Newsletter – US Democracy Crisis: Illegitimate System
Above photo: From Alamy.
Two years ago we wrote that the task of the movement is to build national consensus. We have shown in previous articles that national consensus is being reached on many issues, but the government is not responding to the public consensus. We have also reported on research that shows the US is really an oligarchy operating in the worst democracy in the western world.
The government’s lack of responsiveness to the people and elected officials who fail to represent the people’s views are resulting in a crisis of democracy. This week the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs reported on that crisis. They found the legitimacy of US government has disappeared:
“Nine in 10 Americans lack confidence in the country’s political system, and among a normally polarized electorate, there are few partisan differences in the public’s lack of faith in the political parties, the nominating process, and the branches of government.”
Ninety percent! A near unanimous consensus about the lack of confidence in the US political system. The poll taken last month as the primary season comes to a close found “only 13 percent say the two-party system for presidential elections works.” The elections have left most Americans feeling discouraged with 70% saying they experience frustration and 55% reporting they feel helpless. Only 13% feel proud of the presidential election.
It is not just elections but all three branches of government are held in low esteem: “A quarter (24 percent) say they have a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court and only 15 percent of Americans say the same of the executive branch. Merely 4 percent of Americans have much faith in Congress.”
The two major political parties are held in low esteem by their own registered voters: “Only 29 percent of Democrats and just 16 percent of Republicans have a great deal of confidence in their party. Similarly, 31 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans have a lot of faith in the fairness of their party’s nominating process.” And, most members of both parties do not think their party is receptive to the views of rank and file voters, only 14% of Democrats believe their party is responsive and 8% of Republicans.
These are the views of those who remain inside the two parties, record numbers have left the two parties. According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 50% of people in the US consider themselves independents, and only 21% identified as Republicans and 29% as Democrats. A 2015 Gallup poll similarly found that a record high number of Americans—43%—consider themselves to be independents.
John Stauber, a media expert, describes the electoral system as “a farce” and explains why we are trapped in a corrupt two-party system: “The super-rich whose interests lie with Wall Street, the global corporations, and what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, own and control both the Democrat and the Republican parties and their candidates. This shared monopoly prevents any anti-oligarchy party from emerging . . . The corporate media is the recipient of the lions share of this money which they get for selling the TV ads . . . It’s a hell of a system, a total fraud on democracy, painted up to look like democracy.”
And, this frustration and lack of confidence are also shown by the high percentage of non-voters. Stauber says: “This is why even in an election year as controversial as this one, most Americans will not vote. The majority of Americans have lost faith in what has become a charade that betrays their interests.” The sad reality is that with half of qualified US voters not registering and half of registered voters not voting, only 25% of the US public votes in elections. Winning 55% of voters is a landslide in a presidential race but in reality it is under 15% of qualified US voters.
There are good reasons to lose faith in the government. Every week we could point to how the government is out-of-step with the people’s priorities.
The US has become a carefully designed plutocracy that creates laws to favor the few. As Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissenting opinion in McCutcheon, American law is now ‘incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy.’ Or, as former president, Jimmy Carter said on July 16, 2013 “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” And, then there is the devastating truth, as Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), stated, about the impact of the big banks on the Senate: “They own the place.”
The lost democratic legitimacy of the United States is proven in academic research. One study in Perspectives on Politics, which reviewed 1,779 policy issues, found: “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.”
Another study, published in the Political Research Quarterly, found that only the rich get represented in the US Senate. The researchers studied the voting records of Senators in five Congresses and found the Senators were consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents and lower-class constituents never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior. This oligarchic tendency was even worse when the Senate was controlled by Democrats.
This week the trade agreements demonstrated how oligarchy works in the United States and why people continue to lose faith in government. The Obama trade agenda was negotiated not only in secret, but also by government officials who are part of a revolving door between big business and the Office of the US Trade Representative. Michael Froman, a former Citigroup executive, has gone back and forth between big finance, US Treasury, big finance, USTR and in the meantime was a bundler of large donations from Wall Street for President Obama. He was given a $4 million bonus when he left Citi to become US Trade ambassador.
Emails released under FOIA show that Froman continues to have a chummy relationship with Wall Street and they had a major role in shaping the TPP to serve big business interests. One striking thing about these emails is how Froman has been consistently in touch with executives from Goldman Sachs who served in the Bush administration and went to Goldman during the Obama administration (the opposite of Froman, who went to Citigroup during the Bush era after being in the Clinton government and before the Obama government).
On top of all this, the official negotiations were conducted in secret with members of Congress, the media and public kept ignorant. Just as the weak US elections are used to give the illusion of democracy and veil oligarchy, the USTR appointed a “transparency officer” at the demand of Congress. But the purpose of transparency seems more to do with blocking information. As Rep. Lloyd Dogget (D-TX) says “The true function of whoever wears this hat is to continue engaging in as much bureaucratic obstruction as possible.” The person chosen to wear that hat was the general counsel at USTR who has defended secrecy and litigated to block FOIA requests.
And, if all of this is not bad enough, even after the US negotiates trade rules that benefit its trans-national corporate interests, they work to rig the system even more if they do not get everything they asked for. That was obvious in the recent act of the United States to block the reappointment of a World Trade Organization judge from South Korea because he ruled against the United States too often.
