“Democracy” in America

Fool Us Again, Please, Please

So, the Russians are coming to subvert our democracy by exposing us to the truth.  Horrors!!!!  But just what exactly is it that they’re supposed to be subverting?  And is it they who are, in fact, doing the subverting?  Could anyone or any group be better at subverting democracy, ours or others, than we are ourselves?

If honesty has any political relevance, a doubtful premise, we ought to start by admitting that we have never had a democracy in the United States of America, rather, Messrs. Hamilton and Madison artfully crafted the illusion of democracy; in fact, designed to obviate it.  Democracy is premised on the equality of its subjects, subjects being defined as both the objects of governance and collectively, its masters.

In our federation, notwithstanding the artful preamble to our Constitution, the subjects are technically the states (consider the reference to the states as sovereign, the modality for constitutional amendment, the Electoral College, the Senate, etc.).  Individuals were theoretically subjects only with respect to governance within the several states.  That was most clearly observable until the advent of the fifteenth through seventeenth amendments to the Constitution by the fact that conditioning of the right of citizens to vote was left to determination by the several states.  Thus, for example, in New York at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the right to vote was exercisable by only about ten percent of the citizenry.  Even today, the Supreme Court’s one man (now one person) one vote requirement applies to neither the Senate nor the Electoral College and certainly not to the entirety of the federal judiciary.  The House of Representatives, purportedly based on proportional representation, operates instead upon the basis of bipartisan Gerrymandering, a concept specifically designed to distort the value of individual votes.

So democracy?


And anyway, just what is democracy?

As evolved in several of the so called Greek city states, most popularly Athens, the concept of equality essential for democracy to function referenced above required that wealth be shared in such a manner as assured that there would not be too wide a difference between the poorest and the wealthiest.  Only if that were true could power be exercised in a reasonably equal fashion.  Indeed, the institutions of governance were designed to assure participation by the three major socioeconomic divisions in all decision making, a concept referred to as mixed constitutionalism (see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_government).  But even were that all present, functional democracy requires active and informed participation, something which is virtually non-existent.  As a social collective we are rather good at complaining about our political deficiencies, we seem to enjoy it, but participating to help correct them, not so much.  And participating in an informed fashion, well, that would require efficient, honest and independent journalism, something which if possible probably requires the philosopher’s stone to invoke it, something that as in the case of cold fusion, we are yet to attain.

So, either benevolently recognizing the problem or malevolently seeking to befuddle us, our Founding Fathers, or perhaps just a very few of them, came up with the oxymoronic and perhaps also moronic concept they called “representative democracy”.  Representative democracy as described by James Madison in the Federalist Papers is at best a contradiction in terms as all it does is create an elected oligarchy without defining the responsibility of such oligarchs to their constituents.  Are representatives to use their unfettered judgment?  Are they to be ambassador-like spokesmen for those who elect them?  Or, are they instead (as is actually the case), to be servants for those who finance their campaigns, careers and lifestyles?  The one thing that can accurately be ascribed to representative democracy is that it is not democracy, it is something else, perhaps better than democracy, perhaps worse, but not democracy.

Of course, that is not the only problem posited by our so called “democracy”, or even, as libertarians so often express, by our “republican” form of government.  We are cursed (although some believe it a blessing) by a form of government that by its essence deprives a huge portion of our electorate of active participation in our legislative processes.  Our so called “first past the post” electoral method, based on election by plurality (not even majority) with voters for unsuccessful candidates left utterly without representation, assures political inequity and inequality.  Many other countries rely on a concept referred to as “proportional representation” (confusing as it has two utterly different meanings, used here to describe election by lists of candidates rather than individual candidates) to assure that all segments of the electorate meeting a minimum electoral threshold (usually between three and five percent of the total vote) have legislative representation.  That too has its own problems, all too frequently resulting in political parties as the real subjects of governance, but then again, isn’t that also somewhat true in the United States where a duopoly exercises a stranglehold on electoral offices, attained through the use of terror, the concept we colloquially refer to as choices among lesser evils?  Most of us are aware of the reality much as we all too frequently try to delude ourselves on first Tuesdays following first Mondays in Novembers of even numbered years.

Even if the foregoing were not so, the reality, as those of us who have attained political sentience must realize, is that the real subjects of our system of governance, its masters, are not even our political parties, which have become mere tools, but the special interests who have bought them, lock, stock and barrel as the saying goes.  Political ethics has come to mean, if paid, staying bought.  So, given the confluence of the foregoing, in the United States the slogan of an electorate that fools itself into believing that it has a democracy at all, let alone one under risk of foreign subversion, would seem to be: “fool us again, please, please”.

Of course, given our participatorial (I know, a neologism) reticence and lack of access to reliable journalism, it may be that democracy is a Quixotic concept.  But then again, as my friend Fred Hauck likes to remind me, I tend to wax Quixotic.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved


Guillermo Calvo Mahé is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia.  Until recently he chaired the Political Science, Government and International Relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science, law, international legal studies and translation studies and can be contacted at wacalvo3@autonoma.edu.co.  Much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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