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32. Democracy

U.S. people, and increasingly most global citizens, embrace and promote democracy as the best form of government.  Democracy, as developed in ancient Greece, was based on the idea that the people should be empowered to determine how we are governed.  Sovereignty resides in the people.  Each should have a voice in public discussions about what to do, and collective decisions should be made by all.  Decisions are made by voting.  When votes reach a certain threshold, a decision is made.  People power.

Well, pure democracy only works when numbers of people are small enough that we can effectively participate in public discussions and have the information needed to make knowledgeable decisions about how to vote.  That really only exists in small communities.  If we want true democracy, we need to create it in small, close communities, where we can be heard and participate meaningfully, where our votes make a difference, where we know each other and have common intentions and outcomes. 

The U.S. has never been a pure democracy.  Initially, it was impossible for too many people scattered across too much physical space without adequate information sharing for pure democracy to function. The U.S. was set up as a Representative Democracy.  We would carve up the country into regions and elect representatives to go participate in democratic decision-making on our behalves, where they could focus and get the information needed to make intelligent decisions for the good of the rest at home.

So, the only real power most people have in decision-making in the U.S. is in who we vote for to represent us in government.  Theoretically, those representatives are accountable to the people they represent, and should be representing the interests of those people.  The people should choose those who would best represent us, based on shared values, principles and priorities of the people. 

In practice, now, rather than being accountable to the people who elect them, representatives are accountable to those who fund their campaigns and manipulate public opinion to sway elections. 

Too many government representatives are in it, not to represent their people the best they can, but to prosper personally, to advance their personal well-being, power and wealth.  They make decisions based on what advances their personal positions and pleases their donors and sponsors.  What is presented to the people is marketing fluff.  Elections are manipulated sporting events.  Representative Democracy in the U.S. has been corrupted by corrupting the representatives, institutions and election processes.

Presidential elections have been corrupted through the Electoral College system.  Originally, people were too dispersed and information sharing was too poor to be able to know enough about Presidential candidates to make informed decisions about them.  So, we’d elect Electors, representatives to bone up on candidates and make informed decisions on our behalves.  We could know local representative electors and choose them personally, because they were local, but we needed to send them to learn about and make decisions about presidential candidates, because they were too far away to know.

Today, however, the people do not elect the Electors, and, in varying ways, many Electors don’t have a choice about how they vote.  That’s determined by state laws.  We’ve manipulated and corrupted the representative Electoral College system.  Someone can be elected President of the United States, even if most people vote for someone else, as in the last election.  We have also manipulated and corrupted popular elections by carefully drawing lines around voting districts, to reliably secure election outcomes. We’ve corrupted them via voter alienation efforts and disenfranchising people in the biggest criminal prison system the world has ever known.  We’ve corrupted them with manipulable voting machines.

We tend to have an almost religious belief in the goodness of our Democracy, that it will almost magically produce optimal results on our behalf, that it is the best system of government for anyone, and that anyone who criticizes it deserves our scorn and contempt.  How do we reconcile that with the knowledge that our democracy has been corrupted, is broken and does not optimally represent its people, as demonstrated through the evidence of most of our social systems being broken?[1] 

It’s important that we recognize our democratic government is broken, and not just continue with blind faith that democracy is always good and our government is always best and working well, while it isn’t.

 

[1] See We Can Change Our Wicked Problems! Chapter on Government Corruption, https://www.wecanchange.us/government-corruption

 

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