We have seen that our political choices in this country are quite limited, but how did this occur? What are the forces that prevent the United States of America from becoming the model of democracy it claims to be?
The founders of our nation laid out a structure of government designed to preserve the power of wealthy landowners. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the new government must “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Control of political power in the new system was to be maintained by the “wealth of the nation,” for they understood the risk in losing their wealth for the benefit of society.
In the early years, only these white, wealthy landowners could elect their representative government. Over the next two centuries, the masses began to organize and exercise their Constitutional rights. Women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and trade unions all struggled to increase the rights of the individual; they ended slavery and segregation, established minimum wage and the eight hour work day, and gave the majority of the population their first chance to vote. Despite these popular stuggles’ advance towards democracy, the wealthy classes remain in control of political power in our country.
The aristocrats of yesterday (those wealthy landowners) have been replaced by more powerful entities, known commonly as ‘corporations’. While they possess the legal rights of an individual person, corporations cannot be prosecuted as such and are only partially liable for debts. Their reach of power extends far beyond our borders, to the international markets of a globalized world, yet there is no set of international laws to keep them in check.
They use their influence to convince foreign politicians to privatize their country’s resources, auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder at the expense of the local community: public water in Bolivia, bananas in Guatemala, oil in Nigeria or Burma, just about everything in Indonesia, etc. Not only do these mega-corporations have a strong hold on world power, they have a stranglehold on US politicians and control our entire ‘democratic’ election process.
We have seen that our election choices are usually limited to two wealthy, business elites. The structure of this bipartisan system reinforces a sense of defeatism among the American people, making them feel as if their vote makes no difference or that they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. In fact, we have one of the lower voter turnouts in the world; only 50% of eligible voters make it to the polls, compared with some other countries where voting is compulsory.
In reality, the system of government in the United States is what is called a polyarchy, in which mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites of the business or corporate sector. This sector is in control of nearly all power and money in our country: banks, investment firms, oil companies, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, the technology industry, advertising, and let’s not forget, the corporate media.
We are told of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but is it the will of the people guiding this great country to a better future? For now it may the almighty dollar that has the grip of power in our country, but we citizens cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while our quality of life is being deteriorated.
As the Declaration of Indepedence reveals, when our government becomes destructive to the will of the people, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” Our politicians and their corporate companions do not control the people; we control them, and we have an obligation to stand up and speak out when our government fails us. The crucial time has arrived for each one of us to pay close attention, get organized, and exercise our rights if we care to to see a better world for our children.