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The death of the American Dream

Democracy is failing in the USA

Patrick Guntensperger

Parksville, BC


Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on

Leonard Cohen
Democracy is Coming to the USA


There is irony in the fact that, in the USA, the most vocal proponents of “democracy”, “the American way”, and “government of the people” are the very ones who are subverting the democratic process.

Red, white, and blue patriots are incessantly bleating about “American values’, and basking in the assumption that the United States is qualitatively superior to all other countries in morality, quality of life, respect for institutions, and democratic commitment. For a private citizen to articulate any doubt that the United States might be flawed or lacking in any of those areas is tantamount to treason and it is political suicide for any leader to show less than absolute, unquestioning adherence to those points of doctrine. That the assumption is palpably and demonstrably untrue doesn’t matter a bit.

Fair enough. Samuel Johnson famously said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel; and scoundrels often enjoy a rosy self-assessment. Every country has a national anthem that extols the virtues that a country wishes it had more than it provides an accurate snapshot of the reality of the nation. Even a country that can more reasonably be described as a wretched hell-hole will, on a national holiday, tearfully chant about its beauty, strength of character, and godliness; in that regard, the United States of America is no exception. But maybe the real “American exceptionalism” that we hear about from political candidates has more to do with the depth of the hypocrisy in their own self-image than it has with to do with their commitment to democracy.

As the general elections approach, chicanery and bare-knuckle politics are no great surprise; tremendous power and privilege are, after all, at stake. The level of blatant, unapologetic lying and cheating is higher than one can remember ever having seen, however. But what is truly astonishing is the cynical tolerance with which citizens of the United States treat behaviour that should have hundreds of people arrested and jailed for fraud and candidates contemptuously dismissed and publicly scorned as ethically unsuitable to lead any civilised country. The contempt today’s politicians have for the very institutions they fervently desire to represent is staggering.

One only has to look at Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan to see examples of ethically challenged politicians. Both have blatantly lied, on the record, in public, and on the air about easily checked matters of fact. Both have been called on it and both have been proven to have knowingly, deliberately, and repeatedly lied to the people whose votes they are asking for. They know that people will accept their lies and not even notice the retractions when they are forced to recant. When they actually do recant their barefaced lies, they do it in a smaller forum and without any public scrutiny; like a newspaper retraction, the rationalisation (“The question wasn’t clear”, “I didn’t express myself elegantly”, or “My statement was misconstrued”) is missed by most people. That is precisely their intent; the lie becomes the permanent record and a misstatement becomes common wisdom. 

Candidates have always distorted the truth and misled, but deliberate lying and depending on people not to care anymore is a breathtakingly cynical strategy. It constitutes a recognition that, by and large, the American people simply don’t care about substance in preference to packaging.

Those politicians who most frequently wrap themselves in the flag and invoke democracy as their guiding principle don’t actually believe in it…they don’t believe in sharing power or in the decisions of government being made by the people. They believe only in power itself and in that power being wielded for their benefit and for the benefit of those like them. If, as happened with the election of Barack Obama, the people select someone to lead the country but who is different from them, they reject his legitimacy and work tirelessly to undermine his mandate. They refuse to cooperate in any governance and they subvert his presidency through a campaign of lies regarding his birth, his parentage, his academic record, his religion, his Americanism. This is fundamentally anti-democratic and it is the behaviour of disgruntled, racist, crypto-fascists. On the right side of the Republican Party lurks the Tea Party faction; the foregoing is particularly true of them, except for the “crypto” qualifier on the deliberately chosen term, “fascists”.

Their anti-democratic leanings are exemplified by the voter suppression laws proposed and, in some cases, enacted in Republican states. For some obscure reason, the states have jurisdiction over federal election regulations. And although the right to vote is guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the individual states have sovereignty over the manner in which that right is applied. With that absurdity as a lever, Republican state governments throughout the Union have attempted to pass legislation, the specific intention of which is to disenfranchise voters of colour, of lesser financial means, of left-leaning electoral districts, of union towns; all likely Democrats. They aren’t even trying to be subtle about it; they publicly acknowledge that these fascist moves are intended to help the national Republicans and only perfunctorily rationalise their tactics by citing non-existent voter fraud as justifications.

Throughout the United States, billionaire company owners and CEOs are writing letters to their blue collar employees warning them that if a Democratic government is elected, they will be laid off. They make no secret of the fact that they support Romney and his Republicans purely and simply because he has assured them and other wealthy citizens of even greater tax benefits at the expense of the middle class, should he be successful in his attempt to buy the election. This is unabashed blackmail and beleaguered Americans are getting ready to pay the ransom. 

The Republicans this time around have been caught with their pants down again and again. They have hired consultants to register Republicans and destroy Democratic registrations; they have employed phone campaigners to bury swing areas under an avalanche of false accusations regarding the president and the Democrats; Romney’s company has placed billboards intended to scare Democratic voters away from the polls; they have trained armies of polling station watchers to demand unneeded identification from Democratic voters; they have done everything in their power to skew the vote and subvert anything resembling a genuinely democratic presidential election. And they have done it in plain sight, with virtually no repercussions.

