Friday, December 29, 2023

The Strange Character of American Democracy


The Strange Character of American Democracy

Peter Schultz


            At times, like right now, the manipulative character of American politics is clearly visible. Now, with some states banning Trump from their presidential ballots, using almost inane arguments based on the 14th Amendment to justify their actions, the manipulative character of American elites is front and center. But it should be noted that such manipulations are, as a rule, characteristic of presidential elections.


            In 2000, of course, such manipulations were clearly visible when the Supreme Court, on a straight party vote, using specious reasoning, denied Al Gore the presidency by stopping recounts in Florida that would have made him president. But in 1960, less visible manipulations by Chicago Democrats like Mayor Daley, awarded the presidency to JFK over Richard Nixon, even while by the barest of margins Nixon had outpolled Kennedy in popular votes.


            Moreover, less visible manipulations decided presidential elections in 1968, 1980, 1992, and in 2016. Nor are such manipulations only recent as they also occurred in 1824 and 1876, when, respectively, Andrew Jackson and Samuel J. Tilden were denied the presidency by way of elite manipulations rather than by way of popular votes.


            As the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020 illustrate, the electoral college facilitates such manipulative behavior. No state election for governor, anywhere or any time, has been decided by the kind of manipulations that have characterized presidential elections. Why? Because gubernatorial are decided by direct popular votes. It is immensely more difficult to “rig” direct popular elections than it is to “rig” elections involving features like the electoral college. In 1800, 1824, 1876, 1960, 2000, and 2016, the electoral college made the popular vote irrelevant, opening the way for elites to manipulatively decide those presidential elections. Throw in the elections of 1980 and 1992, and the elite manipulations involved, and you have an impressive list of presidential elections decided by the few rather than by the many.


            Perhaps such a list doesn’t subvert the all-too-common praise of “American democracy.” But it certainly puts a dent in it. Perhaps “Democracy dies in darkness,” as the Washington Post claims, but it most certainly dies when elites, the few, the oligarchs, are able to control presidential elections. Trump is said to be a threat to democracy, a charge not without substance. But those seeking to manipulate the upcoming presidential election are also a threat to democracy. And the thing is: Their threat, even though undemocratic, is thoroughly American.

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