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From the Greek, the word democracy means “rule by the people”. However, U.S. democracy is controlled less by physical human beings than by fictional people, corporations. The Supreme Court and many politicians like Mitt Romney support the fiction that corporations are people. That is just one defect in the U.S. democracy.
If democracy is “rule by the people”, and corporations are people, corporations should rule, or at least have an equal say in our democracy. And if “people” can spend without limit on political campaigns, then those with the most money, corporations, have the most say in our government.
In his tome Politics, Aristotle (pg. 62) says that, “Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is a democracy.” The U.S. is ruled by wealth, and thus, it is not fully democratic. The wealthy are favored in our tax code and our political decisions. The wealthy have more say in our government, in fact, the men and women that run almost all levels our or government come from the upper strata of society. In the elite-controlled U.S. democracy, the office holders may change, but the class and background from where the rulers hail stays the same. That leads to a government by, for and of the wealthy.
Aristotle also wrote in Politics, (page 93), “For if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” And that doesn’t happen in the US or elsewhere. Karl Marx makes it clear in his writings that economic inequality, the unequal opportunity in educational and almost all other institutions, leads to very undemocratic outcomes. If the poor and the rich children do not share the same schools, the government can not be democratic.
There is also the myth in our nation that is most often advanced by those who are better off that “all men are created equal.” The idea is that “Democracy…arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.” (Politics pg. 108) It is this self-delusion about equality that leads U.S. Congress and the White House to behave as if we are all equal. Thus, many in Congress have no problem eliminating or cutting programs to address economic and social inequality in our society, programs such as affirmative action, welfare, food stamps, student loans and so forth. Just because we may be equally born in nature does not mean we are equally born in circumstance.
As insidious as the myth of equality is the myth that our government actually works toward the goals of equality, that it even cares that inequality exists. We are sold this idea all through our K-12 education, and it isn’t until college that some educators address what many students questioned their whole life. The fact is that equality in opportunity and resources is a myth.
Elites often don’t like the idea of majority rule. John Stuart Mill and his contemporaries deplored the idea. Like Aristotle, they thought democracy, what Aristotle called the “the best form of democracy”, is best when citizens vote for those that make the laws in councils. And that meant that the “greatest of society”, the aristocrats, would populate the councils. Democracy would be run by the elites who would never challenge the perceived rights of their class and social privilege. Majority vote was regarded as troublesome at best. Some feared that the masses would oppress the well healed, that “Power in the Hands of the Masses throws the Scum of the Community to the Surface.’ ” (Ibid) And the Lords and Duchesses in the U.S. Congress see many of us as that scum today.
19th century proponents of democracy wanted to replace the power of monarchies, the church, and the landed aristocracy with democratic institutions. However, they didn’t want to leave democracy in the hands of the lower classes. They wanted to replace the old forms of rule with new forms of moneyed aristocracy: industry, the stock market, and banking. As Benjamin Constant said of the French revolution, “The ancients aimed at a distribution of power among all the citizens of a given state, and they referred to this as freedom. For the moderns...liberty refers to the guarantees of these possessions afforded by their institutions.” (Ibid) Today, anyone who is concerned with poverty and outrageous wealth coexisting in our society is called a communist, a wealth redistributer, un-American or worse by the ruling elite and their media outlets. Slandering those concerned with inequality, such as the Occupy movement, is a way to discredit ideas of economic fairness. Thus they focus the attention of the people on those outrageous, hippie, commie anarchists instead of their message of inequality and economic fairness.
Elitism is evident in our democracy from those who deplore the “47% that will never support us”. But Republicans are complicated autocrats. While they defend the rights to organize “real America”, hard working, plain-spoken rural folk, they fight organizations such as unions, fight women’s right to choose and some citizen’s (minorities, college students and the elderly) right to vote. Elites live in their enclaves and promote democracy for those that support them, not for their detractors. For the ruling classes that run our democracy, this means they serve those of their own class, their “equals”.
One misconception about governance is that one need be an expert in public policy to be successful in office. The famous educational philosopher, John Dewey, when writing about democracy, “…argued that just as experts could not make policy that was truly public, so too policy makers need not be experts.” Those stuck in the towers of power and policy, those that seldom experience anything other than government work or their wealthy enclaves, know less about the needs of the public than average citizens. And like Marx, Dewey saw voting not as an end, but a means to eventual citizen rule.
Dewey adds that, “…The development of political democracy came about through substitution of the method of mutual consultation and voluntary agreement for the method of subordination of the many to the few enforced from above…” (ibid). The democratic tools of this subordination include the police, private security, the military, the DEA, ICE, and other, but not all, government agencies. He continues, “Even where democracies now exist, men's minds and feelings are still permeated with ideas about leadership imposed from above, ideas that developed in the long early history of mankind.” (ibid) Thus, it is a democracy enforced from above, not endorsed from below.
The mainstream media that reaches almost every corner of the land largely presents the White House and Congressional perspectives and frames issues in the way the power brokers in society do. They ask us, “is Eric Snowden a traitor or patriot” and we focus on Snowden and not the NSA surveillance. They tell us that we need this war on terrorism, and the media jumps to report this as fact. They talk endlessly about Mexican immigration and a “path to citizenship” and blatantly ignore the roots of illegal immigration, poverty in Mexico. These discussions leave us distracted and shut out of the decisions that affect us all.
In the past when things got bad for the majority in the United States, there has been a course correction in our democracy. We have seen the progressive movement and legislation, new labor unions, the new deal, the fair deal, and so forth in attempts to correct economic unfairness in our nation. During our current recession, there has been little or no such corrective measures to address the structural economic and political inequality in our society. The stimulus of 2009 was the one major attempt to jump-start the economy, but it was too small. It is clear that the government no longer fears nor cares about the outrage of the people; they have successfully distracted the lower classes from the fundamental economic issues and closed off avenues of democratic action.
Marx and Dewey both understood that having the right to vote does not mean you are free as a human being. It has long been the case, since the early days of the U.S. “slaveocracy” to the days for Citizens United that democracy has been defective in the U.S. Moreover, wealth has always been used to demonstrate and buy democratic power over the will of the masses. Supporting our current democracy and the historical lack of democracy in the U.S. because it is better here than other places is the same thing as voting for “the lesser of two evils.” While some of us will do fine, the nation as a whole, and the world, will continue to spiral downward economically and politically without reconstituting our democracy for the people and not the elites.