The Democratic Party in the US has once again undertaken its mission to remove the biggest obstacle to achieving the promise of efficiency in democratic government. It consists of preventing people — in this case, its own voters — from having a voice in democracy.
Can America’s Progressive Movement Thrive Without Bernie Sanders?
Daniel Marans, writing on the HuffPost, reveals the story: “The New York State Board of Elections removed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from the primary election ballot on Monday. He adds that senior adviser Jeff Weaver complained: “Today’s decision by the State of New York Board of Elections is an outrage, a blow to American democracy, and must be overturned by the DNC.”
Democratic co-chair Douglas Kellner made the following statement: “What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A form of government intended to be of the people, by the people and for the people, but which tends, under historical pressure, to evolve into a government of the parties, by the parties and for wealthy donors.
This year’s Democratic primary campaign, a partial remake of the 2016 fiasco that led to Donald Trump’s election as president, has offered its share of high drama until it was ultimately interrupted and overtaken by the coronavirus pandemic. It turned into a contest between a confirmed insurgent trouble-maker — Senator Sanders — and the party establishment. The latter — after unsuccessfully resorting to pushing a former Republican multibillionaire to prevent the rabble from taking over the party — ended up somewhat grudgingly aligning behind the former vice president, Joe Biden. Despite Biden taking what many considered to be an insurmountable lead in early March, because of the historical importance of the issues raised, the drama should have continued up until the summer convention and beyond.
The panic around the pandemic that set in just as Biden was confirming his lead ended up upsetting everything, including the date and even the physical reality of the Democratic National Convention. In the meantime, the battle between the two sides made it clear that the party itself was split into two camps: the defenders of the status quo, now represented by Biden, and the modernizers, who had lined up behind Sanders and, to some extent, Senator Elizabeth Warren. More significantly, this turned out to be a battle of generations, with Biden securing a clear majority of the over-45s and Sanders an even clearer majority of the under-45s.
Another notable difference emerged. On the status quo side, the driving force and the central motivation boiled down to individuals seeking some form of stability and security in their lives after more than three years of hurricane Donald. On the modernizer side, the motivation coalesced around the idea of collective purpose. One side reflected the interests of isolated individuals; the other side, the sense of there being a movement, a force in history.
Interestingly, both sides understood and exploited the motivations of those they were appealing to. The dispersed individuals wanted any “reasonable” solution that allowed them to feel they could keep what they already had and enjoy it in peace. The movement, with less to protect and much to fear, sought to redefine the elements that controlled their lives and that appeared increasingly irrational.
Had the debate been able to play out with little external interference, it could have clarified many serious issues that now face a nation whose internal politics, under President Trump, have become seriously confused and whose geopolitical status is clearly in a state of hegemonic decline. But interference has become the norm in democratic politics across the globe and even more specifically in Democratic politics in the US.
Even after suspending his campaign and endorsing Biden, Senator Sanders had proposed to keep the debate alive. He said he would keep his name on the ballot in the pending primaries as a way of clarifying the positions on issues the Democratic Party needed to deal with. These include health care and debt, two issues whose importance has never been more obvious, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the official response to it.
In endorsing the removal of Sanders from the ballot in the New York primary, the Democratic Party has once again demonstrated that the one thing it won’t stand for is debate. After all, debate allows the people’s voices to be heard in their full plurality. When representative democracy seeks to represent the people rather than the economic interests that keep the economy going, the result, from the party’s point of view, is cacophony. Silence is preferable.
In 1787, the young North American nation drafted its constitution in the name of “We the people.” Nearly 50 years later, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville published the famous book called “Democracy in America” in 1835. Ever since that epoch of history, Americans and the rest of the world have supposed that the US exists as a culture deeply committed to the principle of democracy. But throughout its history, though the idea continues in people’s minds, the practice of democracy has been consistently challenged by those who have sought and obtained political power. Perhaps never more than today.
Representative democracy has always suffered from the risk of powerful interests skewing the information the electorate receives and using their power to govern for purposes not endorsed by the people. Instead of representing the interests of the majority who have elected public officials, other forms of interest can intervene to modify the loyalties of those officials. Both parties in the US have understood that and both have found ways of dodging the responsibility of representing their electorate’s interests.
One major contributing factor is a particular form of economic fatalism. It consists of the population’s acceptance of a spurious background ideology designed to create a sense of uncritical trust in those who have been “successful” (an ambiguous concept that needs further elaboration but takes form in the “cult of success”). It was because of his image as an emblem of success that, despite his visibly vulgar circus barker style of oratory, Donald Trump managed to earn the votes of enough Americans to offer him the keys to the White House in 2016. They trusted the flashy billionaire to find a way of trickling down his success to the entire nation.
Ever since the Thatcher-Reagan revolution of the 1980s, Western democracies have become so used to the fact that political decisions will always be made on the exclusive basis of “economic interests” that most people end up trusting a nebulous corporate and financial infrastructure — which includes banks and global industry, and wealthy “influencers” — to provide the guidelines for legislation and governance. As a consequence, a majority of Americans, at least in recent elections, have tended to trust those who were close to the economic decision-makers, to the point of neglecting and ignoring their own interests. That is why, to defend the status quo, the Democrats in particular realize it’s important to prevent debate from taking place. Republicans have always appealed more to emotion than thought.
Both parties in the US feel uncomfortable with democracy and democratic debate, but for different reasons. The Republicans don’t like open democracy because they are aware of the demographics that work for them and the population of the nation is simply too diverse. The party is committed to a culture built around the traditional image of pragmatic and “responsible” rule by wealthy white men with a sense of running a business. Minorities don’t spontaneously share a respect for that myth. Therefore, finding ways to prevent minorities from voting has become one of the major skills promoted by the Republican Party.
The Democrats dislike democracy because of their newfound allergy to debate. Both parties have demonstrated and refined their ability to make sure the right types of people vote and the wrong types don’t vote. The Republicans specialize in massive voter suppression focused mainly on minorities. The Democrats have chosen a different way: stifling any serious reflection on policy, which can only lead to indiscipline. When one’s purpose in life is simply to regain power, indiscipline becomes intolerable.
And so the Democrats will be hard at work between now and the Democratic convention in August to ensure that people stay focused on the man they will be expected to vote for and not on any distracting, debatable ideas that some undisciplined people seem obsessed with.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.