US Democracy Summit: Devil Singing Hymns
R Arun Kumar
THE two day virtual Democracy Summit organised by the United States (December 9-10) began with Joe Biden’s admission that democracy is on a decline in the US along with various other countries. Apart from this candid admission, there is no effort made to look into the reasons for this decline and own up responsibility. Of course one cannot expect it, because the very idea of the summit stems from the purpose ‘to act’ and export their flawed model of democracy, ‘push back on authoritarianism, fight corruption, promote and protect human rights’. And this is to be achieved by the likes of Bolsonaro an openly, avid supporter of dictatorship and authoritarian leaders like Modi. Irony can never get better!
Democracy can never be straitjacketed to the idea of voting. It is not just people’s representation, but also includes people’s participation in governance, without any hindrance and discrimination. That this is lacking in most of the countries that preach gospels about democracy, is a known. For instance, according to a survey conducted by The Associated Press, only 16 per cent of Americans say democracy is working well or extremely well in their country. One of the important reasons for their disillusionment is the failure of successive governments to reduce inequalities and live up to the promise of improving people’s living conditions.
SOCIETY OF INEQUALITIES
US is one of the most unequal countries, where the bottom placed citizens have no influence whatsoever on policy making. Studies point that the lower 70 per cent on the wealth/income scale, have no influence on policy making in the US. Noam Chomsky called the US as a capitalist democracy, where ‘people’s wealth and their influence on policy-making’ are directly proportional, which means that the higher your wealth, the more influence you have on policy making.
According to the US Institute for Policy Studies, the combined wealth of US billionaires increased by 19 times between 1990 and 2021. US Federal Bank statistics show that in October 2021, the middle 60 per cent of US households by income (middle class), saw their combined assets drop to 26.6 per cent of national wealth as of June this year, the lowest in three decades, while the top 1 per cent had a 27 per cent share, ie, even more than the entire middle-classes. Similarly, America’s top 10 per cent earn over nine times as much as the bottom 90 per cent; the wealthiest 1 per cent own about 40 times more wealth than the bottom 90 per cent; and the ultra-wealthy top 0.1 per cent own 196 times more wealth than the bottom 90 per cent. These inequalities got further widened because of the skewed stimulus packages that are highly biased towards the rich and mighty. Feeding on the stimulus, the wealth of US billionaires has grown by US$1.763 trillion, or 59.8 per cent, over the 16 months since the Covid outbreak. This is the extent of inequalities in the US, where the huge majority do not have any say over government policies. That is the reason why majority of the US citizens are skeptical about its democratic credentials.
HUMAN RIGHTS: THE PARADOX
Not a minute goes without the US lecturing about the violation of human rights in other countries. The question is, does the US have any moral right to lecture? The University of Washington in a study found that around 30,800 people died due to police violence between 1980-2018, which is about 17,100 higher than the official figures. Pointing to the racial discrimination involved in these killings, it also found that Afro-Americans are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. Statistics from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation show that hate crimes against people of Asian origin rose by 76 per cent in 2020 – all instances of clear violation of human rights. The movement, ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a reflection of anger against the denial of basic human rights.
Extreme social inequalities prevalent in the US have also come to light during the Covid pandemic. According to Stanford News, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of colour and ‘highlighted the health disparities between Black Americans, whites and other demographic groups’. No wonder that the reputed French newspaper Le Monde, stated that the Covid crisis has ‘highlighted the fragility of democracy in the US’.
PALTERING ON WORKERS’ RIGHTS
As an outcome of the summit, it was announced by the US that the department of labour and state, and USAID, will provide $122 million to establish a Multilateral Partnership for Organising, Worker Empowerment, and Rights (M-POWER), to ‘help workers around the world claim their rights and improve wages and conditions by strengthening democratic and independent worker organisations and supporting labour law reform and enforcement’. To boost his pro-union credentials, Biden boasted that ‘greater worker power’ and ‘workers organising a union’ gives them a voice not only ‘in their workplace, in their community, and their country’, but is an example of ‘democracy in action’. Lofty ‘American Dreams’, while the American Reality is all together different!
For months together, workers in various Amazon warehouses are demonstrating for their right to form a union. The company is doing everything in its power to deny them and the government is nowhere in the picture to enforce. Similar is the case with Starbucks and many other private enterprises. Unionisation is sought now all the more as a weapon to resist the curtailment of worker’s rights during the pandemic. A study in the UK found that in 2018, the average lunch break for workers used to be 16-28 minutes. After the pandemic, 58 per cent stated that they never took their full lunch break, while more than half regularly worked through their break. This is only one example of the intense exploitation that workers are subjected to in the pandemic.
