Jan 11

The Death of American Democracy

In Brief— According to new research, American democracy has been replaced by an oligarchy of the wealthy and there’s very little that can be done about it except a public push for concessions.


Oligarchy is defined as a government run by only a few, often the wealthy or a state ruled by such a government.

Democracy is defined as a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting, or an organization in which everyone is treated equally and has equal rights.


American Democracy is Dead—

With the definitions above—accurately stated, by the way—which do you think best defines the United States? Well, there’s some good news and some bad news. The good news—for the oligarchs—is that according to new research the oligarchs are now in charge. The bad news for the rest of the citizenry is that the democracy you thought you had is deader than the proverbial doornail.

Those few of us who have paid attention to the accumulating evidence have seen it coming. In fact, although I have been accused of being a pessimist (which I call ”reality”), a Casandra (look it up if you’re not sure) and anti-American by pointing out the national problems that exist, it is now official: America is an oligarchy, not a democracy.

It was a great experiment while it lasted, but Benjamin Franklin was right when he cautioned an inquiring citizen that it was fragile and would depend on the citizenry for protection. In my lawyerly inclination toward caution, I have urged blog readers to vote while privately telling friends that voting alone does not mean America is democratic. It’s simply a way to make one’s voice heard. From time to time, my honesty has led me to refer in this blog to America’s fading democracy.

The Research Confirmation—

All that said, the latest research from Princeton University reports that America’s fragile democracy has succumbed to the Big Money of the wealthy oligarchs. Though the Supreme Court conservatives’ decisions in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases was a thumb on the scale in favor of the wealthy oligarchs, the power of the oligarchs has been building since the Reagan era. To read the research findings, click on the link below to read the official acknowledgement of democracy’s demise in America.


Alternatives to Surrender—

So what can be done about this disastrous turn of events? The choices are few. Reality says that the vote will be largely ignored, but I still maintain that it’s worth the effort. Alternatives are to petition, to take to the streets in peaceful protest or to resort to violent forms of protest like arson, kidnapping and murder. Aside from the fact that the latter are criminal and severely punishable as such, the police and even the military will quite certainly put down such actions with vastly superior fire-power.

In the end, the citizenry will have to rely on the good will of the oligarchs who have their own selfish interests uppermost in mind. It is wise to remember that corporations have no morality and are in existence solely to make a profit. That may be the oligarch’s point of vulnerabilty: if profits are threatened, the oligarchs will give only as much as will still assure the profitability of their portfolios and Wall Street.

Other than that, I believe that, like it or not, the American experiment in democracy is dead and the people will have to take what they can get. After all, besides the vote, you have a surfeit of entertainment: your toys, your Smart Phones and computers, the latest films and TV, your mortgaged homes (if you haven’t lost your home) and all the gadgets that are the envy of the world. You have free speech…if you don’t mind being ignored or confined to a caged ”free speech zone” away from where your speech would be heard. Freedom of the press if you don’t mind whistleblowers being prosecuted and the mainstream media being owned by corporate oligarchs. Freedom of religion if you don’t mind having the religion of others forced on you. Inequality if you don’t mind the widening gap between haves and have-nots.

Who needs democracy, right?


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    • Art Ulene on January 11, 2015 at 17:50

    Well done.

      • Don Bay on January 12, 2015 at 18:21

      Thanks for the kind words, Art. It’s been said that the way to kill an unsuspecting frog is to settle it in cool water and gradually heat it until it is boiling, but by that time it’s too late. The destruction of America’s democracy by the oligarchs has been gradual. As noted in the piece, the rise of oligarchy has largely taken place since the Reagan administration and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon cases simply added to the shift in favor of oligarchy.

      Those of us who are political junkies and have paid attention have noted that numerous politicians have bemoaned the amount of time they must spend chasing money for their campaigns. We have noted that the very wealthy people who are interested only in their portfolios have lavished money on campaigns, politicians and judges who will advance the interests of the very wealthy individuals who bankroll them. We have also noted that most of the members of Congress are millionaires. Oligarchy has advanced because of the overweening acquisitiveness of too many humans, particularly billionaires.

