What is the Moderate Center of a Banana Republic?

The Corruption Of Money
by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

Robert Wiessman, the director of Public Citizen, points out that there is broad popular support for transforming the economy and government. He writes: “. . . more Americans believe in witches and ghosts than support Citizens United . . . There is three-to-one support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” Some other key areas of national consensus:

  • 83% agree that “the rules of the economy matter and the top 1 percent have used their influence to shape the rules of the economy to their advantage;
  • Over 90% agree that it is important to regulate financial services and products to make sure they are fair for consumers;
  • Four-fifths say Wall Street financial companies should be held accountable with tougher rules and enforcement for the practices that caused the financial crisis;
  • By a three-to-one margin, the public supports closing tax loopholes that allow speculators and people who make money from short-term trades to pay less taxes on profits than full time workers pay on their income or wages.
  • About two-thirds oppose corporate trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and 75% believe such deals destroy more jobs than they create.

These are just a few examples that show near unanimity on issues where the government – answering to the oligarchs – does the opposite of what the public wants and needs.

90 Percent Of Public Lacks Trust In US Political System
by Staff

Seventy percent of Americans say they feel frustrated about this year’s presidential election, including roughly equal proportions of Democrats and Republicans, according to a recent national poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. More than half feel helpless and a similar percent are angry.

Nine in 10 Americans lack confidence in the country’s political system, and among a normally polarized electorate, there are few partisan differences in the public’s lack of faith in the political parties, the nominating process, and the branches of government.

Americans do not see either the Republicans or the Democrats as particularly receptive to new ideas or the views of the rank-and-file membership. However, the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination is more likely to be viewed as good for his party than Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican Party.

The nationwide poll of 1,060 adults used the AmeriSpeak® Omnibus, a monthly multi-client survey using NORC at the University of Chicago’s probability based panel. Interviews were conducted between May 12 and 15, 2016, online and using landlines and cellphones.

Some of the poll’s key findings are:

  • Just 10 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the country’s overall political system while 51 percent have only some confidence and 38 percent have hardly any confidence.
  • Similarly, only 13 percent say the two-party system for presidential elections works, while 38 percent consider it seriously broken. About half (49 percent) say that although the two-party system has real problems, it could still work well with some improvements.
  • Most Americans report feeling discouraged about this year’s election for president. Seventy percent say they experience frustration and 55 percent report they feel helpless.
  • Few Americans are feeling pride or excitement about the 2016 presidential campaign, but it is grabbing the public’s attention. Two-thirds (65 percent) of the public say they are interested in the election for president this year; only 31 percent say they are bored. However, only 37 percent are feeling hopeful about the campaign, 23 percent are excited, and just 13 percent say the presidential election make them feel proud.
  • The public has little confidence in the three branches of government. A quarter (24 percent) say they have a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court and only 15 percent of Americans say the same of the executive branch. Merely 4 percent of Americans have much faith in Congress. However, more than half (56 percent) of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the military.
  • Only 29 percent of Democrats and just 16 percent of Republicans have a great deal of confidence in their party. Similarly, 31 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans have a lot of faith in the fairness of their party’s nominating process.
  • Neither party is seen as particularly receptive to fresh ideas. Only 17 percent of the public say the Democratic Party is open to new ideas about dealing with the country’s problems; 10 percent say that about the Republican Party.
  • The views of ordinary voters are not considered by either party, according to most Americans. Fourteen percent say the Democratic Party is responsive to the views of the rank-and-file; 8 percent report that about the Republican Party.
  • Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has never held elected office or worked for the government, but most Americans do not regard the Republican Party as especially receptive to candidates from outside the usual influence of Washington and party politics. Only 9 percent consider the Republican Party open to outsiders.
  • Most Republicans (57 percent) say Trump’s candidacy has been good for the Republican Party, although only 15 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents agree.
  • The Democratic Party is not viewed as friendly to outsiders either. Only 10 percent say the Democratic Party is open to candidates that are independent of the established order.
  • However, in contrast to Trump, the entry of Bernie Sanders into the race for the Democratic nomination is not see as a negative for the party. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Democrats say Sanders’ bid for the nomination has been good for the Democratic Party, along with 43 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of independents (54 percent of independents report it is neither good nor bad). Although Sanders has served in Congress as a House member and Senator for more than 25 years, he was an independent and did not register as a Democrat until recently. […]

While Americans have doubts about the overall political system and its fairness, nearly 3 in 4 say they have at least some confidence that their vote will be counted accurately. Just 1 in 4 report they have hardly any confidence that their vote will be counted.

Still, many Americans express qualms about how well the two-party system works for presidential elections. Nearly 4 in 10 regard the two-party system as seriously broken. About half say this system for electing a president has major problems, but could still work with some improvement. Just 13 percent of the public says the two-party system works fairly well.

Americans also question the fairness of the political parties’ presidential nominating processes. About 4 in 10 have little confidence in the equity of the parties’ nominating process for president. Four in 10 have some faith that the Republican Party’s means of selecting its standard bearer is fair, but only about 1 in 10 have a great deal of confidence in the process. Similarly, 38 percent have some confidence in the Democratic Party’s procedures, but only 17 percent have a great deal of confidence.

Again, while partisans are more confident in their own party, the levels are low. Thirty-one percent of Democrats express confidence in the Democratic Party’s nominating process, compared with 9 percent of Republicans and 6 percent of independents. Republicans have even less faith in their party’s system: 17 percent have confidence in the Republican Party’s nominating process. Only 11 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of independents agree.

Many Americans want changes to the process. Seven in 10 would prefer to see primaries and caucuses be open to all voters, regardless of the party registration. Only 3 in 10 favor a system of closed nominating contests, where only voters registered in a party can participate in that party’s primary or caucus. A majority of each party say they favor open primaries and caucuses, though Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support them (73 percent vs. 62 percent).

Most states hold primaries rather than caucuses, and most voters prefer primaries. Eight in 10 Americans say primaries are a more fair method of nominating a candidate. Less than 1 in 5 view caucuses as a more fair method.

US Is Not A Democracy
by Eric Zuesse

A study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, “Who governs? Who really rules?” in this country, is:

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, …” and then they go on to say, it’s not true, and that, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.

The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:

‘Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”

Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy. “Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.” That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.

What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.

Fighting For A Legitimate Democracy, By And For The People
by Kevin Zeese & Margaret Flowers

Two weeks ago in reaction to the McCutcheon decision we touched on an issue that will become central to our movement: Has the democratic legitimacy of the US government been lost?

We raised this issue by quoting a Supreme Court Justice, former US president and a sitting US Senator:

“The legitimacy of the US government is now in question. By illegitimate we mean it is ruled by the 1%, not a democracy ‘of, by and for the people.’ The US has become a carefully designed plutocracy that creates laws to favor the few. As Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissenting opinion, American law is now ‘incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy.’ Or, as former president, Jimmy Carter said on July 16, 2013 “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.”

“Even members of Congress admit there is a problem. Long before the McCutcheon decision Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) described the impact of the big banks on the government saying: ‘They own the place.’ We have moved into an era of a predatory form of capitalism rooted in big finance where profits are more important than people’s needs or protection of the planet.”

The legitimacy of the US government derives from rule by the people. If the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy, what does that mean? What is the impact? And, what is our responsibility in these circumstances?

We can go back to the founding document of this nation, the Declaration of Independence for guidance. This revolutionary document begins by noting all humans are born with “inalienable rights” and explains “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted” and that government derives its “powers from the consent of the governed.” Further, when the government “becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government….”

After we wrote about the lost democratic legitimacy of the United States, this new academic study, which will be published in Perspectives on Politics,revealed that a review of a unique data set of 1,779 policy issues found:

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

And, this was not the only study to reach this conclusion this week. Another study published in the Political Research Quarterly found that only the rich get represented in the US senate. The researchers studied the voting records of senators in five Congresses and found the Senators were consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents and lower-class constituents never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior. This oligarchic tendency was even truer when the senate was controlled by Democrats.

Large Majorities of Americans Do Not Rule

Let the enormity of the finding sink in – “the majority does not rule” and “even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Now, for many of us this is not news, but to have an academic study document it by looking at 1,779 policy issues and empirically proving the lack of democratic legitimacy, is a major step forward for people understanding what is really happening in the United States and what we must do.

