The Truth About US Democracy

The United States has declared itself to be the global leader in democracy through its mass media, powerful economy, and extensive military. However, much reform is needed before the US can become truly democratic.

Capitol Building 

Despite its domineering international presence and persistent claim to democracy, the US has never been truly democratic. While the Western superpower does have some features of democracy, many authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and Egypt, have democratic features as well. 

The US claims to be a representative democracy, meaning the people’s elected officials are obligated to consider their constituents’ ideas, interests, concerns, and welfare in making political decisions. However, the reality is that US politicians feel indebted to the megadonors who finance their elections, and as a result, choose to serve not the people who voted them into power, but the financiers who made their election to office a reality. 

The rich have US politicians on a leash. In 2017, the then president, Donald Trump, was accused of meeting with his 2016 campaign megadonor, Sheldon Adelson, for counsel on how to address the mass shooting in Las Vegas, a horrific attack that killed 59 people and injured over 500 at a country music festival. That was two days before Trump finally arrived in Las Vegas to meet with the surviving victims and the families mourning the dead. Trump has denied these allegations, claiming that the timing of his meeting with Adelson was purely coincidental, and had nothing to do with the fact that Adelson had major investments in Las Vegas.

The US electoral system is incredibly corrupt, as demonstrated by its recent election of the House Speaker, an event that will go down in history as one of the most notorious examples of the inefficiency of American politics. The country seems to be exclusively run by two conflicting political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. Consequently, the nation has become extremely politically polarized, and many Americans experience daily frustration and anger over conflicting political beliefs. 

Economic disparity and discrimination are particularly oppressive to minority groups including Native Americans, blacks, Latinos, and now Muslims. The gap between the rich and the poor is deep and ever-widening. Approximately 32% of all wealth in the US is held by only 1% of the population, an alarmingly disproportionate statistic. Even more concerning is that at the same time, over 11% of Americans live below poverty level.

A 2020 article by The New York Times described the economic disparities in the United States quite accurately, stating that, “Americans may be equal, but some are more equal than others.” Even when the US is in a deep deficit, the government tax policy consistently favors the rich, despite the fact that 60% of Americans believe the nation’s wealthiest should pay more taxes.

The United States government (USG) is entangled with the rich, the “deep state” of America. By definition, any government whose power, either overtly or covertly, is controlled by a small group of wealthy constituents, is called plutocracy. Former US president Jimmy Carter once alluded to the plutocracy of the US political system, describing it as, “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”

The Incentive for Corruption

Because political candidates in America require substantial funding to run their campaigns, they become obliged to the rich. To win a Senate seat, a candidate spends an average of over $10 million. According to The Washington Post, the 2016 presidential candidates, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, spent a combined sum of over one billion dollars on their political campaigns.

The wealthy also use their power to manipulate the media, flooding broadcasting platforms with polarizing advertisements and persuading the American public that the only votes that count are votes for either the Democratic or Republican parties. 

This sort of propaganda makes many Americans feel overwhelmed and confused about  which candidate they  should be voting for, and some even choose to abstain from voting at all because they don’t support either candidate. Many Americans are ignorant that the elections are a scheme to make them think about having a voice in the government. However, the choice of who ultimately becomes president, congressman, or other official is usually left to the two political parties at the mercy of the rich. 

Even at the state level, wealthy Americans control political candidates and elected officials by donating to their campaigns. The rich also use their financial power to marginalize certain communities through a process called gerrymandering, in which the boundaries of electoral districts are strategically drawn in a way which favors one political party over the other. . Minorities, the poor, and the least educated are usually the victims of this unethical practice.

A Call for Reform

Without ethical standards in place to ensure equal opportunity and constitutional rights for all citizens, democracy can easily become what John Adams called, “the tyranny of the majority.” Thomas Jefferson also purportedly claimed that democracy can often resemble mob rule, and this comparison has a ring of truth.

The USG must reform. The country’s current system is riddled with corruption and will not be sustainable long term, as evidenced by the 2021 insurrection at the U.S. capitol building. At the very least, steps must be taken to make sure that campaign funding is democratic and fair first by cutting all  government funding to individual campaigns and political parties, and instead requiring the media to allocate “equal air time” at no cost to candidates. Second, the USG must create and enforce regulations to limit campaign funding and prevent “megadonors” from manipulating elections and government policy.

To alleviate the megadonors’ influence, the USG could limit all contributions from all sources equal to what an average-income American is willing to contribute to a candidate. PACs, unions and other associations can multiply that amount by the number of their active members. However, no member can be allowed to double-dip, individual and in group.

Only when the United States takes steps to implement these changes will the nation begin its ascension to true democracy. 

By Mehdi Alavi

This article was originally edited by Hannah Gage and published in Fair Observer on February 7, 2023.