Few people take seriously the issues and problems of democracy. This is apparent to me as an American watching the inanity of supposed democracy in action, i.e., the campaign season for electing the next president.
We don’t have a functioning democracy and few people have ever experienced a functioning democracy. On top of that, the media doesn’t help inform the public, assuming that even those working in media understand democracy. It’s hard for Americans to imagine what democracy might mean, what an actual and fully free society would look like.
I’ve pointed that out all before. It’s nothing new. And it is understandable. It isn’t as if past generations understood democracy better. We forget how young modern politics still is.
When some of the American founders proposed democracy, they had little clue what might result. Other founders didn’t want democracy at all. Once the post-revolutionary government was established, only a few percentage of the population had a right to vote or run for office. In some states, the majority was enslaved. And, in all states, most women only had slightly more freedom than a slave in their being treated like property of their fathers and then their husbands.
That isn’t a propitious beginning for freedom and liberty. Consider that, if one includes the colonial era, America has existed longer with slavery than without it. And there is also the long history of mistreatment toward other minorities. The results in recent politics shouldn’t be surprising. The winning of full protection of voting rights for most Americans happened within living memory. There hasn’t been a moment in American history when there wasn’t a ruling elite running the show. In some ways, it has gotten worse with wealth and power more concentrated than it has been in a long while, wealth and power that now has a truly global scope. We are in banana republic territory. Plus, systemic and institutional racism continues.
I was reminded of this because of various discussions about the campaigns. In response to my complaints about lesser evilism, C. Derick Varn (Skepoet) brought up an important issue about specific populations. He said to me, “Look at the demographics tied to political machines in Democratic cities, particularly in states that are otherwise red.” And added that,
“The Southern States have an enriched city based political elite that is dominant in the African American community. It may not reflect the option of African Americans as a whole because about 50% of black men can’t vote due to felon and prior felon exclusion laws in those states.”
That last point is what bothers me. Mass incarceration is directly rooted in slavery, as I’ve noted before. Along with keeping the population demoralized and apathetic, not to mention ignorant and propagandized, this continuing disenfranchisement of the historically oppressed is a powerful force for maintaining the establishment and keeping genuine democracy from emerging. These people who have had their voting rights stolen from them are a large enough part of the US population to potentially swing elections one way or another.
The same goes for voter suppression tactics: shutting down polling stations, voter purges, difficult ID laws, etc—all intended to shut down any hope of democratic process. Not to forget other important anti-democratic factors such as gerrymandering, big money campaign financing, speaking fees and other legalized bribery, special interest lobbying, revolving door between big biz and big gov, regulatory capture, and on and on.
Professional politicians in both of the main parties know this. Many of them wouldn’t be able to win elections if all US citizens were able to vote and did vote. What matters is to create the appearance of democracy, without letting it get out of control so that actual democracy might threaten to create a free society.