Before the occupy movement began we published an article, We Stand With the Majority, that showed super majorities of the American people consistently support the following agenda:

  • Tax the rich and corporations
  • End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending
  • Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and provide improved Medicare to everyone in the United States
  • End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
  • Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
  • Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
  • Get money out of politics

While there was over 60% support for each item on this agenda, the supposed ‘representatives’ of the people were taking the opposite approach on each issue. On September 18, the day after OWS began we followed up with a second article dealing with additional issues that showed, the American people would rule better than the political and economic elites.

While many Americans think that the government representing wealthy interests is new, in fact it goes back to the founding of the country. Historian Charles Beard wrote in the early 1900’s that the chief aim of the authors of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property, favoring the economic interests of wealthy merchants and plantation owners rather than the interests of the majority of Americans who were small farmers, laborers, and craft workers.

The person who is credited with being the primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, believed that the primary goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He recognized that “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure.” As a result of these oligarchic views, only 6% of the US population was originally given the right to vote. And, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay believed that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

This resulted in the wealth of the nation being concentrated among a small percentage of the population and their wealth being created by slaves and other low-paid workers who had no political participation in government. The many creating wealth for the few has continued throughout US history through sweat shops, child labor and now, poverty workers, like those at the nation’s largest employer, Walmart. By putting property ahead of human rights, the Constitution put in place a predatory economic system of wealth creation.

In fact, Sheldon Wolin describes the Constitutional Convention as blocking the colonists desire for democracy, as economic elites “organize[d] a counter-revolution aimed at institutionalizing a counterforce to challenge the prevailing decentralized system of thirteen sovereign states in which some state legislatures were controlled by ‘popular’ forces.” The Constitution was written “to minimize the direct expression of a popular will” and block the “American demos.” For more see our article, Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States.

In many respects, since the founding, the people of the United States have been working to democratize the United States. Gradually, the right to vote expanded to include all adults, direct election of US Senators was added as a constitutional amendment but these changes do not mean we have a real democracy. The work is not done. The legitimacy of people ruling has not been achieved.

While we have the right to vote, our carefully managed elections consistently give Americans a choice of candidates approved by the wealthiest; and through campaign financing, media coverage, ballot access, managing who participates in debates and other means, the ruling elite ensure an outcome that will not challenge the power of the wealthiest Americans and the country’s biggest businesses.

This week, Nomi Prins, a former managing partner at Goldman Sachs wrote about the long history of how the nation’s biggest bankers have controlled presidents throughout the last century. She writes: “With so much power in the hands of an elite few, America operates more as a plutocracy on behalf of the upper caste than a democracy or a republic. Voters are caught in the crossfire of two political parties vying to run Washington in a manner that benefits the banking caste, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is sitting in the Oval.”

In many respects, our task is to complete the American Revolution and create a real democracy where the people rule through fair elections of representatives and there is increased direct and participatory democracy.

Living In The Illusion Of Democracy
by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

The Democrats and Republicans Have Created Fraudulent Debates

The hubris and manipulation of the two establishment parties is evident in the presidential debates. The two Wall Street-funded parties decide who is allowed to participate in the debates. The so-called debate ‘commission’ is a disguise apparatus of the Democratic and Republican parties. It is a commission in name only, in reality it is a corporation created by the two parties and controlled by the two parties. When the disguise is removed, it becomes obvious that the Democrats and Republicans are choosing to only debate Democrats and Republicans, and preventing any competition.Democracy Not Plutocracy

In 1988, the Republican co-founder, Frank Fahrenkopf, who remains a co-chair, indicated at the news conference announcing the ‘commission’ that they were “not likely to look with favor on including third-party candidates in the debates.” The New York Times quoted the Democratic co-founder, Paul Kirk, saying: “As a party chairman, it’s my responsibility to strengthen the two-party system.” As a result, there has not been a third party candidate in the debates for 24 years, even though there have been third party candidates on enough ballots to win a majority of electoral college votes in every election. Closed debates create the illusion that there are only two candidates running for president.

When the ‘commission’ was founded, the League of Women Voters warned that the parties taking over the debates would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.” They resigned their historic role as the non-partisan sponsors of the debates because they refused to be “an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.” They foretold the truth, and now we must all work to undo the hoax.

This year, 76% of voters want four-candidates in the debates. A majority of people in the US believe neither party represents them. The two parties are shrinking and now each make up less than 30% of the voters, with a record 50% of voters considering themselves independents. The two establishment parties have nominated the two most unpopular candidates in history with six in ten voters disliking Clinton and Trump. An Associated Press/GfK poll found that four out of five voters fear at least one of the two nominees, and 25% fear both, a number confirmed by Gallup. Three-quarters of those planning to vote will do so based on whom they dislike rather than whom they support.

This is why three-quarters of voters want Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party included in the debates – people want more choices. Both will be on almost every ballot but voters will not get to hear from them and learn what they stand for. The dislike of the two parties and their candidates is also why the fake ‘commission’ must do all it can to prevent voters from knowing that they have more choices for president.

And, they have an ally in the media which expects to receive $6 billion in political advertising in 2016.The media wants that advertising more than they want a real democracy. As the CEO of CBS said, “Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.” As a result, you will see no criticism of the fake debate commission. Jill Stein was able to briefly sneak in an article on The Hill website about her experience during the first debate last week, i.e. being excluded from the debate, escorted off campus when she was doing media interviews, holding a people’s debate outside the debate area and 22 people being arrested for protesting the closed debates, as well as how her campaign used social media to break through. The article was up briefly, but quickly disappeared from the front page.

In almost every election a large majority of US voters want more candidates in the debates but the phony commission serves as a blockade, preventing real democracy. If we want a democracy that is of, by and for the people, it is critical we end the debate commission’s fraud on US voters. Rather than creating barriers to participation, the rule should be simple and objective: if a candidate is on enough ballots to win 270 electoral college votes they should be included in the debate as very few overcome the ballot access hurdles placed before independent parties.

The United States is in a Democracy Crisis

The fraudulent debates are one example of many of how US democracy is manipulated and managed to ensure that only candidates who represent the wealthy can be elected. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs reported this year on the extent of the democracy crisis. They found the legitimacy of US government has disappeared:

“Nine in 10 Americans lack confidence in the country’s political system, and among a normally polarized electorate, there are few partisan differences in the public’s lack of faith in the political parties, the nominating process, and the branches of government.”

There is close to unanimous consensus that the elections fail voters and do not create a legitimate government. The poll taken as the primary season came to a close found “only 13% say the two-party system for presidential elections works.” The elections have left most Americans feeling discouraged with 70% saying they experience frustration and 55% reporting they feel helpless. Only 13% feel proud of the presidential election.

The excluded parties are taking unusual steps to reach voters. Jill Stein accomplished a historic breakthrough during the first presidential debate, by using cutting edge social media tools to insert her live voice into the debate in real time. The Stein-Baraka campaign used Facebook, Twitter and Periscope to reach approximately 15 million voters within 24 hours of the first debate, “Jill Stein” trended at #1 on Facebook on debate day and Google searches spiked with one of the top search phrases being “How do I vote for Jill Stein?” No 3rd party candidate has reached such a large audience since Ross Perot was included in the debates 24 years ago. But, this cannot compete with the two party debates which appeared on every network with an audience of more than 80 million and constant discussion in the media leading up to the debate and after it.

During the upcoming vice presidential debate on Tuesday, candidate Ajamu Baraka will be using the same social media tools as Stein as well as being inserted live into the debates by Democracy Now. Baraka will answer every question as if he were included by pausing the debate and then returning to it after he answers. This three-candidate debate can be viewed on Jill Stein’s Facebook page and website, as well as on Ajamu Baraka’s Facebook page and on Democracy Now.

Presidential debates are not only about getting someone elected, they are also about setting the political agenda for the country. With only the Democratic and Republican nominees included many key political issues are not being discussed. The debates spend a lot of time on nonsense while ignoring many important issues that impact the lives of the people of the United States as well as ensuring a liveable planet.

In the first debate, time was spent on whether President Obama was born in the United States, or whether Donald Trump’s criticism of a former Miss Universe was inappropriate. But there was no discussion of tens of millions of people living in poverty, what the country can do to confront climate change, how to erase student debt or whether the United States should be an empire.

In fact, the word “empire” has never been in a presidential debate as the political elites do not want to discuss the reality of US global domination. They do not want people considering that an empire economy is the reason for many of our economic problems. These are a few issues among many that will not be discussed this election season.

