdowns on minorities — that they should not be given.” But the issues under discussion do not implicate the restrictions imposed by the Bill of Rights. And many of these same policy preferences were legislated during the Progressive period.

In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification.

It is “the combined influence of industry groups and donors” that is the problem; those interests wield far more clout with lawmakers than We the People. They have effectively bought the federal government ‘s lawmaking apparatus–and the governments of the states have not been exempt.  (Thanks to gerrymandering and vote suppression, they have largely been able to ensure the electoral success of the candidates they’ve purchased.)

There is some hope that candidates who raise most of their funds from small-dollar donors will eventually “crowd out” the big-money interests, but it is unlikely that things will change much unless and until the Supreme Court overturns its previous decisions equating money with speech–or in the alternative, there is a constitutional amendment to that effect.

Meanwhile, we can argue about the proper terminology to apply to our governing system–plutocracy, oligarchy, kakistocracy–but we need to recognize that it is neither a republic or a democracy.

20 thoughts on “This Isn’t Democracy…

  1. Excellent blog post! This explains what we have been and still are dealing with in this country – a government wholly owned by the wealthy that exists only to make their corporate interests even richer.

    I still predict that we will not be able to turn this country around without a citizen revolution or multiple revolutions all over the country. The greedy will eventually push us to the point that we have nothing to lose.

  2. Party loyalty has never been more important. I hate to say that and never thought that I would but that reality has been forced on us by an extremist Republican Party. It’s the only alternative left for us.

    Will the good old days of bi-partisan governance ever return? I personally believe not for some time.

  3. Party loyalty has never been more important. I hate to say that and never thought that I would but that reality has been forced on us by an extremist Republican Party. It’s the only alternative left for us.

    Will the good old days of bi-partisan governance ever return? I personally believe not for some time.

  4. I’m with Nancy this morning. This is an excellent post. I also agree with her that in order to turn this country around toward the ideals and ideas of a democratic republic there needs to be a revolution… a re-institution of those ideas and ideals. How that is to come about I do not know. What I do know is that the United States of America has lost its way and sold its soul to the highest bidder.

  5. “It is “the combined influence of industry groups and donors” that is the problem; those interests wield far more clout with lawmakers than We the People.” This translates to CITIZENS UNITED and gerrymandering upholding voter suppression!

    “They have effectively bought the federal government ‘s lawmaking apparatus–and the governments of the states have not been exempt. (Thanks to gerrymandering and vote suppression, they have largely been able to ensure the electoral success of the candidates they’ve purchased.)” This is the basis and continuing source of “American polarization and division”

    Gerrymandering is supported by Citizens United which in turn upholds continuing gerrymandering and promoting voter suppression. Those allowed to register and cast their votes put the control in the hands of the gerrymandered candidates paid for by Citizens United – it is a political merry-go-round spinning too fast to change riders.

    That “really remarkable consensus among voters on a number of policy issues” has been falling on deaf ears in the Legislature since January 2010 when Republicans took full control of the Legislature and turned their responsibility to protect American people into their responsibility to their donors and lobbyists via gerrymandering and Citizens United. Where is that “really remarkable consensus” among families, friends and neighbors who are no longer speaking to know their views on policy issues; for or against? Are racism and bigotry in all its ugly forms considered “policy issues”; is one form of religion becoming Rule of Law a “policy issue”? Today they are the ruling issues.

    “Meanwhile, we can argue about the proper terminology to apply to our governing system–plutocracy, oligarchy, kakistocracy–but we need to recognize that it is neither a republic or a democracy.”

    Today it is monarchy vs. basic humanity by whatever name you want to apply and the Trump monarchy is the only government system in this country. How long can it last before there is blood in the streets here as we watch other major nations fight to obtain or to hold onto democracy?

  6. Pete,

    I disagree that party loyalty has never been more important. While the Dem party gives lip service to serving the middle class and the poor the Dems at the Federal level are mostly married to Wall Street and to other corporate interests just like the Rs.

    There are many of us throughout this country who consider ourselves Independents, yet there is no Independent Party that we can align with. In Indiana you are not even allowed to register as an Independent voter. How’s that for another form of voter suppression? Either pick one of the two ruling parties or forget voting in a Primary.

