Democratic government in the United States is nonexistent for three main reasons: the absence of an effective means for dissemination of the accurate and complete information necessary for voters to make informed decisions; the monopoly over political power exercised by a duopoly wholly owned by the globalist neoliberal economic elite (the one percent); and, the now completely politicized intelligence community and Justice Department. In light of the foregoing, it’s lights out for any semblance of real popular government.
I was recently invited to an academic radio forum on the nature of populism (Radio Universidad de Manizales, 101.2 FM in Colombia). The bulk of the introductory information was pejorative describing populism as a tactic by politicians with caudillistic and dictatorial tendencies for nefarious personal purposes rather than in an effort to right serious societal wrongs. My perspective was much different. I described populism as the result of a democratic election where the electorate rejects the traditional institutions that control political power; i.e., where, fed up, the electorate finally awakes and throws the rascals out. I noted that the results can be good or bad (even horrible, think Adolph Hitler) and that populism is neither a leftwing nor a right wing phenomena, it is merely the uncontrolled exercise of popular governance, a reaction from below more than a tactic from above, although both aspects exist. No wonder the aforementioned Terrible Three pillars of current United States governance fear it so and have attacked the populist results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States with such vehemence.
While defending populism I confess that I was not at all thrilled with the results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States. However, the Terrible Three had successfully blocked the better populist options, those being the left wing populist candidacy of faux progressive Bernie Sanders, the Green Party campaign of Jill Stein (for whom I voted) and the centrist-libertarian campaign of former governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. Still, the results could have been worse had the Terrible Three gotten their way and, eliminating all democratic vestiges, crowned the dowager pretender, Hillary I.
As an academic and a civic activist who believes deeply in majoritarian popular governance I admit that “democracy” has rarely if ever really existed anywhere. First of all it requires decision by a majority, not a mere plurality, and that requires massive participation seen as a duty rather than a right. Specifically, a majority is 50%+ of the eligible electorate, not merely a plurality of those who chose to participate. It could not possibly work in ancient Athens because most people were not citizens. It has never worked in the United States because democracy is premised on the political equality of each participant and the United States Constitution was designed to assure inequality in the Judiciary (especially a politically activist unelected judiciary such as we have today), the Senate, and the Electoral College, the role of tradition (think gerrymandering) which has distorted the semblance of equality the House of Representatives was supposed to provide, and, the lack of popular participation in elections (Whoops! Our fault).
Functional and equitable democracy, a different and more complex concept, also requires that the electorate be accurately informed and benignly motivated. We have never enjoyed that fortuitous coincidence. Still, a verisimilitude of democracy has permitted us to believe that we live in one despite the frequent conservative and libertarian observation that the United States was never meant to be a democracy but rather a “Republic”. To the putative Father of the Constitution, James Madison and his mentor, Alexander Hamilton, a republic was really a form of oligarchy selected by the propertied few (hopefully well motivated), empowered to keep the masses at bay, for their own good of course. They (the Founding Fathers, except perhaps, for Benjamin Franklin) would also have viewed populism, even in its most benign forms as an abomination. Yep, so, perhaps the one percent have a point, except for the benign qualifier, our form of government was indeed designed for them. Unfortunately, as noted at the start of this article, the Terrible Three have for quite a long time successfully usurped the role of such purportedly benign oligarchy and have not been at all happy at having their role challenged by an upstart real estate tycoon and reality television star swept to power on the tide of a populist tsunami. Thus, we have the orchestrated Mueller putsch in progress hoping to become the great Clinton – Obama coup d’état of 2018, or if not 2018, 2020, or if not 2020, … well, you get the point. Hillary Clinton, a modern if not quite decent version of good old William Jennings Bryan.
The populist revolutions of 2016 came in all flavors and in all directions, one brewed on the right took the form of “Tea Party” activism and gave us the victor, Donald John Trump, the anti-immigrant scion of immigrants; another, from the left, sought to give us the somewhat tame war monger but economic rights activist, Bernie Sanders; and, from the outer limits, the third party Libertarian and Green Party candidates. The counter revolutionary status quo Terrible Three had their own, sure-to win cause we’ll make it inevitable, counter-populist candidate, the establishment GOP had a number of them and when Trump won their nomination, quite a few of the major leaders flocked over to the other side.
The results were, in the phrase immediately and constantly echoed throughout terrible “Threedom”, “not acceptable”; and the phrase “not acceptable” has a meaning, and a purpose, and a direction, and required actions. Thus, we now have not only the Mueller parody of a meaningful investigation into “meddling” by Russia (ignoring “meddling by virtually all other countries, something touted by the Clinton campaign as a positive during 2016 when the “meddling” was in its favor) but also multidirectional counterattacks at the leaks in the information dissemination firewalls which made a populist victory, albeit perhaps the wrong one from my perspective, possible. We now have the Fake News versus Fake News wars based on the premise that “I’m rubber you’re glue, your words bounce off me and stick to you”, a favorite Clinton tactic accusing others of everything of which they’re accused; thus, when populists observed how horribly inaccurate the mainstream media had become, how distortive of reality and enslaved to the interests of the one percent, the Terrible Three reacted, and not just verbally, but with both the government and private industrial information giants (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.) moving to immediately eliminate alternative sources of information if possible or to at least technologically censor them if elimination proved unworkable. Dissemination of unwelcome information from the world at large which the Terrible Three work hard to dominate in hegemonic fashion, was quickly described as “meddling”, and deemed intolerable in much the same manner as were fighters for racial equality in the Deep South of the 1950’s or union leaders fighting for labor rights pretty much always. The failed Democratic Party Identity Politics strategies of 20016 were not reconsidered and modified or abandoned but rather, shoved down our throats again and more forcibly than ever by the mainstream media, not in an effort to solve the real problems involved but rather to divide is into ever more politically manipulable groups and sub groups, and if that was not enough, into sub-sub groups, hoping to emulate the strategy’s success with all too many Afro-Americans where they have become always reliable Democratic Party serfs in a Borg-like attitude of “resistance is futile. “Take that would be populists!!!!!”
It’s probably what we really need if, to quote a few trite but important exaggerations by the greatest albeit frequently hypocritical politician (pardon the redundancy) in American History, the government of “We the People” is ever to really be “of the People, by the People and for the People”, rather than merely by and especially for a tiny few among the People.
But perhaps a different flavor of populism might prove much more palatable, say one in shades of Green.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2018; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). 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 (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.