And, if an issue like healthcare is discussed there will be no one on stage who represents the views of the 60% of voters who support a single payer, improved Medicare for All, because neither of the establishment party nominees do. There will also be no one on stage to talk about key movement issues like the systemic racism exposed by Black Lives Matter, the wealth inequality demonstrated by Occupy, and the protests against pipelines by Indigenous Peoples and communities across the country. On these and many other issues there will be no discussion or only discussion from the point of view of two Wall Street-dominated parties. The political agenda will be warped and ignore the people’s concerns.

Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

During the presidential campaign season, the American public acts like an engaged citizenry, as if what they say and do really does have an impact. But after an election ends, so many people retreat from the public forum and bunker down in their isolated private lives. It’s as if winning the election was all that concerned them, as if democracy were nothing more than voting for your preferred celebrity-politician. Not everyone can be so detached, indifferent, and oblivious. Not everyone can pretend that political issues begin and end with elections.

Racism, religious bigotry, xenophobic policies, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, food deserts, toxic dumps in poor communities, lead in drinking water, unaffordable healthcare, underfunded schools, school-to-prison pipeline, militarized police, police abuse, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, war on drugs, military-industrial complex, war on terror wasting trillions of dollars, aggressive US militarism that kills thousands of innocent people a day, US alliance with brutal authoritarian states, pollution being the number one killer in the world, ecosystem destruction, climate change, droughts, refugee crises, corporate takeover of the government, corporations stealing from the commons, endless externalized costs that are beyond calculation and imagination…

…and on and on. None of this ends for those most victimized and harmed. Elections mean very little to those who are silenced, suppressed, disenfranchised, and excluded — other than a fleeting opportunity to express outrage and maybe, just maybe be heard before being dismissed and ignored once again. Yet the comfortable classes momentarily obsess over the team sports of partisan politics and then go on as if none of it actually matters, as if these problems aren’t real, as if it is all just about campaign rhetoric and political talking points. Well, I disagree. Just because social problems are not seen and moral outrage not heard doesn’t mean they stop existing, once the votes are counted and the voters disappear from news reporting of corporate media.

That is all the more reason we must make ourselves be heard. Everyone has a voice. Use it. There are many who are in need of help and no one listens. First listen to the silenced and then add your voice, until the growing noise can’t be ignored. Don’t make excuses about being only one person. The majority of the world’s population who are affected by these problems, as separate individuals, are each only one person. But change happens when people demand that change happens, one voice at a time, until it becomes a roar of defiance. Don’t go quietly along, as so many others suffer. Rather, make the comfortable uncomfortable, until they are forced to acknowledge reality.

There is no other path forward, other than toward growing authoritarianism and other terrible ends. By staying silent, you are choosing a dark path for yourself and your loved ones, for your fellow citizens and the following generations, for your children and grandchildren, for your nieces and nephews. Never stay silent, not even for a moment for there isn’t a moment to lose. The consequences grow by the second, as do the opportunities for change pass us by.

It’s only after an election is over that the majority has their greatest power to force change. This is the moment. The best way to break out of your apathy and isolation is to make your voice heard. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Talk about things that actually matter and act on them as if they matter. Politics isn’t a game. Lives are at stake, in a literal sense. Your voice is your greatest weapon and tool. Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

As our options dwindle down…

Some want to argue that we have a functioning democracy because we have the outward forms of democracy. We can protest in the street, vote, etc. But then why does it rarely lead to democratic results, specifically at the Federal level? And why is there so little ability for the public to force transparency and accountability?

It’s because those forms are separate from the actual seat of power. The two party system and corporate media is controlled by oligarchs. They use public perception management (AKA propaganda), backroom deals, cronyism, revolving door politics (e.g., politicians becoming lobbyists), regulatory takeover, and a thousand other kinds of anti-democratic tactics. They use these to determine who we are allowed to vote for and what those people can do while in office.

This system is so well entrenched that is protected from the voting public. But it isn’t just the government. Polls show that union leadership advocate for positions and support politicians that union membership often doesn’t support. The same thing is seen with organizations like the NRA, a divide between those who control those organizations and the members.

Of course, the leadership of these organizations have close ties to the two party system that controls the government. So, these organizations can’t be used by the public to exert influence on politicians. They are part of the social control. No amount of petitions or protests can change this. Present strategies of activism and attempts of reform have been failing for longer than I’ve been alive.

If what you are doing has been proven not to accomplish what you claim to want, then what do you do? You either lower your expectations by making excuses or you try something new.

We have two options left to us. The first is a constitutional convention. But the first constitutional convention more than a couple of centuries ago was taken over by powerful (pseudo-)Federalists who, unconstitutionally according to the first constitution (The Articles of Confederation), forced through an anti-democratic document to ensure their rule. Powerful forces would attempt to do the same thing with another constitutional convention. So, if that fails, that leaves only one option left. That is revolution, whether peaceful or not.

As our options dwindle down, our choice of action becomes simplified. The only question remaining is do we have the moral vision and moral courage to take action. It is up to the oligarchs about whether or not they want to push us to the edge, seeing how far we can be pushed before we simply go over. But as we find ourselves teetering on the edge, what do the rest of us do, We the People?

As citizens of the United States, here is something to keep in mind. Fool the American public once, shame on the oligarchs. Fool the American public a thousand times, that is the shame of our entire society. We’ve been played for fools and we’ve acted accordingly. Let’s take this as a lesson learned the hard way. So, what do we do now? The first step might be learning to make important distinctions.

Pseudo-democracy is to democracy as truthiness is to truth. The spectacle of pseudo-democracy gives us the appearance of democracy to absolve the public’s sense of failure and guilt. The public can say that, well, at least I voted, joined the union, protested, signed a petition, volunteered for a campaign, etc. It allows small impotent acts in order to avoid the possibility of actions that would make a difference.

If we want actual functioning democracy, it is our collective responsibility. We have to act outside of the anti-democratic system. That would require creating a new parallel system that acts independently. We need to create our own separate government, not unlike what the American colonists did when they turned revolutionary, and then put so much public support and power behind it that it can’t be denied. We’ve waited long enough for the oligarchs to do the right thing. It’s now in our hands.

All of that is easier said than done. But it is either that or we continue our decline. As always, it’s a choice to be made.

A Young Experiment

We forget how young is this country and how early on we still are in this social experiment.

When the country was founded, even the wise founders had almost no comprehension of what was meant by ‘republicanism’ and ‘democracy’, as these were mostly just things they had read about in ancient accounts. The old order of feudalism was still surviving in parts of England while in the US an entirely new system was being attempted. Feudalism would last throughout the 19th century in large swaths of Europe, not being fully ended until later revolutions and reforms. Monarchy and aristocracy lasted even longer, to this day retained in places such as England.

When my grandparents were children, people were alive who had personally met the founding fathers. And the last of the Indian Wars were fought when they were entering adulthood. In my parent’s early life, the last Civil War veterans, former slaveholders, and former slaves were alive (and consider how slavery was a way of extending the last remnants of the feudal order into modernity). Many blacks who voted for the first black president spent much of their lives without even the right to vote. Legalized racism is well within living memory. Some sundown towns were being maintained into my own childhood.

Just a century ago, most Americans were still rural small family farmers, whereas Europe began major urbanization centuries ago. The majority of American blacks were still rural a half century ago. Into the mid-20th century, subsistence farming and the barter economy continued to operate in some rural farming communities in the South. And it seems some of the most rural communities in Appalachia have maintained that old mentality of survival through kinship and community, not capitalism.

Before mandatory universal public education was created, few Americans had much if any education at all and most were functionally illiterate. When intelligence testing first was done over a century ago, the average IQ was amazingly low compared to present standards, as abstract thought was rather uncommon before the spread of education and urbanization. To this day, the number without a high school education remains surprisingly high. And more than three quarters of Americans don’t have a college degree.

Yet we complain about the experiment having failed. We’ve barely got this experiment going. We still haven’t attempted to implement a functioning democracy. We are in the stage of dreaming about and aspiring toward democracy, like a young kid having fantasized over and over about asking out on a date that girl he has a crush on. It’s time to take the risk and see what happens. That will be the next step.

We are too impatient, wanting the result without the effort. We are a country barely over a couple of centuries old, while other countries look at the world with a perspective of millennia of history and tradition and, yes, experimentation. The US is like an adolescent going through mood swings because he doesn’t always get his way, without a clue about what lies ahead. It’s time for America to embrace it’s national adulthood. But we’re afraid to leave our childhood behind.

