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By William Johnston
As I listened to some Trump Administration crony recently drone on about "American democracy", I recalled with sarcastic irony President Obama in Cuba lecturing Raul Castro on democracy. At the same time Republican officials in the State of Arizona and several other states were and are working to block as much citizen access to the voting booth as possible. There is nothing new here. When it comes to promoting "democracy" around the world the United States Government has a pretty dreadful record. Our role in assisting the overthrow of elected governments is on-going. Be it Iran in 1953 to Honduras under Obama and Clinton. Did someone mention Vietnam? As usual not a whisper from the corporate media. As pointed out by political theorists, "media" is simply the propaganda vehicle for the dominant ideology.
The democratic republic established by our constitution in 1789 muddles along as a shadow of what it aspired to be. We are not a democracy. We have become an oligarchy (i.e. rule by the rich). Many Americans blame "Citizens United", the US Supreme Court decision legalizing bribery in our political system. The court has blessed a corrupt system making a mockery of democracy and gave the green light to the rich to buy politicians at every level of government. In a real democracy money does not count as freedom of speech.
Take a look at how we "elect" the president of the United States. We know from the 2000 and 2016 elections that people don't elect the president. Something called the "electoral college" does—using the total number of Representatives and Senators from each state and at times the perverted legal logic of the US Supreme Court! Clinton received three million more votes than Trump in 2016 but Trump is "elected" under a system designed to give slave holders more power when the constitution was ratified in 1789.
How about Congress? For starters take the United States Senate. Consider Wyoming has fewer than a million people while California has nearly 40 million. Both states have two Senators—would anyone in their right mind call that equal representation or democracy? I think not! Additionally California has one of the ten largest economies in the world while Wyoming ranks down there with the third world.
Twenty-five million more citizens voted for Democratic Senate candidates in the last election, yet the Republicans have more US Senators and legislative control. Thanks to Senate rules and the filibuster, Senators coming from states making up only 27 percent of the total population of the country can kill any legislation. And do the math on how US Senators from low population states affect the electoral vote. One hundred of those votes for president are totally unrepresentative of the people. This is how it works out when low population states vote one way and a majority of the population goes another. California senators represent people and Wyoming—cattle! How does a majority prevail in such an undemocratic system? The answer is that it doesn't and it is getting worse by the day.
Consider the House of "Representatives"—so called! Thanks to Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2010, millions more Americans voted for Democratic candidates as their congressman only to have the Republicans take control of the House! Now good old Democratic Party incompetence can be blamed for some of this problem. The National Democratic Party was asleep at the switch in 2011 when the Republicans redrew districts guaranteeing their candidates would win.
Take the State of Pennsylvania. Congressional Democratic candidates won over 100,000 more votes than Republican candidates statewide but fewer than one-third of the congressional seats. And this was repeated all over the country. The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in 2018 only because they increased their popular vote by almost 10 percent over the Republicans and they need to do better in 2020 to keep the House and retake the Senate. Trump and Republicans don't care about majority voting. That is why they put all their effort into their right-wing base in the states that gave them a minority victory in 2016.
Take a moment to review our "democracy" shall we? A Congress that does not even begin to represent a majority of the people; a campaign "contribution" system that operates on bribery; a media owned by a half dozen corporations only concerned with profits and a professional military (opposed by the founding fathers) has replaced a citizen army. We have more people in prison than any other western country. We torture suspects. Election laws are written so only two parties have a chance at being elected. The constitutional right of the working class to join a union (First Amendment Freedom of Association and industrial democracy) is gone.
As Marx wrote: "The oppressed are allowed every few years, to decide which representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and oppress them."
Bill Johnston is a USAF Vietnam Vet (SGT Office of the Staff Judge Advocate) 1966-70. He's a retired union staff for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (AFL-CIO). He was a Policy Analyst: Washington State Senate from 1988 to 1991.