Who Says America Is A Democracy? 4-21-16
Robert A. Levine
America was born as a republic, not a democracy, with only property-holding or tax-paying white males allowed to vote. Over time, Constitutional amendments extended the vote to black males and then to all women. But supposed universal suffrage did not make America a democracy. Its mistaken identity particularly stands out during this season of presidential primaries.
There is no mention of political parties or primaries in the Constitution. The way the primary system was set up during the last century to pick presidential candidates is anything but democratic. With its caucuses and primary voting to pick delegates, and the large number of super-delegates who may be party stalwarts but have not been chosen by the voters for their roles, the selection of presidential candidates is not driven by democratic processes. (Even The Donald, who now appears to be the GOP candidate, has complained about this.)While candidates in the past were decided by the party bosses, the current extended primary system now in use may not be any better.
And the Electoral College mechanism to choose the winning presidential candidate in the general election is also undemocratic. (Just ask Al Gore.) The winner does not have to have the majority of the popular vote as long as he or she has a majority of the Electoral College votes, by winning a combination of the right states. Is this democracy?
Consider the Senate where each state gets to elect two members of this august body. This means that California with a population of 37 million has the same power in the Senate as Wyoming with a population of less than 600,000. The structure of the Senate was established in the Constitution and was meant to be undemocratic, and it certainly is. In the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections, there were more votes for Democratic senators than for Republicans, though the GOP now has a majority in the Senate.
The House is dominated by conservative Republicans, many of whom were elected in districts gerrymandered by Republican state legislatures. The members of Congress from these districts have virtually safe seats because of the gerrymandering which does not follow natural boundary lines and stuffs Democratic voters into other districts where their votes are less meaningful. In 2012 Congressional elections, the Democratic Party nationally had a plurality of 1.4 million votes more than the Republicans. Yet the Republicans won 33 more seats in the House. This was the result of redistricting after the 2010 census. No surprise. It may not be fair and may not be democratic, but it’s American politics.
The Court system which is supposed to be independent of political parties has become increasingly politicized at all levels as evidenced by the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. Not democratic and not following precedent. The conservative Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizen’s United and the McCutcheon decisions also allowed big donors to put unlimited sums behind political candidates, using the idea that this was freedom of speech. Give me a break. This was done to help wealthy donors control the electoral process and elect more conservatives to office.
With the help of the court system, affluent Americans and corporate interests now control the Senate and the House and are going after the presidency. They also control the majority of state legislatures and governorships with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council and dollars from conservative donors. Is it democracy in action when some Americans can give hundreds of millions of dollars to support their candidates and most Americans can only give hundreds (or even less). Money talks and big donors have loud voices. Also, in the 501 (c) 4 organizations, donors can give sums anonymously and perhaps take a tax deduction if it’s for a so-called “social welfare” cause.
Many of the state legislatures have also passed laws to restrict voting with certain IDs necessary in order to register. Numerous older people and minorities who wish to vote do not have the required IDs and have difficulty obtaining them, and thus cannot vote. Also ease of voting has been limited by having fewer places to vote and fewer days when voting is allowed, also making it more difficult for older people and minorities to vote. Is this democracy?
And why isn’t there a centrist third party in America? Most polls have about 40 percent of American self-labeling themselves as independents or centrists. But there is no party to represent them. The duopoly of the Democrats and Republicans has made it extremely difficult at the state level for a national third party to take root. So a large portion of citizens do not vote or vote for a party that’s the lesser of two evils because there’s no other choice. Is this democracy? Who says that America is a democracy?
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