The future is uncertain. That is always the case. We can’t avoid what is to come. But we can prepare for it.

On Accusations of Bullshit

Thinking about bullshit, I was reminded of the standard interpretation of the Greek sophists. The sophists tend to be seen through the eyes of Socrates which is to say through the words of Plato. But we are using a lens of understanding that is covered in more than two millennia of dust and grime.

I’ve long known that trying to grasp anything in the ancient world can feel like a near impossible task, even if too alluring to refuse the attempt. Understandably, we feel compelled to pull back the curtains of the past, hoping to get a glimpse. It isn’t entirely fruitless endeavor, as we have accumulated much evidence, although more scanty than is preferable.

The problem is less the evidence itself and more about how to make sense of it. After millennia of accrued interpretive traditions, it is hard to see the past with clear eyes and new insight. We inherit biases about texts and history, it being hard to separate the one from the other.

David Corey has a book on the topic, The Sophist’s in Plato’s Dialogues (see Lee Trepanier review). If he is correct, that upends the standard view. It would mean Plato’s motives in writing were more complicated, but it more importantly would mean what he wrote about was more complicated.

He points out that Plato references multiple times that Prodicus, a sophist, was Socrates teacher. His argument is that the sophists are often portrayed in positive light and that a close reading shows that there are many commonalities between Socrates and the sophists. They share methods and purpose in philosophical debate. They share a view of a manifest world that is relative and uncertain. And they share a commitment to human virtue that challenges tradition.

In one dialogue, Socrates makes a fairly direct defense of the sophists, in arguing against an unfair and unfounded criticism of them. What is interesting about the criticism, corrupting society, was later used against Socrates. And this is when it is good to remember that Socrates was also sometimes referred to as a sophist.

If sophists were bullshitters and their bullshit was a threat to Athenian democracy, then what does that say about Socrates? He too was judged as a threat and it is a fact that he did associate with some people who actually did threaten the society by enforcing authoritarian rule. It was a time of instability and so it’s clear why so many Athenian citizens feared anything that further destabilized the vulnerable democracy. But when is guilt by association a justified judgment?

The punishment for Socrates was only banishment and yet he chose death, which basically made it an act of suicide. He willingly drank the poison, instead of simply leaving. I don’t know that there is any evidence that his accusers wanted him dead. Socrates remained a well respected philosopher and public figure, even after his death. Banishment wasn’t even always permanent. So, why did he choose suicide which is permanent?

The main perspective we get on all of this, of course, is from Plato. In the Republic, Plato presents a utopian vision that is non-democratic in nature. That is the earliest inspiration for republican thought, at least in the American tradition of political philosophy. What occurred to me is that this republican ideology was articulated by someone living in a democracy and so, if implemented, this republican society would have followed after a democratic society.

Maybe such republicanism could only ever have been imagined in a democratic society. Because of modern revolutions, we define republicanism in opposition to the monarchy that it replaced. But that isn’t the context of that earliest republican thought. Instead of republicanism primarily being a revolution against monarchy, maybe it first and foremost is a reaction against democracy.

That could be seen in the American colonies where democratic self-governance had been developing for decades prior to the American Revolution and later the co-opting of power by the (pseudo-)Federalists who believed republicanism was opposed to democracy. So, the fight for democracy preceded the enforcement of republicanism. And, yes, it was an enforcement… ask those involved in Shay’s Rebellion who were violently put down.

So, what is Socratic dialogue and sophistry? And what are their relationship to rhetoric and bullshit? If Socrates or Plato had been alive in the revolutionary era of the American colonies, what would they have given voice to and whose side would they have taken? Or if they were here in America today, what role would they play? Do philosophers have much role to play at all in our society? When was the last time a member of the philosophical elite was perceived as enough threat to be deemed treasonous?

One last thought. Harry Frankfurt, in “On Bullshit,” argues that bullshit is more copious in a democracy. Is that really the case. I’ve argued against this. Whether or not there is more bullshit in a democracy, there is no doubt plenty of it. And bullshit ends up undermining democracy. Similar to an eye for an eye, bullshit for bullshit leads to us all being covered in it. There is no moral high ground on top of a pile of crap.

But how do we know what is bullshit? According to Frankfurt, that is to ask about intentions, in terms of sincerity and insincerity. Some of the critics of Socrates and the sophists claimed to know their intentions and that their intentions were not good. That apparently was a serious charge to make against someone back then. As for charges of treason these days, the issue of bullshit is irrelevant. What our society idealizes is the truth and hence what the powers that be fear is those who tell the truth. The most treasonous are the whistleblowers who leak government documents showing inconvenient truths, even if they had the best of intentions such as revealing illegal acts and moral wrongdoing.

For Socrates and the sophists, along with other Greeks, sincerity was of penultimate importance. Bullshit was seen as a threat because it was insincere, a value considered central to their small intimate democracy. We now take insincerity as the norm. Sincerity is too personal of a concern for such an impersonal society as ours. It’s harder to have personal concern for hundreds of millions in a large modern nation-state than to have personal concern for a few thousand in an ancient city-state. We are more tolerant of bullshit maybe for the sake of simplicity, as we can’t go around worrying about the moral intentions of so many strangers who we will never meet.

Democratic Republicanism in Early America

There was much debate and confusion around various terms, in early America.

The word ‘democracy’ wasn’t used on a regular basis at the time of the American Revolution, even as the ideal of it was very much in the air. Instead, the word ‘republic’ was used by most people back then to refer to democracy. But some of the founding fathers such as Thomas Paine avoided such confusion and made it clear beyond any doubt by speaking directly of ‘democracy’. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the first founding document and 3rd president, formed a political party with both ‘democratic’ and ‘republican’ in the name, demonstrating that no conflict was seen between the two terms.

The reason ‘democracy’ doesn’t come up in founding documents is that the word is too specific, although it gets alluded to when speaking of “the People” since democracy is literally “people power”. Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, was particularly clever in avoiding most language that evoked meaning that was too ideologically singular and obvious (e.g., he effectively used rhetoric to avoid the divisive debates for and against belief in natural law). That is because the founding documents were meant to unite a diverse group of people with diverse opinions. Such a vague and ambiguous word as ‘republic’ could mean almost anything to anyone and so was an easy way to paper over disagreements and differing visions. If more specific language was used that made absolutely clear what they were actually talking about, it would have led to endless conflict, dooming the American experiment from the start.

Yet it was obvious from pamphlets and letters that many American founders and revolutionaries wanted democracy, in whole or part, to the degree they had any understanding of it. Some preferred a civic democracy with some basic social democratic elements and civil rights, while others (mostly Anti-Federalists) pushed for more directly democratic forms of self-governance. The first American constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was clearly a democratic document with self-governance greatly emphasized. Even among those who were wary of democracy and spoke out against it, they nonetheless regularly used democratic rhetoric (invoking democratic ideals, principles, and values) because democracy was a major reason why so many fought the revolution in the first place. If not for democracy, there was little justification for and relevance in starting a new country, beyond a self-serving power grab by a new ruling elite.

Without assuming that large number of those early Americans had democracy in mind, their speaking of a republic makes no sense. And that is a genuine possibility for at least some of them, as they weren’t always clear in their own minds about what they did and didn’t mean. To be technical (according to even the common understanding from the 1700s), a country either is a democratic republic or a non-democratic republic. The variety of non-democratic republics would include what today we’d call theocracy, fascism, communism, etc. It is a bit uncertain exactly what kind of republic various early Americans envisioned, but one thing is certain: There was immense overlap and conflation between democracy and republicanism in the early American mind. This was the battleground of the fight between Federalists and Anti-Federalists (or to be more accurate, between pseudo-Federalists and real Federalists).

As a label, stating something is a republic says nothing at all about what kind of government it is. All that it says is what a government isn’t, that is to say it isn’t a monarchy, although there were even those who argued for republican monarchy with an elective king which is even more confused and so the king theoretically would serve the citizenry that democratically elected him. Even some of the Federalists talked about this possibility of republic with elements of a monarchy, strange as it seems to modern Americans. This is what the Anti-Federalists worried about.

