The Power of One Act, Colltalers
The power and influence of the vote – that most explicitly of the democratic exercises of individual expression in the electoral process – continues to be eroded and depleted by its three main enemies: money in politics, misinformation, and manipulation.
Around the world, both consolidated and emerging democracies, once proud to promote ample and vigorous citizen participation in the construction of their future, have been under heavy artillery from that formidable triad and their influential sponsors.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. takes the lead on the money front, and as if it were just fine that elections would carry a price tag just like any commodity, the 2016 presidential one has been estimated to cost upwards of $10 billion. A record and a travesty.
The current two frontrunners of each party, Democratic Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, are on their way to raise each some two billion, by conservative estimates, from donors who’ll certainly demand a lot in exchange from their checkbooks.
Going down the checklist of challenges to a truly representative democracy, there’s a new surprising entry: the U.K., which just held one of the most disheartening political public contests in recent memory (not unlike Israel), which put polling institutions to shame.
Despite predictions of a tight contest, and dire economic conditions under Prime Minister David Cameron’s leadership, which has alienated large swaths of an already despondent working class, his Tory Party soundly defeated Labour Party’s Ed Miliband.
And then there are the usual, well known ways – terror tactics, gerrymandering, manipulation of results, coups, assassinations, and a whole roster of strategies, devised to intimidate voters – used since time immemorial to undermine the will of the majority.
Such strategies, along with more subtle ways to reverse poll results and manipulate the electoral process, have always been part of the democratic process. But even as other aspects of the classic Greek concept of people’s representation have little resemblance to our contemporary regimes, election by voting has been the common foundation by which governments acquire, or not, legitimacy.
Back in the U.S., the coming elections may bring about a ‘perfect storm’ combination of factors to potentially damage permanently its cherished democratic institutions, which, let’s face it, are already on a slump towards irrelevance for quite some time now.
On one side, there’s a two-party political system, whose inadequacy to properly frame or serve as an outlet to any ideological debate in contemporary American politics, winds up squeezing the life out of the process by the time a new president is elected.
Then either because of ingrained indifference, qualified ignorance, or downright manipulation, there’s the misinformed American electorate, media-fed a diet of provocative half-truths fueling the (false) premise that all politics are corrupt and, by definition, ineffective. In other words, why participate when it’s common knowledge that the game is rigged in favor of the powerful?
Anchored on an educational system that privileges individual accomplishment over communitarian goals, and gathering of information over ethics and critical thinking, Americans learn very early on to trust beliefs and suspect ideas. No wonder vote is facultative and attendance to polling stations by the active workforce demographics is in steady decline since the 1980s.
Another factor is the unchecked growth of so-called special interests and their impact on policy and even respectful institutions such as the Congress and the Supreme Court. From big corporations to faith-based groups, from segments of the economy to once fringe minorities, what boosts their power is not how many would benefit from their lobbying but how much they can pay for influence.
These cores of interests, albeit part of any functional democracy, can have a destabilizing impact on the basic fairness of the system when they are explicitly allowed to throw loads of cash at elected officials and entire political parties. That’s what’s happening.
The greatest constituent of American politics, circa 2015, is unfortunately money. Lots of it. And the seminal moment that may have changed U.S. democracy for good happened in 2010, with the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which introduced the absurd concept that corporations are people, and as such, are allowed to contribute freely, and financially, to the political process.
That ruling, which only a constitutional amendment may be able to reverse, opened the floodgates to whoever is the wealthiest, can and will exercise the most sway over the nation’s fate and direction. Exactly what the popular vote system was created to prevent.
Money in politics (have you heard how much a presidential candidate is going for in the market these days?), misinformation (attention shoppers, conspiracies at half-price on aisle three), and downright manipulation (Texas is convinced it’ll be taken over by the U.S. government. Again.) have all one single common enemy: you, the voter. When you cast yours, you shorten theirs by one.
The other factors mentioned, from backwater fear tactics to corporation-sponsored presidential candidates, are all part of a cast of characters launched to counter your fundamental right to express your allegiance to one approach to government and not another.
And they’re all counting on your alienation or self-doubt about the power of one to make much of a difference. They’ll even pretend that you don’t really count, if that makes sure that you’ll ignore the coming campaign and stay at home November 8 next year.
But just because it’s time to give our inner Jeremiah a pause, it doesn’t mean that we’re about to go all Pollyanna on you, and declare our unwavering faith on the capacity for redemption of the American voter and his or her unalienable right to pursue justice.
There’s certainly a middle ground but it’s not to anyone but you to determine where it is and what’s your saturation point. Specially if you’re tired of hearing that the only thing the U.S. has proposed to lead the world is by military action.
As if morals and ethics can carry a price tag. As if democracy can’t be exercised, only preached about. As if you and I and everyone we know no longer count. For if voting was so irrelevant, there wouldn’t be so many attempts at undermining it. Have a great one. WC