      While voting has been important, democracy is not voting alone, especially when the person being voted for has probably been bought by very wealthy individuals who think only about their portfolios and not democracy. Thus, oligarchy has now been officially recognized as having swallowed America’s fragile democracy. Some may be shocked by that revelation because it doesn’t fit their beliefs, but reality has stepped in to remind them that myths are just delusions.

  1. Sadly, we haven’t descended into oligarchy, we have re-descended. America was a democracy for less than a hundred years. And America’s great founders were oligarchs. The constitution was written by white males for white males.

    People of color could not vote and were enslaved. Women could not vote and were effectively enslaved. Women’s lives were bounded by lack of education and opportunity until they were finally allowed to vote in the 20th century. Slaves were emancipated earlier, but had to wait until mid-20th century for civil rights movements to effectively be “equal.”

    Women still have a long way to go for total equality, and people of color are increasingly being denied their voting rights by state laws that require them to prove their voting eligibility.

    The great American democracy wasn’t actually founded on democracy and equality for all. Only for a certain class, not on the basis of racial equality, not on the basis of gender equality. And it was the wealthy southern planters for a large part who wrote all the founding documents.

    “All men are created equal.” Note women aren’t mentioned, and Jefferson was a slave holder, along with many of those “founding fathers.”

    We now just have a different oligarchy

      • Don Bay on January 13, 2015 at 09:56

      You hit the target dead-center, Jim. We have to remember that slavery—approved by God in the Judeo-Christian holy book, by the way—was common throughout the world when America was founded in the 18th century, and America was no exception. In fact, it is still in use in the world, not least in America today albeit it appears in a different way (prisoner rental at cut-rate prices, largely minorities, is common in several jurisdictions).

      As I have said, voting alone does not signify democracy otherwise we’d have to say that Afghanistan, Iraq and several other repressive nations would qualify as democracies. Then, of course, females could not vote, nor could slaves, when America was founded. Even today, females are restricted from deciding on their own reproductive health in several Republican-dominated states. Nationwide, females make markedly less than their male counterparts for the same job. And how about minorities? If this is democracy, then I’m Little BoPeep. Democracy is defined as all citizens being equal, yet America is grossly unequal and growing more so every day. There’s even a whiff of fascism in several American states. Democracy, my foot. Anyone dispute this?

        • Art Ulene on January 13, 2015 at 15:51

        Actually, Don, democracy is NOT defined as all citizens being equal. Democracy is defined as a state in which all citizens or–more accurately–all ELIGIBLE citizens determine the actions of their government, either directly or, more commonly, through elected representatives. Under this definition, equality is not guaranteed. Unfortunately, “democracy” falls apart when you have an uninformed electorate (as exists today in the U.S.) and/or corrupting influences (as exists in the U.S. today) and/or religious and ideological fanaticism (as exists all over the world today. IF I WERE KING, we would have a situation in the U.S. that much more resembles democracy.

          • Don Bay on January 13, 2015 at 17:09

          Thanks for the additional observation, Art. Although the piece is about how America is now officially an oligarchy, I began the piece with the online Merriam-Webster definitions of democracy and oligarchy.

          I think your point about equality is essentially true, but the definition I cited in the piece requires citizens being treated as equals and having equal opportunity, and America fails badly there. Equality alone is not guaranteed in any society with which I am familiar. As you point out, what we need to even approach genuine democracy is an informed electorate operating in a neutral environment, and there’s no question that America violates those essentials. If you were the leader, I’d start asking where the nearest voting booth was.

  2. And just minutes after I posted the above comments, I opened a message that said:

    Virginia’s proposed anti-gay law could mean that denying service to lesbian, gay, and bi people is perfectly legal. Doctors, teachers, and so many others could refuse to treat and teach people just because of who they love.

    Democracy? Equality? You have to be kidding

      • Don Bay on January 13, 2015 at 10:03

      This stands the chance of a snowball in Hell of being passed. It’s a futile gesture by a group of childish and anti-democratic legislators and their supporters who want to display their immaturity and maybe—maybe—slow down any progress America is making toward becoming a civilized nation. As I say below, democracy, my foot.

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