America is Not a Democracy

Jan Krawczyk, Staff Writer

*The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not reflect the website’s or its affiliates’ opinions and beliefs.*

Americans pride themselves on being a democracy. We justify wars as “bringing democracy” to other countries. It is so ingrained in our minds that we have a democratic political system that we don’t question it. We are taught that our government will adhere to the wants of the people. Yet, while most Americans support policies that would create medicare for all, free public college and increase the minimum wage, our “democracy” has not responded to this will.

Many say that this is simply a “defect” in our democracy rather than an in-built attribute and that our political system generally does reflect our wants and needs. However, the truth is that we have two forces each vying for power in our political system: the working class, or the greater population, and the capitalist class, who have opposing interests. The former work for the businesses, and the latter own them. The capitalist’s class undue power is the reason why the people’s will is not reflected. Massive corporations constantly attempt to influence our policies away from the needs of the people—their primary strategies being lobbying politicians, funding think tanks and donating to political campaigns. As long as politicians continue to respond to the wants of businesses rather than the people themselves, America cannot call itself a true democracy. 

Special interests are allowed to donate as much money as they want to political campaigns in the form of Political Action Committees. These PACs create ads, donate directly to campaigns, organize events in favor of issues and more. “Special interest” here is essentially a euphemism for huge corporations that want to influence politics for their best interests. Since politicians and their campaigns rely on this money to run a successful campaign, these interest groups can hand-pick which politicians they want to win, and of course, they will choose the ones that benefit them. If someone has more money, then they can donate more to influence politics, and big businesses have the most by far. 

Politicians know that they need donations from the rich and powerful to maintain their position in government. Consequently, our representatives have a pronounced interest in pleasing their donors. From voting for legislation to promoting things in the media, politicians are incentivized to make decisions that support corporations rather than their constituents. Corporations and organizations are also allowed to simply send people to our government officials to influence them as much as possible. These lobbyists not only have the backing of massive corporations but also present millions of donation dollars that our politicians struggle to resist. Lobbyists often have leading positions on the same PACs that donate to politicians, further tightening their grip over our government. Over $535 million has been donated to politicians from lobbyist-led committees since 1998. We understand that this type of oligarchic power over government officials is undemocratic when it occurs in foreign nations, such as Russia, but we still promote ourselves as a bastion of democracy.

Even the “father of political theory,” Plato understood that democracy is flawed because more charismatic politicians can propagate their positions better—even if they don’t improve the lives of their constituents. In America, we can purchase charisma in the form of political ads, campaigns, advisors and political party support.

There are plenty of ways that the purchasers of political power hide their control over the system. One of these is the fact that we have two ostensibly opposed political parties. We claim that since our politicians and media are constantly arguing that this means we have a democracy at work. We have two capitalist parties with a “winner takes all” system. These two parties control the entirety of politics in our country. None else can compete with the massive institutional power that the Republican and Democratic parties have. These parties largely maintain the status quo, which their business backers support, with only small tweaks to how it should run such as a few more or a few less dollars going to government spending. We don’t have any institutional pressure from any party calling for things such as a national healthcare system, free college education, or increasing spending from a left-wing perspective, things that other comparable nations have. 

Even if we slightly change the political composition of our Congress through voting, capitalists will push back at any change and then more. America claims to be democratic, but it is built on capitalism. More power is held by the rich, and at work, you are forced to create profits for a dictatorial few. We have rampant wealth inequality, and in the US money is the ultimate purchaser of power. As long as wealth can accumulate, we will never be able to all equally hold power economically. Our two political parties primarily argue on wedge issues such as abortion, immigration, representation, racial justice, same-sex relationships and transgender rights, among many others which we are pushed to focus on because they do not challenge the economic power that business owners have. Although these issues are critical, we need to understand that the intense focus on them that our politics has is a propaganda technique to distract from the economic dictatorship hiding behind them.

From the very roots of our nation, our founding fathers never truly wanted a free and fair democracy. They made sure we had representatives who were largely white and wealthy. Original state laws, controlled and led by our founding fathers, only allowed for landowning white men to vote, which was only 6% of the population. James Madison openly stated that the US should not extend the right to vote for all because “the right of property [owners] . . . may be overruled by a majority without property.” Although he was proven wrong, our government still constantly attempts to prevent people from voting if they challenge their power through numerous voter suppression tactics.

No matter how much proponents of the status quo claim that our system of representation truly speaks for the majority of people, evidence suggests the opposite. Our society does not meet the needs of different classes equally. A Princeton study has shown that the preference of economic elites have much more sway on what becomes policy, compared to the preferences of the majority, which has little to no sway on policy.

In reality, our so-called democracy is just a rubber stamp for the dictatorial power that keeps the majority from truly changing our economic structure. If someone has no wealth to their name then they are forced to work for someone who does. These property owners are not chosen, are not elected and are not able to be peacefully deposed. What is this except an oligarchy? In every case where corporate power is challenged, the dictatorship shows itself. Unionized workers get the police called on them, strikes are broken, tenants are evicted and any revolutionary activity is violently suppressed. Simply put, enshrining the rights of private property in our laws creates a legalized dictatorship of the capitalist class. Meanwhile, the common working class must sell their labor underfoot.