  7. Soon we will see the Republicans once again find an OTHER to hate.
    The stupid folk will decide THEY hate that other as well and feel comforted
    and once again, they will vote AGAINST their own interest
    The Republicans will ride this divide / hate the other thing as long as it works
    It has worked for them for a L O N G Time (1968 –> now)
    Stay tuned but expect more HATE THE OTHER from the GOP
    … because it works so well

  8. The biggest obstacle to change is us, the voters. As long as half of us can’t be bothered to vote, we will continue as a tool of the corporations.

  9. Full disclosure might help if we can’t get big money out of politics. I’d suggest that all communications between an office holder/staff and large donors or their representatives be part of the public record and that failure to disclose any communication be considered a campaign finance violation. I’d also suggest taxing large donations at 100 percent or more. If you’re going to buy the government, then you should be paying for it.

  10. heres a run down,since i like beating up on greed. i get my viagra from canada, with a u.s. doctors script,passed to a canadian doctor,and he approves. local cost in NoDak, king of high scripts, bout 63 and tax….
    phizer brand, phizer brand from canada, 100mg @17 each, generic,100mg@11.25 each..now who fooling who? though its a recreational drug,(well my wife and I, love) theres others to be found there to, theres a canadian federal website,and any legal pharma in canada,is registered,for mail order, canada pharmacy, is real and when the reality sets in on the differance,it gives ya a whole new meaning of fighting pharma. you can cross border, and get scripts filled. no issue,after all, ya needed some when ya got there..or, better yet, mail order. but, beware, retaliations may brew, but ill throw the viagra at any prosicutor, and smile as im making my point, in court…
    steny hoyer is making a ass out of himself, and our congress, aipac screech,(yes i know i said that),threw the progressives in lot,under his bus. seems he supports a first amendment crush,to allow isreal to be first in line to any constitutional remake,for killing people,and taking thier land,whoever they decided meets thier criteria. small buisness cant refuse imports,and hoyer has his check..where does this shit end?
    after trump were going to need a new coat of paint on washington as a whole. in 64 years and many of that reading news papers from around the country,i have never seen such a corrupt administration and republican party ever, and im not leaveing the center left demos alone either. time for a reset on this American democracy…best wishes

  11. I appreciate writers like Wu who have just now discovered we are an Oligarchy/Meritocracy. LOL

    Okay, sorry for the bloody sarcasm. Not sorry…

    I’m looking at an application for employment at Anderson University and they’re asking me for my religious affiliation and what denomination I worship the Lord. Oh, and how active I am with my church.

    WTF?

    Is this the USA?

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  13. “Meanwhile, we can argue about the proper terminology to apply to our governing system–plutocracy, oligarchy, kakistocracy–but we need to recognize that it is neither a republic or a democracy.”

    Great piece Sheila but the fact remains, as your copied statement above testifies to, without the American people having a tangible lever on this huge problem, whatever it may end up being called, ostensibly coming from the reversal of the SCOTUS Citizens United decision, we are stuck in a downward spiral with all the dire straits that it will very likely entail. Add to that the huge amount of civic ignorance on the part of vast numbers of Americans who either don’t understand this problem or are too distracted to really care. We are essentially inert.

    The American people will have to be mobilized to influence the SCOTUS to do such a thing and who or what is going to do that particularly when we will have lived through perhaps eight years of imperial rule at the hands of Trump and an emasculated Legislative Branch? Quite possibly by the time we get that lever is may be far too late for us. Even then the rectification of this mess will start, if it actually does, from that point in time when our options will likely be far narrower than they are now. In any case we will no longer be what we are right now. We will be well beaten down by all of this by then while, meanwhile, the rest of the world proceeds toward decay and chaos right along with us.

    At that point it may not matter anyway since the baton of global leadership will have already been taken from our hands, our country and our society will be wrecked and we will be just a bigger latter day version of Zimbabwe, already used to the chaos and ripe for the pickings. If we are going to beat this we need to start right now while we still can.

    I never, ever, thought that I’d be writing or keying such a dire assessment like this about my own country having read so many similar ones about 3rd and 4th world countries over the last 40 years or so. With the ongoing collapse we are seeing, essentially societal fatigue with an accompanying slippage of our traditional egalitarian notions, all of this may be in store for us if we don’t act. No one is going to do it for us. We have to do it.

