Can Americans get back their Democracy from the Oligarchy?

By John Scales Avery | (Inter Press Service) | – –

COPENHAGEN, (IPS) – As many observers around the world have pointed out, the United States is no longer a true democracy. It is an oligarchy.

The US government ignores the safety, wishes and needs of the majority of its citizens, and instead makes decisions which will bring profit to enormous corporations, or satisfy the wishes of powerful lobbies.

Governmental secrecy occurs in many nations, but in the United States it has assumed huge proportions.

As Edward Snowden’s revelations have shown, the number of people with security clearance (i.e. the number involved in secret operations in the US) is now as large as the entire population of Norway.

Furthermore, trade deals. which threaten both the global environment and the jobs of millions of American citizens, have been negotiated in secret. If people have no knowledge of what their government is doing, how can they exert the control that the word democracy implies?

It is ironic that the United States justifies aggressive wars for regime change by saying that it is “bringing democracy” to various countries. In fact, its own government is not a democracy.

Author John Atcheson has given the following examples of the fact that the will of American citizens no longer influences the decisions of their government:

“When 91% wanted to strengthen rules on clean air and protection of drinking water, Congress, led by the Republican majority, proposed to weaken them.”

“When 90% wanted to protect public lands and parks, the Republicans proposed putting them on sale or otherwise privatizing them”

“When 74% of Americans favored ending subsidies to big oil, Congress retained most of them.”

“When 70% of Americans said climate change should be a high priority, Congress took no action.“

Atcheson gives a number of other examples. Read his full article.

According to a recent poll, 91 per cent of American citizens are dissatisfied with their electoral system. Its faults have become glaringly apparent this year, when the presumptive candidates for the two major parties, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are both heartily disliked by most of the voters.

The most dangerous feature of Trump’s candidacy is his denial of climate change. If he should be elected, all hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may be lost. But Hillary Clinton is dangerous too, since her record shows that she is in favour of war.

At present, US policy risks an all-destroying thermonuclear war by provoking both Russia and China. This would continue under Clinton.

How can we get money out of our elections? How can we restore democracy? The reversal of Citizens United would be a vital first step.

Other steps could be de-lelgitimising lobbies, and a law to make networks give equal free broadcasting time to all major candidates.

In 2016 voters are faced with a dilemma. Very many of them would like to vote for Bernie Sanders, but they are afraid that if they do so, Trump will be elected.

There is, in fact a simple voting system in which such a dilemma would not occur: ranked choice voting. Read the following article, which explains the system and its great advantages.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS or Informed Comment.

John Scales Avery was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

John Oliver, Last Week Tonight: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Congressional Fundraising (HBO)”

3 Responses

  1. The writer correctly points to the failure of democracy but merely advocates a new voting system. This cannot be achieved because the tools of democracy are controlled by money. The Constitution has no protection of elections or mass media from economic concentrations, which have overthrown democracy in a right-wing revolution. This has allowed tyrants to control democracy, as Aristotle warned, by causing foreign wars to demand domestic power and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty.

    The revolution of warmonger tyrants has disgraced the United States forever with idiotic wars and a litany of selfishness since WWII, has in fact ruined US security, and left the US the most despised and anti-democratic nation in the world’s history. These are acts of treason by tyrants. Perhaps it should be punished as in China, quite mercilessly, because only fear regulates the tyrant.

    But the US people are too cowardly to force reform, tyrannized by economic slavery to fear the least nonconformity. They do not have the courage of the simple farmers and woodsmen who established the nation. And the tools of democracy, free elections and a free press, are already in the hands of their masters. They are truly enslaved, and cannot be freed without violence.

    So we educators gamble in despair that they can still be educated to assemble the shreds of power that remain to them into a new revolution. But secretly we know that democracy is only restored by the violent few most outraged at their losses, joined at last by rioters from the slums, and police who sympathize with a tyrannized majority, who terrorize the oligarchy into surrendering control to save their lives. Sadly, that is the way history works.

  2. Wait, what, the United States of America was once a democracy and not an oligarchy?! When was that? At the beginning, when only white male landowners could vote? After the Civil War? How about after women’s suffrage?

    It’s always been, sometimes more, sometimes less, an oligarchy for the rich and powerful. Never much of a democracy or even a democratic republic in practice.

    If we the people want a democracy, we’re gonna havta make it happen ourselves. I think that happens by direct action (“Mr Walesa, how did Solidarity begin?” “By talking loud at the bus stops!” he reportedly answered.) and from the bottom up. Proportional representation and run-off voting are useful tools but the essential requirement is an engaged electorate and we ain’t gonna get that with the help of the corporate media structure let alone the legislators and politicians.

  3. California was under the thumb of Republicans for many years in a version of the oligarchy now in charge of the federal government. When we elected a Democrat we got some changes that make a difference. It is not hopeless, but time under the thumb of the dark side leads to the police carnage, gun carnage and lack of safety living under the power of money before people. Change can not come soon enough.

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