Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City and the founder of StopImperialism.com.
Despite being the world’s self-appointed champion and proselytizer of the gospel of democracy, the United States is clearly and unmistakably an undemocratic nation.
Though it is no longer the world’s foremost industrial producer, the United States still does lead in one important export: “democracy.” Washington has taken the lead in undermining, demonizing, and otherwise destabilizing Russia and China, Venezuela and Iran, Syria and North Korea – countries in need of regime change because, according to Washington, they are undemocratic.
But what is this peculiar brand of “democracy” that the United States purports to be the apogee of the political development of so-called “Western” civilization? If the US is serious about spreading democratic ideals to all corners of the globe, then surely it has long since embodied those same ideals in its domestic political institutions, right? Well, not exactly. OK, not at all.
Is there democracy in Washington?
In his classic work Politics, Aristotle famously asserted that, “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will best be attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” As Aristotle notes, democracy can only truly provide liberty and equality – both central elements of the US mythos – if it is “shared” by “all persons alike.” In other words, there can only be true democracy when everyone shares control over the political institutions through which power is wielded. However, the United States of 2015 could not be further from Aristotle’s ideal.
As the 114th US Congress opens its session in Washington this month, it is once again time to take note of the stark difference between the people of the United States, and those who have been“democratically” elected to represent them. A Washington Post headline from January makes this divide plainly obvious: The new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male and 92 percent Christian. Stop and think about those figures for just a moment. The notion that this government is actually representative of the people is utterly laughable.
According to the most recent US Census figures, the racial, gender/sex, and religious identities of members of the US Congress is not at all aligned with the demographic reality. Roughly 63 percent of the US population included in the census self-identifies as “White only” (meaning they do not identify as “white + another racial affiliation”), while 80 percent of Congress is white. This may seem a relatively reflective representation of racial demographics, but this is misleading. Not included in the census are the millions of non-white immigrants who, for a variety of reasons (e.g. seasonal work migration, fear of law enforcement, etc.) do not participate in such data gathering. So, taken conservatively, the racial makeup of Congress, while moderately over-representing whites, is not entirely unrepresentative of the population. Or so it would seem.
However, one must look more closely to see that the racial makeup of the Congress does little to affect its policies which cater to a mostly white corporate and financial elite, while to a large extent ignoring the economic and social problems that plague minority communities throughout the country. And so, you can see in the halls of Congress, a Congressional Black Caucus that almost without exception votes in a bloc with their white Democrat allies if, for no other reason, to preserve their own positions as they cater to mostly white donors. Perhaps the prime example of such behavior is President Obama himself who, despite being of African descent, has always eschewed race-related issues in favor of the typical vacuous American platitude of “togetherness” which, quite conveniently, seems to never offend or inconvenience the white power brokers who have made his career.
The same subsumption to power is true for the nominally “non-White” Hispanic Congressmen (and women) in South Florida, whose anti-Castro politics have, for generations now, made them into a reliable constituency and voting bloc for the Republican party – a party which caters to white racists, corporate suits, and a sprinkling of token minorities that lend the credibility of political correctness to a party that successfully absorbed the racist, Southern vote more than fifty years ago. The reality is that an elected official, regardless of whether he/she is Black or Hispanic, is most often, and almost without exception, transformed into merely a dark-skinned ally of the white political establishment; they have no political will or power independent of that establishment.
And therein lay the real issue. In trying to understand the political character of the United States, and the consequent political culture spawned from it, race is not of value in and of itself. Rather, it is the ways in which race and racial identity intersect with power and the political establishment that is of interest. For, as the United States trumpets democracy and the so-called “values of liberalism” around the world, it quietly obscures the fact that racial equality, or even necessarily “progress,” is an illusion, a public relations marketing campaign to propagate the myths of liberty and equality.
With regard to gender, Congress is even more unrepresentative. While women account for more than 51 percent of the total population of the US, they account for roughly 20 percent of Congressional representatives. Despite nearly 50 years of a Feminist movement, and all the talk of equality, and all the attacks upon non-Western countries for their treatment of women, the US remains distinctly patriarchal. It seems that Washington is perfectly content to argue for more war in Afghanistan, ostensibly to protect the rights of girls to go to school, while still being unable to even break through its own deeply oppressive, male-dominated political system. Irrespective of one’s personal beliefs, the objective fact is that the beacon of democracy is still controlled by mostly white men. Is there something inherently evil about white men? No. But there definitely is something wrong with a society dominated by white men which presents itself as anything but.
Finally, there is the issue of religion and the religious affiliation of the elected members of Congress. The new Congress will open its session with a whopping 92 percent of representatives identifying as Christian. This is staggeringly higher than the total Christian-identifying population (which includes many denominations/sects) of the US which is, at maximum, 78 percent. It should be noted that, though not Christian, Jewish representatives, by virtue of financial and political backing of both Jewish and non-Jewish interests, are de facto members of the same political establishment, and thereby don’t functionally act as a minority, despite the demographics. And so, if Jewish identification were to be included with the Christian, it becomes clear who is, and who is not, being truly represented by Congress.
As the Washington Post noted, “The group that Pew [Research] finds most underrepresented on the [Capitol] Hill is those without a religious affiliation – comprising nearly 20 percent of the public and 0.2 percent of Congress.” Think about this statistic. 20 percent of the US is not affiliated with any religion (including atheists, agnostic, secular/religious unaffiliated, or don’t know/refused to answer), while almost no representatives identify in this way. And so, roughly 63.5 million Americans have no one representing their religious beliefs (or unbelief as it were). This is, by any measure, an egregious example of the unrepresentative nature of the US Congress.
Put more simply, tens of millions of Americans don’t have the option of choosing to vote for someone who actually represents them, their interests, or their values. Rather, they have the option of choosing one of two distasteful candidates who do not accurately reflect their needs or aspirations, and have little to no interest in anything other than being elected and profiting from their position.
Will it be Coke or Pepsi? McDonald’s or Burger King?
Democracy is not a political system in the US, it is a product to be bought and sold – the armies of lobbyists, interest groups, and fundraisers are a testament to that. It is a concept to be pitched like a Hollywood script or a television commercial, only to be disseminated to the masses as if it were reality.
Democracy is America’s collective delusion. It is America’s dream of itself.
But, like all dreams, it simply evaporates the moment you wake up.