When someone asked what he thought about Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi replied, "I think it would be a good idea". We are only saying the same thing about American democracy"We think it would be a good idea".
Inspired by this idea, a number of progressive American scholars, lawyers and activists have created the International Endowment for Democracy (IED) to highlight
- the tragic and rapidly deteriorating state of democracy in the United States;
- the frightening hypocrisy, especially under such conditions, of our government's efforts (aided and abetted by such institutions as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)), to engage in what it calls "democratic nation building" and "democracy promotion" (See our website for DEMOCRACY LIBRARY, section I.);
- the kind of fundamental reforms needed to make our country into a real democracy;
American democracy has never been what it claimed to be: too many people have been denied the vote either by law or through discrimination; politics was always dominated by the rich who also controlled the main means by which people acquire their political information and ideas; governments were always in the hands of the same rich whose interests have determined most important legislative, administrative and judicial outcomes. If Abraham Lincoln famously defined "democracy" as "government of, by and for the people", American democracy was always government OVER everyone, BY a small wealthy class, and (with an occasional exception) FOR these same few.
And it was never meant to be anything else, as James Madison, the most influential of our "Founding Fathers", admitted in describing the goals of those who wrote the Constitution in 1789 as trying to check the leveling instincts of the majority, who had little or no property, while retaining "the spirit and form of popular government". Should anyone miss the point, John Jay, one of Madison's co-conspirators (the convention that drafted the Constitution was engaging in an illegal act against the then government of the United States) declaimed that "the people who owned the country ought to govern it". How they have gotten away with thiswith a focus on who "they" are and what served their interestsis the real history that most of America's history books have been written to hide. (See our DEMOCRACY LIBRARY, section III.)
What's different now is that the person sitting in the oval office is a usurper (more Napoleon III than Bush I), having stolen the last two presidential elections, and, with this, even the modest degree of influence Americans once enjoyed over their rulers has practically disappeared. The policies followed by this illegitimate government display the same arrogant disregard for democratic values and procedures that brought it to power. At home, the tragic events of 9/11 were used as a pretext to make an unprecedented assault on American civil liberties in the so-called "Patriot Act" and to carry out an economic program that favors corporations and the rich as never before. With few exceptions, the media and the official opposition, the Democratic Party, both of which are also owned by the rich, continue to make believe that George W. Bush is really the President. Meanwhile, despite all the bad reviews, nothing is being done to fix the electoral system to keep 2008 from becoming a replay of 2000 and 2004. (See our DEMOCRACY LIBRARY, section II.)
Abroad, our illegitimate government has become the major danger to world peace, having started two unnecessary wars (at least one of which was based on lies) and threatened several others. Economically, by bullying and bribing weaker nations to adopt free market economies, the rapidly growing gap between America's rich and poor (including the misnamed "middle class")with the accompanying erosion of decent paying, full-time jobs and social benefitshas been reproduced virtually everywhere. While in the environment, the American government's unwillingness to even admit global warming, let alone act upon it (other than to make it worse), has raised the stakes to the point where the very future of our species is in jeopardy.
Why does the lack of real democracy in the United States lead to a worsening economic plight as well as a fall in the quality of life and in personal security for most people throughout the globe? Because the great majority of the American people, who have no interest in pursuing the policies that produce these results, don't rule. While the small minority that does rule are willing to risk the well being of people everywhere, because this is how they increase their already considerable wealth and power. It's called "capitalism".
The solution would seem to be more and better democracy. But if big money dominates the political process at every turn (drawing up programs, nominations, campaigns, advertising, consulting, media, lobbying to say nothing of setting and administering the election rules)as it clearly does in Americathen, as a popular joke goes, "our government is the best that money can buy". And the formal right that everyone has to speak their mind and to vote, and the regular occurrence of elections, simply mask and help legitimate what is, in effect, a pre-determined outcome.
What is essential to realize is that democracy in the United States has always been two parts ideology to one part reality. And the main job of that ideology has been to teach voters how to be good losers and to treat those who bought their way to victory as the legitimate government of the country. In this, the word "democracy", whose core meaning has always been "the rule of the many", has served as the most effective disguise for "the rule of the few". Is it any wonder that the same ruling class interests, interests that punish most people outside as well as inside America, always comes out on top?
Democracy, like any other set of practices, is connected by its umbilical cord to a whole set of preconditions, which in this case involves a significant degree of social and economic equality among all its participants. It comes along with these preconditions or it doesn't come at all. Thus, any serious attempt at political reform must include equally strenuous efforts to democratize all the sectors of social life (especially the economy) that feed into the political process. Only by leveling the political playing field in this way will the United States ever have a government that is truly "of and by the people". And only such a government is likely to pass laws that are truly "for the people", because, in the last analysis, democracy is also about quality of life issues. It is also about the great majority, once in power and no longer subject to the self-interested distortions of their former rulers, taking the necessary steps to make life much better for themselves. In short, democracy quickly acquires a distinctive "for the people" content to go along with its "of and by the people" forms, but loses it, or never acquires it, if elections are dishonest or unfair, or their necessary preconditions are absent. (See our DEMOCRACY LIBRARY, section IV.)
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