And They Want To Teach...Democracy!
R Arun Kumar
EARLY voting for the presidential elections in the US is already on, though officially the election is scheduled for November 8. We are witnessing in the US a bitter and ugly campaign, often with personal insinuations crossing the limits of political decency. Wild accusations, with little concern for facts and truths are hurled at each other by both the Democratic and Republican parties and between the chosen candidates of the two parties – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Even with more than three weeks for the actual election day, Trump is already on record tweeting that “the election is absolutely being rigged”. After the final presidential debate, he declared that he would keep the country “in suspense” over whether he would accept the outcome of November’s election.
Trump's refusal to accept the election result, commentators pointed out had never before happened in American history. Clinton immediately took upon the opportunity to criticise him for 'denigrating' and 'talking down' US democracy. Interestingly, the way both the major parties and candidates are conducting in these elections, democracy seems to be the biggest victim in these elections in the US.
Elections in the US are already one of the most costliest elections in the world and heavily distorted in favour of the rich. The New York Times/NBC News poll showed no less than 84 percent of US voters – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – shared the common view that there was simply “too much money” flooding into US elections today. 85 percent of those in the poll further indicated that either major changes or a “complete rebuild” of the US election system was needed to take money out of politics. According to estimates, the 2016 presidential elections are witnessing an expenditure of anywhere between $10 to $15 billion, not to count the 'dark money' or the black money. To know the actual total expenditure spent, one will have to wait even longer, until June 30, 2017. And there is no upper limit on the expenditure.
In the US, the Supreme Court in its verdict in 2010 had removed the restrictions on corporate spending on elections, which literally opened the floodgates for less than one percent of Americans to contribute 68 percent of election funding. Corporates fund elections to lobby their interests and this is not a great secret. For example, according to a study, the fast food industry in the US gave $51 million to the Congress to ensure that it does not legislate against stricter guidelines for food marketed to children to schools. Apart from this, they have more powerful lobbies like the gun lobby, the insurance lobby, the oil lobby and the financial lobby, etc, etc. All these lobbies liberally 'donate' to the candidates to ensure that their voice is represented in the White House and the Senate or the Congress.
Take the case of Clintons, Hillary and Bill Clinton are both strong representatives of the financial lobby – the Wall Street. Both of them together have earned $25 million through speeches and talks just since Hillary's announcement to run for as the presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton's speeches and talks average $225,000 to $275,000, according to her 'schedule A' campaign finance statement. During a debate between her and Bernie Sanders in the run-up to secure Democratic party nomination, she was challenged by Sanders as to why she has been accepting fees of $275,000 from scores of bankers and big corporations, including a three speech $675,000 fee from Goldman Sachs. Clinton replied: “I don't know, that's just what they offered”. A very innocent reply indeed! As a senator and a secretary of State, Hillary was trusted to stand by the interests of Wall Street and she never betrayed that trust. That is the reason why she shamelessly told the bankers, lest they misunderstand her public positions during her campaign: “So you need a public and a private position”.
The least said about Trump, the Republican candidate the better, who himself is a multi-millionaire and who claims his expertise is in not paying taxes. He has a declared agenda to reduce taxation for the rich and the corporates in these elections. So, democracy for both these candidates, is all about winning elections to serve the corporates. Naturally such persons cannot be expected to talk about the concerns of the working class or the famed American middle-class, except, rhetorically.
RIGGING THE DEMOCRATIC
The one notable exception who had really brought the discussion about minimum wages, lives of the working class, American middle-class into the discussion was Bernie Sanders, who fought for Democratic presidential nomination with Hillary Clinton. Sanders' campaign had reinvigorated a large section of the youth who felt disillusioned with both the mainstream political parties and the candidates they were offering till then. His critique, narrative and alternatives had attracted large sections of youth and working class people. When Sanders had announced his candidature, Clinton was soaring ahead with nearly 58 percent of Democratic voters support. But his opposition to trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP), his campaign for $15 minimum wage, positions on climate change, support to the Palestinian cause, staunch positions against war, catapulted him to narrow down the gap. He had primarily depended on small donors to fund his campaign, unlike Clinton and others, who depended on the corporates. Unfortunately, he failed to win the Democratic party's nomination.
But later, as a huge tranche of Clinton's emails being released to the public by Wikileaks have brought to light, the Democratic party elite, who were supposed to act impartially during the primaries, did not perform their duties impartially. They closed ranks behind Clinton and acted to favour her. Popular pressure forced Clinton to agree and incorporate some of Sanders' campaign agenda into her own. That is the reason why is she is now forced to oppose the TPP and vouch for $15 minimum wage. Of course, how sincere she will stand by them one cannot vouch for.
The campaign of Bernie Sanders gained momentum and attracted people because it was able to reflect the latent discontent among the people. US society has become so pronouncedly unequal that the top 10 percent now average nearly nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent. Americans in the top 1 percent tower stunningly higher. They average over 38 times more income than the bottom 90 percent. But that gap pales in comparison to the divide between the nation’s top 0.1 percent, who are taking in over 184 times the income of the bottom 90 percent.
The 2008 economic crisis deepened the racial and ethnic wealth divide in the US. 'The typical white family held a net worth six times greater than the typical black family at the end of the 20th century. That gap has now doubled. The wealth gap between white and Hispanic households has widened as well. The billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as all African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households'.
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, 'In 2015, the overall unemployment rate for the United States was 5.3 percent; however, the rate varied across race and ethnicity groups. The rate for Blacks was 9.6 percent and was 4.6 percent for Whites'. According to the World Bank 'Unemployment and part-time employment is a big concern in the labour market in the US, which is once again impacting the consumption patterns and the economic growth of the country'.
These growing income, wealth and racial inequalities are reflected in socio-economic tensions in the US society. It is one of the reasons why increasing number of African-Americans are questioning the existing inequality and are demanding their rights. The movement 'Black Lives Matter' is a reflection of this anger.
A section of the white supra-racists are unable to tolerate this growing assertion. Trump is the political representative for the white supra-racists, anti-immigrants, anti-Muslims – in a word for the extreme conservative, right-wing in the US society. In fact, in the last presidential debate, he had once again harped on stemming immigration, a touchstone of his entire campaign.
A review of the three presidential debates or the entire electoral campaign in the US shows how both parties are concentrating the attack on personalities, rather than on policies and on real concerns of the people. Media analysis of the campaign (six media corporates control 90 percent of the media companies) too is more on which candidate had called what and what had the other responded, the 'body language', the dress, entourage, etc rather than critiquing their agendas, perspectives and policies. This is not what elections or democracy is about.
Democracy is all about people and their concerns. Neither of the US presidential candidates is talking about addressing the real issues of the people. Instead, both of them seem to consider that getting elected as president of the US grants them access to unlimited power and make them de facto 'world president'. Hearing them debate foreign policy, one feels that US has the power, answers, solutions for all the problems of the world and the entire world is waiting for the deliverance. They do not seem to realise that the reality is something far from that.
Reality is: democracy is always a work in progress. Better work towards strengthening it in one's own country, before even thinking about exporting it.