To achieve their aims, the Republicans will resegregate the country, they will deny minorities the franchise, they will steal the vote. As long as their candidate ends up in the White House for the purpose of reducing the tax requirements of the wealthy, they will betray every principle of ethics or democratic process, or even human decency. They don’t believe in democracy and there exists the possibility that they will succeed in their crusade to destroy what made the United States great. And the citizens just might help them do it

What those of us on the outside cannot fathom is why this election is even close. What has happened to our American cousins that has made them so cowed, so afraid, so heartless that they will throw their elderly, their poor, their hungry, their huddled masses under the bus and then vote against anything remotely resembling compassion? When did being an American citizen become synonymous with being a brutally cruel and heartless self-serving lickspittle to the wealthy plutocrats who run the country like a fiefdom? When did the “city on the hill” become Babylon? How did its people allow it to become a hellish, ignorant, anti-intellectual, violence-obsessed, dog-eat-dog cesspool, where virtue is confounded with selfishness and the poor support the wealthy so that the rich get richer and crush everyone outside of their pampered and coddled class?

The civilised world cries for the failed experiment that was The United States of America.


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  1. Hmmm… where to begin? Your title “Democracy is failing in the USA” is dead on. I would expect that we will see this happening more and more in all democratic countries. Democracy by definition is a system where people vote on things they know nothing about. Approximately 40% of the US population has graduated from a post secondary institution, to assume that 25% of those might have studied something related to economics would be an over estimated, but still that would mean 10% of the population could read and understand an economic proposal put forth by and candidate or party. Obviously they would not agree, since there would be more than one proposal. But this proposal is not voted on by those that read and understand, everybody gets to have a say. The same applies to every aspect of government.

    Regardless, I would say that globally the general population shows some key tendencies that will only continue to undermine the limited virtues of democracy. These tendencies are: inability or lack of desire to think critically, little to no interest in politics (not willing to read about successes and failures by the government, their policies and proposals, etc.), can’t be bothered to vote, and a growing desire to be entertained.

    All political campaigns are based on advertising. Modern advertisements do not rely on conveying any real information. They are all about persuasion. Most people would not watch a televised advertisement longer than 1 minute, most people will not read a print ad with more than half a page of text (electronic print is probably less). Alas, democracy has been reduced to a mere popularity contest. It will be a long time before we ever see a candidate put forward like former President Taft. In our modern society a person’s appearance is much more important than their ideas, competency or values. When was the last time an overweight person ran for office? Not since every american home got a television.

    Of course politicians work hard at throwing smoke in every direction. Your article has a line about candidates lying about facts that are easily checked. The truth is that they know that no matter how easily a fact can be checked the majority of people won’t bother doing it. Just like most people won’t bother reading a retraction.

    The general tendencies are frightening. Of all the political systems created by man so far, democracy would seem to be the least flawed. To compensate for the flaws requires a population that is willing to put time and effort into reading, verifying, debating and thinking about political ideas. The world population seems to be going in the opposite direction.

    I have tried to ignore commenting on the subliminal message that only the Republicans do these horrible things, since I could easily read an article written by a right wing supporter making the same claims about Democrats.

    I will touch upon the plutocracy with a few easy questions. So the Republicans receive funding from those “rich, wealthy, billionaire company owners and CEO’s”. I wonder where the Democrats get their money? The poor and underprivileged people they claim to represent? Certainly they don’t get money from wealthy individuals, do they?

    Your article makes it sound like it would be a plutocracy if the Republicans win and cater to their rich, corporate masters. If the Democrats are in power would that not also be a plutocracy? Or are the democrats poverty stricken individuals that don’t owe anybody anything?

  2. In a general sort of way I have no problem with most of what you say in your commentary. I don’t share your pessimism about the political system, however. I believe in its perfectibility as long as there are people who also believe in it and want it to work. Which of course brings us to your last paragraph,

    There was no subliminal message that Republicans are the only ones responsible for abuse of the process. There was an OVERT message that they are primarily responsible.

    The ONLY voter fraud that was discovered in the latest US general election was committed by Republican operatives. Destruction of Democratic registration forms, lying to voters in “registration” drives, slander of Democrats by ostensibly neutral public polling officials….charges have been laid for all of those offenses….not one single case of that kind of behaviour has been attributed to Democrats.

    Intimidation by billboards in Democratic leaning areas….pure Carl Rove doctrine. Misleading election pamphlets printed in Spanish….ditto. False websites giving phony locations and dates for the election…Republican only. Gerrymandering has only occurred in republican states and every single time it has favoured the Republicans…the list is endless and the Republicans are responsible, whereas the Democrats have played far more fairly. That might sound unbalanced, but please don’t fall for the logical fallacy of the Middle Ground. It doesn’t apply in this case.

    As to campaign financing. I agree that the huge sums of money that the new rules allow to be contributed anonymously, are unduly influential in elections. But surely you don’t think that the more liberal candidates should eschew contributions and lose the election on principal?

    I think the rules need once again to be overhauled. As it stands, freshman congressmen are told at their orientation that they need to spend 4-5 hours out of every 8 on fund raising. That’s appalling.

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