Projecting our modern ideological biases onto the past is the opposite of helpful. The earliest American democrats were, by definition, republicans. And most of the earliest American republicans were heavily influenced by democratic political philosophy, even when they denounced it while co-opting it. There was no way to avoid the democratic promise of the American Revolution and the founding documents. Without that promise, we Americans would still be British. That promise remains, yet unfulfilled. The seed of an ideal is hard to kill once planted.

Still, bright ideals cast dark shadows. And the reactionary authoritarianism of the counter-revolutionaries was a powerful force. It is an enemy we still fight. The revolution never ended.

* * *

Democracy Denied: The Untold Story
by Arthur D. Robbins
Kindle Locations 2862-2929

Fascism has been defined as “an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests inferior to the needs of the state, and seeks to forge a type of national unity, usually based on ethnic, religious, cultural, or racial attributes.”[ 130] If there is a significant difference between fascism thus defined and the society enunciated in Plato’s Republic,[ 131] in which the state is supreme and submission to a warrior class is the highest virtue, I fail to detect it. [132] What is noteworthy is that Plato’s Republic is probably the most widely known and widely read of political texts, certainly in the United States, and that the word “republic” has come to be associated with democracy and a wholesome and free way of life in which individual self-expression is a centerpiece.

To further appreciate the difficulty that exists in trying to attach specific meaning to the word “republic,” one need only consult the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.[ 133] There one will find a long list of republics divided by period and type. As of this writing, there are five listings by period (Antiquity, Middle Ages and Renaissance, Early Modern, 19th Century, and 20th Century and Later), encompassing 90 separate republics covered in Wikipedia. The list of republic types is broken down into eight categories (Unitary Republics, Federal Republics, Confederal Republics, Arab Republics, Islamic Republics, Democratic Republics, Socialist Republics, and People’s Republics), with a total of 226 entries. There is some overlap between the lists, but one is still left with roughly 300 republics— and roughly 300 ideas of what, exactly, constitutes a republic.

One might reasonably wonder what useful meaning the word “republic” can possibly have when applied in such diverse political contexts. The word— from “res publica,” an expression of Roman (i.e., Latin) origin— might indeed apply to the Roman Republic, but how can it have any meaning when applied to ancient Athens, which had a radically different form of government existing in roughly the same time frame, and where res publica would have no meaning whatsoever?

Let us recall what was going on in Rome in the time of the Republic. Defined as the period from the expulsion of the Etruscan kings (509 B.C.) until Julius Caesar’s elevation to dictator for life (44 B.C.),[ 134] the Roman Republic covered a span of close to five hundred years in which Rome was free of despotism. The title rex was forbidden. Anyone taking on kingly airs might be killed on sight. The state of affairs that prevailed during this period reflects the essence of the word “republic”: a condition— freedom from the tyranny of one-man rule— and not a form of government. In fact, The American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following as its first definition for republic: “A political order not headed by a monarch.”

[…] John Adams (1735– 1826), second President of the United States and one of the prime movers behind the U.S. Constitution, wrote a three-volume study of government entitled Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (published in 1787), in which he relies on the writings of Cicero as his guide in applying Roman principles to American government.[ 136] From Cicero he learned the importance of mixed governments,”[ 137] that is, governments formed from a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. According to this line of reasoning, a republic is a non-monarchy in which there are monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements. For me, this is confusing. Why, if one had just shed blood in unburdening oneself of monarchy, with a full understanding of just how pernicious such a form of government can be, would one then think it wise or desirable to voluntarily incorporate some form of monarchy into one’s new “republican” government? If the word “republic” has any meaning at all, it means freedom from monarchy.

The problem with establishing a republic in the United States was that the word had no fixed meaning to the very people who were attempting to apply it. In Federalist No. 6, Alexander Hamilton says, “Sparta, Athens, Rome and Carthage were all republics”( F.P., No. 6, 57). Of the four mentioned, Rome is probably the only one that even partially qualifies according to Madison’s definition from Federalist No. 10 (noted earlier): “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place,” in which government is delegated “to a small number of citizens elected by the rest” (ibid, No. 10, 81-82).

Madison himself acknowledges that there is a “confounding of a republic with a democracy” and that people apply “to the former reasons drawn from the nature of the latter ”( ibid., No. 14, 100). He later points out that were one trying to define “republic” based on existing examples, one would be at a loss to determine the common elements. He then goes on to contrast the governments of Holland, Venice, Poland, and England, all allegedly republics, concluding, “These examples … are nearly as dissimilar to each other as to a genuine republic” and show “the extreme inaccuracy with which the term has been used in political disquisitions.”( ibid., No. 39, 241).

Thomas Paine offers a different viewpoint: “What is now called a republic, is not any particular form of government. It is wholly characteristical [sic] of the purport, matter, or object for which government ought to be instituted, and on which it is to be employed, res-publica, the public affairs or the public good” (Paine, 369) (italics in the original). In other words, as Paine sees it, “res-publica” describes the subject matter of government, not its form.

Given all the confusion about the most basic issues relating to the meaning of “republic,” what is one to do? Perhaps the wisest course would be to abandon the term altogether in discussions of government. Let us grant the word has important historical meaning and some rhetorical appeal. “Vive la Republique!” can certainly mean thank God we are free of the tyranny of one-man, hereditary rule. That surely is the sense the word had in early Rome, in the early days of the United States, and in some if not all of the French and Italian republics. Thus understood, “republic” refers to a condition— freedom from monarchy— not a form of government.

* * *

Roger Williams and American Democracy
US: Republic & Democracy
 (part two and three)
Democracy: Rhetoric & Reality
Pursuit of Happiness and Consent of the Governed
The Radicalism of The Articles of Confederation
The Vague and Ambiguous US Constitution
Wickedness of Civilization & the Role of Government
Spirit of ’76
A Truly Free People
Nature’s God and American Radicalism
What and who is America?
Thomas Paine and the Promise of America
About The American Crisis No. III
Feeding Strays: Hazlitt on Malthus
Inconsistency of Burkean Conservatism
American Paternalism, Honor and Manhood
Revolutionary Class War: Paine & Washington
Paine, Dickinson and What Was Lost
Betrayal of Democracy by Counterrevolution
Revolutions: American and French (part two)
Failed Revolutions All Around
The Haunted Moral Imagination
“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”
“…from every part of Europe.”

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence
A Vast Experiment
America’s Heartland: Middle Colonies, Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest
When the Ancient World Was Still a Living Memory

Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed.

“It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.

“The empire feeds off of the republic’s resources. The people end up doing without essentials so that Patricians can pursue their far off plunder. Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed. And you see that very same thing happening today. You see, for instance, an estimated 200 to 250 billion is going to be spent on Iraq. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress is proposing about 300 billion in cuts in human services, in public services, in healthcare, in aid to public education, and the like.

“Every time they raise your tuition you are paying for the cost of empire. Every time they cut funds to the state of Wisconsin you have to make up the difference. Everywhere I go… and, when I pick up the local newspapers, it often seems like the same paper and every paper has the same story for a while, factoring when the fiscal year was ending, it would say: ‘State facing huge deficits’, ‘City council voting cuts in budget’…

“That is the cost of empire. What happens then is our economic democracy is under attack.

“Not everyone, as they say, pays the costs. Some people profit immensely.”

That is from a talk given by Michael Parenti at the University of Wisconsin.

What he spoke of here was part of a larger point he was making. Empires don’t happen by accident or by absentmindedness. Empires are built and that happens intentionally with immense effort and costs. We imperial subjects don’t always notice the costs because we aren’t used to thinking about our country as an empire. But the costs are always there, however hidden by mechanisms that externalize them, that defer and displace them.

Yet there are also benefits, powerful interests that are being served. The purpose for imperialism isn’t simply about brute power, though. It’s about control toward specific ends.

Parenti explains that, even without Western domination, many non-Western countries were more than willing to sell oil and participate in global trade. Still, that isn’t enough. The Western oil cartels want to be able to control the oil supply in foreign countries. Here is the problem presented by those like Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t sell his oil but that he insisted on selling his oil that was driving down oil prices. That is contrary to the interests who want to control and manipulate the oil markets, to artificially set the prices so that they will bring in the largest profits.

