On the Upcoming Summit of the Americas: Some Ingredients of American Democracy

By José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez on May 20, 2022

In most public presentations by U.S. politicians the word democracy is repeated over and over again, but without offering definitions about the concept they are referring to. From their perspective, democracy is something supreme that would be above a specific social economic regime, above the very idea of nation, giving the impression of being an inclusive space, when in fact it is the opposite.
This political jargon assumes that everyone shares the same interpretation of democracy and that they are all defending or promoting the same goals, or that they share the same platforms.

In this struggle, democracy is mimicked in the possibility of choosing representatives, which in essence would be associated with the existence of political parties, and it is also assumed that these have always existed with the same structure and goals.
Try asking an American if George Washington was a Democrat or a Republican. Many will place him in one grouping or the other. But the truth is that the founding father and first president of the United States expressed several concerns about the danger of “dividing the nation” by the existence of “special interest” groups.

In his farewell message upon leaving office as President on September 17, 1796, Washington presciently said that political parties “may from time to time answer popular ends, it is probable that, in the course of time and things, they may become potent engines, by which crafty, ambitious and unprincipled men may subvert the power of the people, and usurp for themselves the reins of government, afterwards destroying the very machines which have raised them to their unjust dominion.”

At that time, the dispute that concerned Washington was between the so-called Republican-Democrats, grouped basically in New England, and the Federalists who represented the Southern states. These names suffice to indicate that those groupings changed over time both in nomenclature and in the declared objectives they pursued.
But even at the time of the self-styled “beacon of democracy,” only white men with large estates or businesses could be members of the parties. To begin with, women, the non-rich and citizens of any non-European origin, especially those of African descent, were excluded from electing or being elected.

In other words, American Democracy, which at the time could be considered a step forward in relation to the despotic powers of the European autocracies, was being built as another scheme of domination that was just as exclusive. In essence, it was a matter of changing the power of lineage for that of wealth, varying the packaging and promoting popular support for the new formula.
Over time, the creators of democracy, in English and with a northern accent, have managed to structure a system of traps that in its perpetual promotion makes the common citizen believe that his opinion counts, that he decides and that in reality through the vote he actually chooses representatives, or influences policies. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a small structure in U.S. politics that goes almost unmentioned, unnoticed by analysts. The so-called assemblies, or caucuses, are those formations that exist at the grassroots, at the neighborhood level, that form the ladder for the ascent to local or federal power of the political parties that have a presence in the state legislatures (eight) or at the federal level (two).
In each state (50) and in each town or city (more than 35,000), specific rules are used to decide which candidates will run in the elections. In the United States, presidential elections are held every four years, followed by mid-term elections two years later.

On each occasion the voter who stands before the ballot to exercise the right to vote has to decide on a long list of issues: president, senator (33 are elected every two years) at the state level, representative to the House (one for each district), mayors, governors, school board presidents and countless other public servants, according to the rotations established in each case. In addition, they vote on issues or amendments that, previously and using very dissimilar mechanisms, are approved and included in the ballots.
Wow, well, seen this way it seems to work and it would be a model worthy of being copied. But let’s use the can opener to see what else is inside.

Going back to the caucuses, which are scattered across the nation, in many cases they function as cults, or social clubs, which are almost impossible for the poor to access. In the minority of the states these caucuses choose the names of the candidates, in the majority it is done through the voting mechanism called “primaries”, which in spite of being more transparent is also dominated by the caucuses themselves.
It is impossible to think that a candidate can have any projection beyond his area of residence, if he does not have the blessings of the local chieftains, which is achieved through alliances, debts, promises, or with a lot of money. Intellectual qualification, talent, life’s work, or prestige are not enough, nor essential.

Those who are finally elected go on to constitute other caucuses both in city commissions and in state or federal legislatures, which in turn choose their leaderships, who decide behind closed doors on all the most important procedural and regulatory issues. Zero popular participation.

And yet someone would say: those elected have the backing of the majority. Another mistake. All the propaganda surrounding the spectacle surrounding the elections creates that impression, but the figures say otherwise.

With some exceptions, in the U.S. presidential elections, only a fraction of those who registered (several requirements to do so) in advance to vote, which in the end is less than 50% of all eligible citizens, finally turn out to cast their ballots.

Between 20 and 30% of the grand total choose those persons (not the president) of their own party who will represent them in the electoral college, which has a different number of members for each state, depending on the population.

In other words, the popular vote does not count, unlike in most countries, because an indirect mechanism is still used, which was conceived to maintain the interest of the southern states in continuing to belong to the Union, since the slavery era. Thanks to this formula, for example, in 2016 Donald Trump was elected, who received 2,870,000 popular votes LESS than Hillary Clinton.

And the defenders of democracy will still say: let those who do not want to attend not attend, but one vote makes a difference. Such a statement is not accurate either. Local caucuses are very likely to virtually erase the crosses marked on the ballots.

In Florida, for example, the 2018 exercise succeeded in including the so-called 4th amendment, among the many issues to be endorsed or not by the state’s voters. In the previous stage, a movement was generated (it achieved 1,100, 000 signatures) to try to restore the right to vote to about 1,500,000 ex-convicts (mostly of African descent), who could not exercise the suffrage according to local rules and who, if registered and mobilized, could mean a decisive difference presumably in favor of the Democrats.
The issue was approved by POPULAR vote. Celebrations, predictions, but the joy in the poor man’s house is short-lived. The Republican-majority Florida legislature (120 people) passed a law that through technicalities made it nearly impossible to implement the 4th amendment in the state.

After Trump’s defeat in 2020, nearly 300 legislative initiatives were introduced in most of the 50 states to affect, in one way or another, the vote of popular sectors that may have greater Democratic affiliation.

The initiatives ranged from preventing the supply of water and food to those who wait in long lines at the polls (the rich do not), limiting early voting (an option for many workers who cannot be absent from their jobs on election day), to concentrating more polling stations in predominantly Republican areas while reducing them in areas considered Democratic.

But if anyone still believes that democracy is a healthy and impartial exercise, one should remember the story of Mr. Elbridge Gerry, who as Governor of Massachusetts (later Vice President of the Union) in 1812, signed a law creating an electoral district in the city of Boston, which had a very intentional geographic contour, by which he intentionally excluded opponents and included supporters. His surname and its creation gave rise to what is now known as gerrymandering, or the most extensive corruption of the American democratic process, according to scholars.

American politicians have a penchant for promoting their democracy on the basis of the values promoted by the founding fathers and embodied in the country’s Constitution. Small detail:

In addition to the fact that 130 million Americans are not educated enough to read and understand what the text says, none of them, nor their parents, grandparents and other ancestors, ever went to a constitutional referendum.
On September 17, 1787, only 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Assembly in Philadelphia signed the document. The text has received the small number of 27 ratified amendments as of 1992, despite the fact that in more than 200 years, 11,770 proposed amendments have been submitted. For a proposal to become an amendment, it must first be ratified by the 50 state legislatures, where the decision-making mechanisms explained above operate.

These are just some of the ingredients of a democracy that responds to the interests of very few and that has absolutely no merit to be presented as a credential of superiority, or to be promoted as a paradigm for the world.

Much less can it be the ultimate standard by which to measure the candidate countries to be invited to regional or international events.
We will leave for another occasion the analysis of the green ingredient, which in the form of banknotes influences and conditions the actions of those who have already been elected, so that they respond to very specific interests far removed from the will of their voters.

Source: Cubadebate, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English