That is this week’s lesson in oligarchic government. The Obama trade agenda, as with previous presidents, is to advance the cause of multi-national corporations. The US will rig the system by negotiation with them for language that gives corporations what they want and they will continue to rig the system to keep protecting US big business interests. These laws impact everything in our lives – food, water, environment, finance, jobs, income, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, the Internet, energy and more – and yet they are negotiated without any input from the people. One more example of the US democracy crisis.
No doubt next week, the people will experience more acts of the oligarchs against the people. It is a regular recurrence which explains the poll numbers showing 9 out of 10 do not trust the US political process.
What if There was a Real Political Revolution?
Senator Bernie Sanders has made the term “political revolution” acceptable in US political discourse. David Swanson asks: What if people in the United States came to understand “revolution” as something more than a campaign slogan in a presidential election campaign?
We have been monitoring the growing popular movement since before the occupy encampments in 2011. The movement has grown significantly, we estimate tripling in size since the encampments were closed by a massive nationally-coordinated police force. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has won victories over police prosecution, the release of investigatory records and removal of prosecutors. The #FightFor15 movement has won battles for higher wages across the country. And, climate justice activists have succeeded in stopping pipelines and other carbon infrastructure. Student debt activists have also won victories. These are a few examples of many demonstrating a movement that is growing and succeeding.
We would not call it a revolution, but it is a series of uprisings that are setting their own agenda, developing strategies and tactics to achieve goals and building power. Swanson focuses on an Egyptian activist who helped to ignite the Arab Spring. He tells how Egyptian activists stayed out of electoral politics in what they saw as a hopelessly corrupt system and took to the streets in fits and starts.
They did remove the Mubarak government, which ruled as a dictatorship for thirty years. This was a tremendous victory but the system didn’t change and so two coups leave Egypt no better off today, more work needs to be done. We in the US can learn from the experiences of Egyptian revolutionaries. Swanson asks, “how would one duplicate that sort of organizing in a place as large as the United States, with the middle class spread across the soul-numbing sprawl? And how would it compete against the highly skillful propaganda of U.S. media outlets?”
The media problem should not be underestimated. As John Stauber points out “We are completely enveloped by the corporate propaganda system from the moment of our birth on, and it allows the oligarchy to control our minds and lives from cradle to grave, in seamless invisible fashion, via marketing, advertising and public relations, reinforced by the news media. Few are able to admit and see this . . .” People in the United States are subjected to the most sophisticated propaganda system in world history. It keeps people ignorant of the facts, misleads people with false information and prevents many from seeing we are living in a mirage democracy, really an oligarchy, wearing a false democracy veil. Yet, even with this now 9 out of 10 people in the United States no longer trust the US political system.
Many activists participated in the Sanders campaign and see the relationship between activism and electoral politics. The Sanders campaign has elevated the public discourse about important issues, activated more people and exposed the corruption of the Democratic Party. Others have worked in the Green Party, socialist parties and progressive parties and use independent politics as a movement tool to create alternative platforms and political structures. The history of transformational change in the US has required both an independent mass movement and independent political parties.
There are multiple offshoots from the Sanders campaign and people are trying to figure out how to build on its success, just as people built on the success of Occupy and the movements that followed. One opportunity that we support is the People’s Convention in Philadelphia, which will take place two days before the start of the Democratic National Convention. They seek to lay more ground work for the next phase of a people powered grass roots movement, saying:
“The 2016 election cycle has revealed a deficit of democracy in our country and a failure of our major institutions to respond to the needs of the American public. As a solution to this dilemma, a grassroots coalition of organizers is sponsoring an inclusive gathering named The People’s Convention, to be held in Philadelphia on July 23, 2016. This event will bring together regular people ready to build a more sustainable, cooperative and democratic country together.”
Sign up, donate and participate in the People’s Convention. Join us in Philadelphia.
This and similar actions are antidotes to the democracy crisis in the United States, a crisis that impacts all aspects of our lives. We must organize and continue to build a mass movement as well as an electoral movement that challenge the two big business parties.
We’ll be at the People’s Convention but have two next steps we hope people will participate in:
- Join the #NoLameDuck uprising to stop the TPP from being ratified during a lame duck session of Congress. Already more than 1,800 have signed up, we hope you will too. Sign up here. And, if you are in Philadelphia, join us for the Stop the TPP contingent of the March for a Clean Energy Revolution. The TPP is a battle between people power and corporate power. If the people win, it will be a message to the oligarchs that we are organized, mobilized and have power.
- Start planning with groups and networks you work with for the #NoHoneymoon revolt. The popular movement needs to stand up and tell whomever is elected that there will be no honeymoon for the next government. They will be held accountable to the people’s demands. And, there will be ongoing protests, organizing and mobilizing to make sure that the people set the agenda, not the oligarchs.
The public are with us by massive super majorities. National consensus has been reached on key issues. Our job is to ensure that the people are not only heard, but that politicians act on our behalf. The establishment, represented by the two parties, needs to know that the people are fed up with their plutocratic behavior on behalf of the wealthy as well as their corruption. Oligarchy is coming to an end.