Also, the problem wasn’t that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. It was the US who put him in power in order to ensure the destruction of Iraqi democracy, an action that required the death, torture, and imprisonment of Iraqis fighting for their freedom. The US wanted a brutal dictator and supported him most strongly (with money and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons) precisely when he was at his most brutal, for he was being brutal in serving Western interests. What sealed his doom was his ultimate refusal to play the role of a subordinate puppet dictator. It turned out that, as leader, he wanted to serve the interests of Iraqis instead of the interests of Western powers. That is the one thing Western powers can’t tolerate.

All of that is obvious, to anyone who isn’t entirely propagandized by Western education and media. The main issue remains what I quoted. And it isn’t a new insight. Parenti is simply rephrasing what Dwight D. Eisenhower stated earlier last century, in his famous Chance for Peace speech. But it bears repeating, until one day the American people finally grasp the horrific injustice that has been forced on them, costs that aren’t just monetary but human. As Eisenhower explained it,

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

“This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

A System of Unhappiness

The unhappiness, frustration, outrage, and whatever else many Americans are experiencing is hardly new. It has been around for as long I can remember.

Even back in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a growing sense of unease and a sense that something had gone askew, as wages stagnated and inequality grew while the lower classes waited for the promises of trickle-down. Long before the 2008 recession and Trump’s economic populism, there were the WTO protests in 1999. The failures have been apparent for at least decades, failures of American-style globalization and neoliberal corporatism (inverted totalitarianism?) along with the political elite, lobbyists, and think tanks that serve it.

The sense of tension and conflict has only grown worse, as the economic situation for most Americans has deterioriated. For this past decade or so: Large parts of our government, such as Congress, have had microscopic levels in the general public’s approval ratings. In polls, large percentages (often a majority) of Americans regularly say that they don’t think the government represents them and that we don’t have a functioning democracy. Also, accusations of political manipulation, vote rigging, and media bias/collusion have been regularly heard all across the political spectrum.

With this past campaign season and the presidential election, all of this has been magnified to the point it can no longer be ignored or dismissed by the political and media elite. It seems to have hit a tipping point. But the culmination of it all is still unclear. Sanders voters accused Clinton and the DNC in rigging the primary. Trump accused Democrats of rigging the election. And then Democrats returned the favor by accusing Trump and now the Russians. It seems almost everyone now agrees our system is dysfunctional and being rigged somehow by someone. Whatever it is, it ain’t democracy.

Yet, at the same time, the American public (myself included, sadly) has grown so cynical and apathetic that few can be bothered to start protests and riots in the street to demand democracy. If people are so unhappy, where is the march on Washington or the occupation of statehouses? It feels like most Americans have given up on the system, which is dangerous for that is when the system is most vulnerable to authoritarianism, demagoguery, and dictatorship. When a society gets to that point, the best that can be hoped for is all-out revolution that overthrows the entire system and starts from scratch.

It’s highly probable that the Russians were meddling in American politics. It would be shocking if they weren’t. Russians and Americans have been meddling with each other’s countries since the beginning of the Cold War. The CIA is infamous for its covert activities in fucking around with other countries. You’d have to be naive to the point of idiocy to think that every major government isn’t constantly meddling in the affairs of other countries. We might as well have an open system of international spy exchange, just to simplify things. And it isn’t even just government. Do you really think the Chinese government doesn’t have spies in Western technology companies? Do you really think the Russian government doesn’t have spies in American companies manufacturing and operating voting machines? Come on! Don’t be stupid. In our heart of hearts, we already know this.

As for a functioning democracy, our government was from the beginning designed to not be a functioning democracy. That is what happened when the Federalists won. It’s true the Anti-Federalists got some semi-democratic concessions in trying to protect against the worst aspects of the Federalist aspirations of monarchy, aristocracy, and imperialism. But those concessions have turned out to be impotent.

Consider the electoral college. It was a compromise in the hope of balancing power. The reality of it, however, was that it gave power to the elite. It ultimately wasn’t a compromise between the public and the powerful nor between large and small states. Rather it ended up being an agreement between elites and other elites, in the struggle over which elites would rule and how they would rule.

Electors are part of the political elite, first and foremost. Their purpose is to represent state governments (i.e., local political elite) more than it is to represent local voters. This is why electors have always had the freedom to elect anyone they want. The idea was that, if the public voted incorrectly, the political elite by way of the electors could ensure the correct candidate was elected president. So, if the electors in this election did choose Clinton over Trump, they would simply be doing what is in their job description. Clinton is part of the political establishment and Trump isn’t. The electors purpose is to protect the political establishment, and the party-affiliation of the electors guarantees the state political establishments remains aligned with the federal political establishment.

From this perspective, nothing is exactly malfunctioning.

It’s sort of like modern warfare. The United States didn’t lose the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. They achieved their purpose in destabilizing these countries to keep other global powers from establishing control. It’s how geopolitics is played. The United States could have simply blown any of those countries off the map or turned any of them into permanent colonies, but that isn’t how the modern geopolitical game is played and won. Plus, it is effective as spectacle and entertainment to distract the masses, by playing out scapegoating rituals and propaganda narratives on the global stage. This redirects the public’s unhappiness and anger toward state-approved targets, allowing for emotional catharsis and temporary appeasement of collective anxiety.

As explained by Diana Johnstone, in Queen of Chaos:

For most Americans, U.S. wars are simply a branch of the entertainment industry, something to hear about on television but rarely seen. These wars give you a bit of serious entertainment in return for your tax dollars. But they are not really a matter of life and death…

In fact, it hardly seems to matter what happens in these wars. The United States no longer even makes war in order to win, but rather to make sure that the other side loses. Hillary Clinton accused Vladimir Putin, quite falsely, of adhering to a “zero-sum game in which, if someone is winning, then someone else has to be losing”. The United States is playing something even worse: a “no win”, or a “lose-lose”, game in which the other side may lose, yet the United States cannot be called the winner. These are essentially spoiler wars, fought to get rid of real or imagined rivals; everyone is poorer as a result. Americans are being taught to grow accustomed to these negative wars, whose declared purpose is to get rid of something – a dictator, or terrorism, or human rights violations.

The United States is out to dominate the world by knocking out the other players.

“Our ideals” are part of the collateral damage.

If you don’t understand the purpose and agenda behind a system, you can’t judge how effective it is in achieving those ends. Maybe that is what is happening with the American public right now. They are waking up to the reality that the world isn’t as they thought it was, that their country isn’t the kind they had been sold.

So, by what right do the elite rule over us? The social contract is being questioned, the legitimacy of the government challenged. Then what?

Democracy: Rhetoric & Reality

The federal bureaucrats, think tank leaders, and congressional staff members they surveyed, Ginsberg said in an interview with VICE News, “have no idea what Americans think and they don’t care. They think Americans are stupid and should do what they are told.”
~ Alex Thompson

The US political system is functioning as designed. From early on, the Federalists envisioned a government controlled and operated by a paternalistic ruling elite of rich white men — some combination of plutocrats, technocrats, bureaucrats, and disinterested aristocracy.

The ‘People’ was intended to be a meaningless abstraction to placate the dirty masses. When the general population actually tried to assert their authority, they were violently put down. Over time, the ruling elite found less violent ways to keep the public in line, such as the increasing spectacle of elections.

If we are to take democracy seriously, we need to understand the kind of system we have. Then we should consider the alternatives.

The following includes two passages from a book. Below that are numerous links to articles. I wanted to share some views on democracy, elections, sortition, representation, oligarchy, technocracy, etc.

* * *

Democracy Denied: The Untold Story
by Arthur D. Robbins
Kindle Locations 492-523

In addition to participating in the debates occurring in the Assembly (the ekklesia), the Athenian citizen could be called upon to serve as a juror in one of the many legal actions involving private or public suits, to serve in an administrative capacity as magistrate overseeing some government function (such as water or grain supply, building projects, or trade), or to serve on the Council (the boule). The boule was a body of five hundred members and was responsible for drafting preparatory legislation for consideration by the Assembly, overseeing the meetings of the Assembly, and in certain cases executing legislation as directed by the Assembly.

The members of the boule were selected by a lottery held each year among male citizens over thirty years of age. Fifty men would be chosen from each of the ten Athenian tribes, with service limited to twice in a lifetime. There were ten months in the Athenian calendar, and one of the ten tribes was in ascendancy each month. The fifty citizen councilors (prytanies) of the dominant tribe each month served in an executive function over the boule and the ekklesia. From that group of fifty, one individual (the epistates) would be selected each day to preside over the boule and, if it met in session that day, the ekklesia.