With the emphasis on ‘labour law reforms’ and US funding that endeavour, exploitation of workers is going to further intensify. Already, workers in France, Greece and in our own country, are protesting these reforms, demonstrating that they are not going to buy this tomfoolery.
ELECTIONS AND FARCE
The US leaves no chance to castigate the legitimacy of elections in those countries which do not kowtow to its dictates. But the US has got one of the most unrepresentative elections in the world. Till date, there were five presidential elections in US history, where the winners of popular vote were not elected as the president. The manner in which Donald Trump became the president of the US in 2016 is known to all of us. He won nearly 3 million votes less than his rival Hillary Clinton, but still was elected as the president. This was because of the peculiar system of electoral college that does not represent popular will.
Money is another major factor in US elections. After the US Supreme Court removed limits to corporate funding of elections, they have become further costly. In the recently concluded 2020 elections, presidential and congressional candidates spent nearly $14 billion, which is twice more than what was spent in 2016. In fact, the $6.6 billion spent in the 2020 presidential election is more than the entire spending (for both presidential and congressional elections) in 2016. Robert Reich, former US secretary of labour, stated that ‘the American political system has been hijacked by a tiny minority over the past four decades’ with political donations as ‘legitimate bribery’. According to his calculations, during the 2018 mid-term elections, 40 per cent of the money for campaign financing came from the top 0.01 per cent as huge political donations. It is they who decide policies through their control of finances.
Not satisfied with all this control and worried by the election of certain progressive candidates to the Congress and state legislatures, legislations restricting voters rights are being passed. Between January 1 and September 27 of this year, 19 states have enacted 33 laws making it harder for Americans to vote. And all these are states where it is already difficult to register and vote. 55 million eligible voters live in these states where these new ‘anti-voter’ legislations limiting access to vote are passed. This is going to adversely impact the rights of Latinos, Afro-Americans and Asians.
On top of all these, there is a policy called ‘gerrymandering’ where electoral districts are reorganised (similar to our delimitisation) to suit the interests of the political party in power. 44 per cent of Americans feel that this re-drawing of electoral maps is unfair, but their voice is ignored because, the purpose of re-drawing the maps is to gain control of the US Congress.
EXPORTING US DEMOCRACY
Biden, following the tradition of his predecessors, wants to export this flawed model of democracy to other countries. In his address to the summit, where he announced the establishment of the ‘Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal’, a ‘landmark initiative’ to ‘bolster democracy and defend human rights globally’, he stated the intention as to help in “defining and defending what a fair election is”!
According to a study, between 1946-2000, the US overtly or covertly intervened at least 81 times in elections in 60 different countries. This means that the US intervened in one of the nine competitive elections held during this period! People in two-thirds of these countries did not have any idea that their elections were compromised by the involvement of the US.
Another important means through which the US intends to export democracy is through enforcing a ‘regime change’ under the plea that the elected regime in a particular country is not ‘democratic enough’. The Washington Post wrote, “between 1947 and 1989, the United States tried to change other nations’ governments 72 times”. ‘The National Interest’, an American bi-monthly international affairs magazine, in its report in 2017, stated: “The United States engaged in 46 military interventions from 1948-1991. From 1992-2017, this number had increased four-fold to 188”. All of them with a purpose to enforce a regime change.
In 2018, through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a precursor to the present initiative, the US spent over $23 million to interfere in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, under the guise of ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’. The role of US in fomenting ‘colour revolutions’ to topple elected regimes, as we had witnessed in Ukraine, is also part of such a project. Former secretary of state Michael Pompeo openly admitted: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment” (Speech to Texas, A&M University on April 15, 2019).
According to a research conducted by the ‘Jang Group and Geo Television Network’, the US has been at war for about 225 of the 243 years since its inception in 1776, which means that it has been at war for more than 92 per cent of the time since its birth. Most of the times, the US is the aggressor. It is for this reason that 44 per cent of the people interviewed by Latana, a German polling agency, and the Alliance of Democracies (founded by former NATO secretary general Rasmussen), in 53 countries expressed their concern that the US may pose a threat to democracy in their country. It is such a country that is donning the mantle and lecturing on democracy.
Hmm, the devil singing hymns!
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
– William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice