The End of Democracy

The founding fathers did not plan for us to have a democracy. “Remember, democracy never lasts long,” John Adams said. “It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”  They thought they needed to put safeguards in place so that the “tyranny of the majority” would not bring our nation to self-destruction. So, instead of creating a democracy, the founding fathers crafted a republic that is governed by elected officials. But the system they put in place went too far, and we are now living under an oligarchy. We commonly believe that the U.S. government was created to serve the interests of the common man, that even though we live under a republic, we elect representatives to enact laws in the interest of their constituents and, thus, allow for a semblance of democracy. Yet, safeguards put in place at the Constitutional Convention such as the Electoral College and an unelected judicial branch restrict the general public’s ability to influence its government. Money’s influence over our political system has further exacerbated the anti-democratic tendencies of our government, as a Princeton study recently found that, empirically, the U.S. is an oligarchy that serves the interests of the economic elite rather than the majority of its citizens.

These oligarchic tendencies are even more apparent in the two-party system. Besides the fact that only having two parties is an anti-democratic paradigm that always boils down to the lesser of two evils instead of expressing the actual needs of voters, the structure of the parties themselves lends to further abuse of bureaucratic authority over the will of the people. The primary process is rife with establishment bias. For the vast majority of the history of American political parties, candidates were elected solely by party elites scheming in smoke-filled rooms at their respective conventions. This cabalist system was only changed starting with the 1972 Democratic primary process. Yet, echoes of the supposedly archaic party-oligarchies still reverberate through our modern Democratic and Republican party halls.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders supporters have cried foul of the many instances in which they see the DNC using its power to favor the establishment’s will. These allegations have been anything from limiting the number of debates, to limiting voter registration efforts, to even voters being thrown off the voting rolls. The real issue for the majority of Sanders supporters, though, are superdelegates. Superdelegates are party elites that represent 15 percent of the total delegate count and are free to choose whomever they want without a responsibility to the will of the people. Four hundred sixty-nine superdelegates are committed to Hillary Clinton, while only a measly 31 are committed to Sanders. If Sanders manages to edge out Clinton in the popular delegate count but the superdelegates stay loyal to Clinton, there is a real possibility that the establishment could overturn the will of the voters of their party (who now favor Sanders nationally).

The Republican side is an even more glaring example of establishment bias. Even though Trump is probably going to garner the necessary delegates to be the Republican nominee, nearly every pundit on the left and right is crying out for the party bosses to finagle their way into a situation in which the convention would upset the will of the people and put an establishment candidate on the ticket in place of Trump.

Perhaps we are a living example of what the founders were so worried about: democracy’s suicide through the tyranny of the masses. Perhaps Trump’s rise represents their worst fears realized in a toupeed tyrant. This may be true, but I reject the founding fathers’ notion that democracy’s tendency is toward self-destruction. I believe that if we say we believe in democracy as a nation, we need to deal with the consequences that arise through the power of the people instead of trusting an oligarchy to look out for our best interests. If we despise the Democratic superdelegates that may block Sanders from his rightful position as the candidate, we should not look to the Republican Party elites to do the same. We need to seize our collective power as citizens to stop Trump in the streets by protesting his rallies and at the ballot box by voting against him. The founding fathers may have overthrown a monarchy and created a vibrant oligarchy, but it is up to us to build a democracy.

Featured Image by Patrick Semansky / AP Photo