The epistates held the keys to the treasury and the seal to the city, and he welcomed foreign ambassadors. It has been calculated that one-quarter of all citizens must at one time in their lives have held the post, which could be held only once in a lifetime. Meetings of the boule might occur on as many as 260 days in the course of a year.

The third element of the Athenian democracy was the system of jury courts known as the dikasteria. Jurors were selected by lot from an annual pool of 6,000 citizens (600 from each of the ten tribes) over the age of thirty. There were both private suits and public suits. For private suits the minimum jury size was 201; it was increased to 401 if a sum of more than 1,000 drachmas was at issue. For public suits there was a jury of 501. On occasion a jury of 1,001 or 1,501 would be selected. Rarely, the entire pool of 6,000 would be put on a case. No Athenian juror was ever subjected to compulsory empanelment, voir dire, or sequestration, nor was any magistrate empowered to decide what evidence the jury could or could not be allowed to see.

Jurors could not be penalized for their vote— unless it could be shown that they had accepted bribes. But the practice of selecting juries randomly on the morning of the trial and the sheer size of the juries served to limit the effectiveness of bribery. The Athenian court system did not operate according to precedent. No jury was bound by the decisions of previous juries in previous cases. This is a striking difference between Athenian law and more familiar systems such as Roman law or English common law. Such a system of justice was consistent with the Athenian opposition to elitism and the oppressive effects of received wisdom in matters of justice. Each citizen used his own common sense to make judgments based on personal belief and prevailing mores.

Some crimes had penalties predetermined by law, but in most cases the choice was left up to the jury.

Kindle Locations 2960-3046

Choosing by lot is the most democratic procedure of all. It establishes political equality by allowing anyone to govern, based on a chance event. There is no opportunity to buy the election or manipulate votes. However, the pool of candidates itself can be open-ended, as it was in Athens, or, for the most part, confined to the upper elements of society, as it tended to be in Florence. The same applies to elections. The pool of candidates can be open to anyone or it can be restricted by membership in a particular party, by property qualification, or by wealth. Voting itself can be restricted— by race, sex, social status, wealth, and so on— or suffrage can be universal. But, no matter, because the means of selecting the governors is independent of the form of government. A society can elect an aristocracy or an oligarchy or even a monarch.

At the height of his career, Napoleon Bonaparte was probably the most powerful person in Western Europe. He enjoyed great popularity at home, if not elsewhere. In 1804, he had himself crowned emperor. He held a plebiscite to confirm his authority and received the enthusiastic support he was seeking. In other words, Napoleon held an election to determine if he would be supreme ruler. Let us imagine that there was universal suffrage and that the election was scrupulously fair. Let us also imagine, just for the sake of argument, that the choice was unanimous, that not a single vote was cast to deny Napoleon the title of emperor. Thus we have a completely democratic, honest election with a unanimous outcome. What kind of government do we have the day after this democratic election? Clearly, an autocracy.

Charles V— who made his home in Spain— presided over an empire that was ten times the size of the Roman Empire. He ruled over the Burgundian Netherlands. He was King of Naples and Sicily, Archduke of Austria, King of the Romans (or German King), and Holy Roman Emperor. It was his empire upon which “the sun never set.” “Spain” was not the Spain of today, but many separate “Spains,” something like the city-states of northern Italy. Charles needed to be declared King in Navarre, Valencia, Aragon, Castile, and Catalonia. In 1516, at the age of sixteen, he was elected King of Aragon, a “republic” with an elective king. The assembly gave notice that “we who are as good as you, make you, who are no better than we, our king. And we will bear true allegiance if you observe our laws and customs; if not, not” (Barzun, 93). Despite these noble sentiments and stipulations, the day after the election the people of Aragon lived under a monarchy.

Thus, there is no causal relation whatsoever between the means of selecting one’s governors and the form of government that results from the selection process. In fact, for obvious reasons, any time you have an election as a means of selecting the governor( s), you automatically will have an oligarchy/ aristocracy or an autocracy/ monarchy. Why? Because the many select the few or the one. Thus, voting in which elections are fully democratic and fair is in fact anti-democratic. One cannot have voting and have a democracy at the same time.[ 140] Remember, it’s a numbers game. The many choose the few. It is the few who govern, even if we choose them at election time.

“But,” you may say, “we choose them. They are beholden to us.” Neither one of these propositions is necessarily true. In his book The Ruling Class, Gaetano Mosca [141] observes:

The fact that a people participates in electoral assemblies does not mean that it directs the government or that the class that is governed chooses its governors.[ 142] It means merely that when the electoral function operates under favorable social conditions it is a tool by which certain political forces are enabled to control and limit the activity of other political forces. (Mosca, 98).

In other words, it seems as if we choose and control, but we don’t.

As Mosca points out, the deck is always stacked. “When we say that the voters ‘choose’ their representative, we are using a language that is very inexact. The truth is that the representative has himself elected by the voters … that his friends have him elected” (italics in the original). We end up voting for those who are preselected by virtue of their “moral, intellectual and material means to force their will upon others, take the lead over the others and command them” (ibid., 154) (italics in the original).

Thus, in practice, in popular elections, freedom of choice, “though complete theoretically, necessarily becomes null, not to say ludicrous.” The voter, for his vote to have meaning, ends up having to choose from among a very small number of contenders, the two or three who have a chance of succeeding, “and the only ones who have any chance of succeeding are those whose candidacies are championed by groups, by committees, by organized minorities” (Mosca, ibid.) (italics in the original).[ 143]

The relative handful who are selected to speak for the citizenry are rarely, if ever, a random selection. They are rarely, if ever, demographically representative of the population at large. And they are rarely, if ever, open to the wishes of their constituency. Instead, those selected to represent speak not for their constituency but for the organized minorities who put them in power, minorities with certain values in common, “based on considerations of property and taxation, on common material interests, on ties of family, class, religion, sect or political party”( ibid., 155). Thus, the preselected minority speaks for an even narrower minority who sponsored their candidacy based on a specific set of goals at odds with the needs and wishes of the vast majority. Mosca was writing in the 1930s. What would he say if he knew that it now takes millions of dollars to get elected to the House of Representatives, tens of millions to be elected senator or governor, and close to a billion to be elected president? He would probably say, “I told you so.”

“But,” you may argue, “we in the United States have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that protects our civil liberties.” Yes, true. However, the Constitution simply guarantees that we live under an oligarchy,[ 144] one that seems to be drifting toward monarchy. As for the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, they are critical to our civic democracy (C.D. +)— our rights to self-expression and freedom of movement— but, as important as they are, they do not determine the form of political government we live under.

“Yes, but,” you may ask, “didn’t Madison say that the people had the last word, that they were sovereign?” Yes, he did say that. On several occasions he said that power is derived from the people (F.P., No. 37, 227; No. 39, 241; No. 49, 314). He also said that the “ultimate authority … resides in the people alone” (ibid., No. 46, 294), that the people are “the only legitimate fountain of power”( ibid., No. 49, 313), and that they are “the fountain of authority” (ibid., No. 51, 321). These are examples of what I call rhetorical democracy (R.D. +, P.D.–)— democracy of words, not deeds, the most frequently encountered kind of democracy in a world dominated by those who oppose true popular government.[ 145]

Once we clear away the mist of myth and rhetoric, we discover that the American government was established by men who needed to placate the people while setting themselves up as arbiters of the new nation’s destiny. In a 1991 book entitled The Rise and Fall of Democracy in Early America, 1630– 1789, Joshua Miller speaks of “the ghostly body politic” and declares that “despite the explicit anti-democratic statements of the Federalists, Americans persist in describing the government they designed as a democracy” (Miller, 105). This confusion, he maintains, was deliberately created by the Federalists, who used “pseudodemocratic rhetoric” (ibid., 106) to make it appear as if “popular sovereignty” was the same thing as “popular government.” “The Federalists ascribed all power to a mythical entity that could never meet, never deliberate, never take action. The body politic became a ghost” (ibid., 113). By ascribing all power to “the people”— an empty abstraction— and transferring that power to a strong central government, the Federalists were able to assume power for themselves while appearing to do just the opposite. “Popular sovereignty would give the new government the support of the people and, at the same time, insulate the national government from the actual activity of the people”( ibid., 121).