  14. Todd; to answer your question “Is this the USA?”, with sincerest apologies to The Village People and people of all villages, the answer is NO! This is now the “YMCA”; You Must Christianize America.

  15. Anyone who is politically observant should have deduced decades ago our Representative Democracy represents the 1% and Large Corporations. Our military has been used since the 19th Century in Latin America to enforce American Imperialism. As Marine Corp General Smedley Butler warned back in the 1930’s, “The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

    Both political parties have engaged in triangulation. The Reactionary Republican – Right Wing Evangelicals have been successful in uniting several groups: thinly disguised racists, anti-womans’s rights and NRA types. Behind this facade is Steroid Capitalism.

    A vast majority — 70 percent — of Americans in a new poll supports “Medicare for all,” also known as a single-payer health-care system. The Reuters–Ipsos survey found 85 percent of Democrats said they support the policy along with 52 percent of Republicans.

    One important person NOT supporting Medicare for All or a Single Payer is Nancy Pelosi. As expected there is a corporate backlash against a Single Payer, which seeks to stop any movement toward Single Payer, one way or another.

  16. Nancy: “I still predict that we will not be able to turn this country around without a citizen revolution or multiple revolutions all over the country. The greedy will eventually push us to the point that we have nothing to lose.”

    Likely very true, but…what does it say about us that we will only act when we have nothing to lose? What about acting because we have principle to lose…Now!…that automatically loses us everything whenever it — the fact that we have surrendered principle — so chooses?

  17. It seems to me our posts on this blog and other locations as well, although 99% right on target, still come across as mere venting.

    What do we have to do to get 100 million citizens to realize our posts are more than venting; that our criticisms are more like the American people’s last chance to survive as valuable human entities equal to any billionaire and superior to every corporation?

    I have no doubt that should a new John or Robert Kennedy come along endowed with overpowering charisma and the verbal skills to put our complaints into political poetry, many of our concerns would be dealt with quickly. Short of that, which is near certainty, I see no solution…short of revolution.

    But the time for a successful revolution has passed.

    The bad guys (republicans, repugnants, mega-corporations and Christian sharia advocates) now have on their side against us 40% of the US military, 100% of the 300,000 private soldiers of fortune connected to private militias (Blackwater, etc.), half the US Intelligence apparatus, 80% of manufacturing, 98% of US capital, well over half the church membership and 75% of the fighting will.

    We have let the steamroller pass the crest and gain downhill speed. There is no stopping it.

    I regretfully suggest we learn to cope as slaves; we are already three-fifths of a person…or less. Learn to dance and sing with downcast eyes and submitting smiles.

  18. I am gratified and perplexed both about the dilemma so thoroughly discussed. Media and politicians, as well as some educators, are guilty of arousing masses for ages. Lincoln talked about being a democracy and ” if we do not believe all men are created equal let us FIND THE STATUTE BOOKS CONTAINING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE and tear it out. ” The democracy assault on the federal republic began with election of 1800. It was enhanced by Jacksonians. Limitedly ensconced in the Constitution with the 14th amendment. The 20th century blurred the concept of the republic politically with inflammatory, misleading rhetoric about being a democracy. Thus, growing crisis of ignorance, disenchantment, discontent imperiling the success of our system on both counts. All resultant from the levels of governments…at all tiers….doing their duty for fear of loss of next election at the hands of the vocal minority mob

  19. Larry,

    Re your 10:44 comment -What about acting now? Why wait until we have nothing left to lose? My answer is: waiting until all is lost seems to be the human reaction. Most people don’t want to face what is going on and fight it until it is too late. Or, they simply hope someone else will make the effort to do waht needs to be done to save them.

    I have been asked again to run for a state office in Indiana. I said NO up front this time. The reality is that I live in one of the most red districts in the state. Running for a state office in this district would require me to work my tail off, beg for donations and do it ALL by myself with the knowledge that I would lose anyway. People who want me to run would not put any effort out for a campaign. An R in this district doesn’t have to do a damn thing other than put their name on the ballot and they will get elected.

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