Most Americans would say that’s a given. I say democracy is more like a process, less like an end state. Democracy doesn’t only mean political parties and the right to vote.
Modern democracy has a long, spotty history that began with the English. Almost by accident, English gentry wanted to limit the powers of the monarch at the same time the monarchy wanted to limit the powers of the aristocrats, which resulted in a sort of balance between those two small elements of the population. Soon thereafter, the Industrial Revolution was upon us, and with it a new class of manufacturers and merchants, some of whom became wealthy, and who also wanted limits on those who would have power over them and a voice in how things were done. Also about that time, education became more widespread. These things were also pursued in other European nations, and of course in the new USA.
I say democracy is more like a process,
and it’s not nearly complete.
Suffrage was sharply limited, and until well into the 20th Century just a few percent of most populations could vote, mostly rich white males. In the US it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed that every American adult was finally guaranteed the right to vote.
Somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten what the electoral process is for. Not only is the election turnout routinely dismal in the US—record dismalness in this last one—but the majority of voters seem to be quite ignorant about the issues and the candidates. This leaves them subject to the distorting effects of campaign money and the invented fantasies politicians tell them. The result is that most elections probably don’t reflect the wants and needs of the public, the demos.
Somewhere along the line
we seem to have forgotten
what democracy means.
What does the public want? I’m sorry to say that the public often does not know what it wants, and much of the problem is that far too many Americans cultivate a unique brand of stubborn and willful ignorance. It comes from our pride in individualism, I suppose, but the result is too much stupidity at the polling place.
Talk to some teenagers in other countries, and you will realize that most of them know more about our politics than our own adults do. Many Americans are encased in their own brain-proof little bubble, defending their right to vote contrary to their own interests, or becoming part of the problem by not voting at all and pretending it doesn’t matter. Too many American teens (and adults) have a bad attitude about the free education their ancestors fought for, and proudly proclaim how bored they are by it all, apparently unaware that in a few short years the knowledge and skills they now scorn will determine the arc of their lives.
The most democratic vote on propositions
is always against the corporate money.
Although our election propaganda is probably not different from most other places, our elections are characterized by campaigns that are in essence endless. The presidential race for 2016 seems to have begun on January 21st, 2009. Our elections are also distorted by the effect of huge sums of money, particularly since the absurd Supreme Court decision magically transmogrifying corporations into human beings. Money has an exaggerated effect on state and local elections too, particularly on voter propositions. It’s virtually a rule: the most democratic vote on propositions is always against the corporate money invested. That’s because corporate money is always self-interested, and reflects only the corporate interest, never the public’s.
In a true liberal democracy voters would be informed and intelligent enough to detect BS, and to separate the effect of money from the issues. They would know enough to vote for their own interests and for the good of the nation. We don’t have that yet, although the only real reason we don’t may be the attitude of the voters. All the mechanics are in place—the universal vote and the universal education. What stands in the way is mostly our stubborn and willful ignorance.
The largest distorting effect at present
is the growth and concentration of wealth.
But the largest distorting effect on democracy at present is the growth and concentration of wealth that has been worsening for nearly a half century, resulting in a new Gilded Age. We are not advancing in the direction of better democracy, but are instead regressing in the direction of feudalism, which is characterized by a small class of extraordinarily rich families—and everyone else. The everyone else includes not only the poor, but what was once the middle class as well.
This extreme concentration of wealth is both cause and effect of an anti-democratic trend. The very wealthy have extraordinary power over the electoral process, and commonly manage to get those who bring them more wealth elected. This in turn eventually results in numerous large and small changes in government, each of which contributes to their further enrichment.
So. Do we have a real liberal democracy yet? Not really, not quite yet.