Democracy is a form of government in which political power is equally distributed among the citizen population. The people are sovereign not just in principle, but in fact. Aristotle declares, “Private rights do not make a citizen. He is ordinarily one who possesses political power” (McKeon, 550). In other words, our civic rights (C.D. +) do not make us citizens. Our direct participation in government (P.D. +) makes us citizens. “A citizen is one who shares in governing and being governed,” according to Aristotle (ibid., 604). “What, then, is democracy?” asks Max Weber. “In itself it means simply that no formal inequality of political rights exists between the classes of the population” (Weber, 275). In a democracy, political equality prevails.

I believe that for those of us living in the Western “democracies” the concept of political equality, as opposed to social equality, has simply disappeared from our lexicon, from our thoughts, from our utterances, from our struggles. We want a better deal for ourselves and our neighbors. Perhaps we even want social justice. But it never occurs to us that without political equality, our wishes cannot be fulfilled.

This was not always true. Once independence had been declared and fought for in the United States, just about everyone was aware of the issue of power and its distribution. Political equality represented a conscious choice for many. This was the case, as well, in the early Italian city-states, to a degree in the Roman Republic, and, of course, in ancient Athens.

Currently, as governments abandon even the pretense of serving the common good, there is a resurgent interest in political equality as a means to gaining some degree of control over the affairs of state. In the process of learning to govern we begin to unfold as individuals in ways that we didn’t know that were possible. We begin to understand that government shapes us just as we shape it.

* * *

Sortition: Democracy
Wikipedia

Election is not synonym of democracy
Le Message

A Citizen Legislature
Stretching our thinking about how we govern ourselves

by Ernest Callenbach & Michael Phillips, Context Institute

A Real Democracy Would Use Sortition
by Virtually Yours, Disinfo

Sortition and Direct Democracy
by Yavor Tarinski, New Compass

Against elections
by Davd Van Reybrouck, Policy Network

Anxieties of Democracy
by Hélène Landemore, Boston Review

Democracy without Elections
by Brian Martin, University of Wollongong

Imagine a Democracy Built on Lotteries, Not Elections
by  Terrill Bouricius, et al, Zócalo Public Square

How Selecting Voters Randomly Can Lead to Better Elections
by Joshua Davis, Wired

Is It Time to Take a Chance on Random Representatives?
by Michael Schulson, The Daily Beast

Why elections are bad for democracy
by David Van Reybrouck, The Guardian

And the lot fell on… sortition in Ancient Greek democratic theory & practice
by Paul Cartledge, Oxford University Press

Allotment and Democracy in Ancient Greece
by Paul Demont, Books & Ideas

Ancient Athens didn’t have politicians. Is there a lesson for us?
by Tom Atlee, P2P Foundation Wiki

Ancient Greeks would not recognise our ‘democracy’ – they’d see an ‘oligarchy
by Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

The Sortition Option
by Jon Roland, Constitution Society

* * *

They don’t like you.
by Alex Thompson, Vice

Washington ‘insiders’ snub their noses at US public
by Jill Rosen, Futurity

Study: Washington officials see public as largely uninformed
U.S. Capitol Dome
by John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

Washington’s ‘governing elite’ think Americans are morons
by Jeff Guo, The Washington Post

How dumb does Washington think we all are?
by Kyle Smith, New York Post

The political clout of the superrich
by Chrystia Freeland, Reuters

Surprising Studies Find DC Does What Wealthiest Want, Majority Opposes
by Dave Johnson, OurFuture.org

Stark New Evidence on How Money Shapes America’s Elections
by Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Stacked Deck
by Lauren Strayer, Demos

The Political Roots of Inequality
by Nolan McCarty, The American Interest

Is America an Oligarchy?
by John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Testing Theories of American Politics:
Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

by Martin Gilens & Benjamin I. Page, Princeton University

First Chapter: Affluence and Influence
by Martin Gilens, Ash Center

Under the Influence
by Martin Gilens, Boston Review

Economic Inequality and Political Power (Pt. 2 & 3)
by Martin Gilens, Monkey Cage

Critics argued with our analysis of U.S. political inequality. Here are 5 ways they’re wrong.
by Martin Gilens & Benjamin I. Page, The Washington Post

A new study says politicians don’t favor the rich. That’s debatable.
by Dylan Matthews, The Washington Post

Trans-Pacific Trade Pact Highlights the Political Power of the Affluent
by Brendan Nyhan, The New York Times

One Big Reason for Voter Turnout Decline and Income Inequality: Smaller Unions
by Sean McElwee, The American Prospect

Why U.S. Politicians Think Americans Are So Conservative When They’re Not
by Philip Bump, The Wire

* * *

Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism

The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1

US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism

The Stories We Tell

[W]ithin each of our individual introcosms we are always “seeing” ourselves as the central characters in the drama of our lives. However, a certain selectivity to this inner theater is apparent, since we choose those images of ourselves that fit into our favored scripts and ignore those that do not. This attribution of causes to behavior or “saying why we did a particular thing is all a part of narratization. Such causes, as reasons, may be true or false, neutral or ideal.” An interiorized self is “ever ready to explain anything we happen to find ourselves doing,” and a “stray fact is narratized to fit with some other stray fact.” We are not “consciously aware of all the information our mind processes or of the causes of all the behaviors we enact, or of the origin of all the feelings we experience. But the conscious self uses these as data points to construct and maintain a coherent story, our personal story, our subjective sense of self.”
~Brian J. McVeigh, A Psychohistory of Metaphors (Kindle Locations 2736-2743)

I’ve lost what little faith I have in rational public debate, democratic process, and the liberal dream. The stories we tell about ourselves and our society.

We don’t live in a free society. I’m not sure what a free society would look like in a country such as this. I simply know it would not be this way. In a free society, corrupt power-mongers would not become leading candidates in elections and certainly not elected into positions of power. A free people wouldn’t tolerate it. But we aren’t a free people in a free society.

Freedom is an odd notion. It is an ideal, a social construct that is reified through repetition. We talk about it so much that we take it for granted without understanding what we’re talking about. It relates to other notions, such as free will—the ability to act freely. The term ‘free’ etymologically goes back to a basic meaning of being among friends, which is to say being treated by others as they would treat themselves. As such, it actually has more of a connotation of mutual relationship than of independent individuality. To be free, in the oldest sense, is to belong among those one knows and trusts.

Our modern sense of freedom is rather abstract. It’s become entirely disconnected from the concrete reality of human bonds within a specific community. We know freedom from the stories we tell or rather from the media we consume, not so much from our lived experience. American communities aren’t locations of freedom, in any sense of the word. And we don’t have a culture of trust.

When I observe people in American society, I don’t see freedom of thought and action. What I notice most of all is how blindly and unconsciously people act, the dissociation and ignorance that rules their minds, how trapped people are in the life conditions that have shaped them, the persuasive rhetoric of media and politics, and the reactions to emotional manipulations. Even the ruling elite who love to play their games of power aren’t any more free than the rest of us, maybe even less so as they exist within the echo chambers of a self-enclosed establishment, based on the demented belief that they make their own reality.

The entire society forms a near hermetically-sealed reality tunnel. That is what it means to be in a society like this, to be a subject of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. We can’t see out, much less see beyond to other possibilities.

I keep coming back to a basic insight. We humans are a mystery to ourselves. I mean that profoundly but also simply. We don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do. We know so little about the very things that matter the most, specifically our own nature. The ideals of a liberal society are the light glinting off the surface of deep waters, indicating mere ripples while leaving the currents beneath unseen. That nice-sounding rhetoric does not make the world go round nor does it tell us where the world is heading.

It’s pointless to expect a functioning democracy under these conditions. We are like children at play, knowing not what any of it means. Asking for democracy from an American politician is like asking for healthcare form a child playing doctor. Games, endless games. We are better able at imagining than in acting, for our imaginings are but daydreams and fantasies. As for voters, they only demand one thing, to be told comforting lies and entertaining stories. Our political system is a spectacle of lights that blinds us to the darkness around us, as we stumble along, more likely over a cliff than out of Plato’s cave.

We are all stuck in this mire and sinking deeper, even those who claim to be outside of it. The critics, left and right, are simply hypnotized by other scripts. Genuinely original thought and deep insight is so rare as to be practically irrelevant. Nothing will change, until conditions force change, and when it happens no one will be able to predict where those changes will lead.

At some point, the stories we tell ourselves stop making sense, as the world refuses to conform. What then?

* * *

The Elephant That Wasn’t There

The Stories We Know

Imagined Worlds, Radical Visions