The Future of Democracy

The following is a chapter from Money, Sex, Power & Faith.

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“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting” – Charles Bukowski

Beyond the constraints of agrarian polarization and the gender roles it created, we also need the freedom to transcend the bipolar nature of our political system. While it is largely billed as the world’s most successful democracy, it is high time we recognize the government of the United States of America for what it truly is. Though it started as a republic with occasional democratic processes by the 6% of white, male landowners that wrote the rules, it has since become an oligarchy run by the richest 1%.

Although the United States often likes to tout its democratic successes, its voter turnout is a testament to how many Americans don’t actually have faith in the system. In November 2016, 64% of adults over the age of 18 reported to be registered voters. Yet, in one of the most hotly politicized presidential races in history, only 55.7% turned out to vote, allowing Donald J. Trump to take office with ballots cast by less than 19% of adults of voting age.

Of the thirty-two countries considered to be highly developed, democratic states by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States placed 26th in voter turnout for the 2016 election. Belgium, which has compulsory voting laws, had the highest turnout rates with 87.2%, followed by Sweden (82.6%) and Denmark (80.3%), both with voluntary voting. Switzerland had the lowest voter turnout with less than 39% of voting-aged residents casting ballots in 2015.

While each of these countries have multi-party systems that keep any one party from gaining control of the government, like in the US, there are other variables that may also affect voter turnout. The parliamentary democracy of Sweden promotes greater trust in their electoral system, and voting every four years gives citizens time to consider their options. Yet, the complexity of the Swiss voting system, which requires four participatory elections a year, may be a bit too overwhelming for most citizens.

In America, problems cited for why people don’t vote include not finding appropriate representation in the two predominant parties, not liking the candidates, a lack of education, the challenges of registration, and plain, old apathy. Some states still have laws permanently revoking voting rights for felons. Until recently, more than 10% of the population of Florida was ineligible to vote after serving a prison sentence for felonies.

Of course, many have great fear of an actual democracy. Beyond those who are currently benefiting from the oligarchy, many refer to democracy as “mob rule”, describing it as two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. While Winston Churchill famously stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” he also pointed out that “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

As John F. Kennedy said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all,” and it can certainly be argued that, in the United States, ignorance has been cultivated and fully embraced as a way of life. So, instead of leaving their fates to the collective population and actually trusting the people, a good portion of Americans are perfectly content to let the .000017% who are elected to federal public office continue making laws for them.

Although we may not yet have enough faith in humanity to currently embrace democracy as a government, there are steps we could consider in order to at least give citizens a greater taste of the democratic process. While we may not yet trust the masses, we would still be wise to stop enabling the corporate parties.

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself,” warned FDR. “That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.”

Now that the concentration of private power has reached such a state, it should be of primary importance to most Americans to overcome this status quo and evolve through innovation and participation. And it should start with the dissolution of the two parties that are not mentioned in the Constitution but have continually steered the course of every election toward their continued economic totalitarianism.

Although our first president and many of our Founding Fathers were vehemently against the development of political parties, America went immediately against that better judgment, and instead of continuing to step out in faith into a full democracy, they established our two-party system in order to better manage economics. Today, although there are dozens of registered political parties at the state and federal level, we still only give credence to the two parties obsessed with finance, even though they’ve gotten no better at managing it in over two centuries of trying. However, because we feel beholden to the two-party system and do not believe that any other single party stands a chance against the two parties in power, we have dozens of other choices that never get made.

Since shortly after its inception, the US Congress has been comprised of Democrats and Republicans, with the occasional Independent, Libertarian, Whig, or Green Party representatives making their way in to shake things up. Basically, it’s been the Grand Old Party and the… well, those who aren’t the Grand Old Party.

Just as with any other spectator sport, in the last few decades, television has allowed us to really get into this back and forth repartee, legitimizing them as “blue” and “red” parties in the Eighties. Nevertheless, can you imagine how humdrum the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL would be if each of them only had two teams? If our entertainment gives us so many choices of colors, teams, mascots, and players, why does our government, which actually kinda matters, only have two teams of red and blue, donkeys and elephants, and so many players with lifelong appointments?

The tedium of the left versus right duel is wearing thin in this age of innovation and information, and I recommend a more expansive tournament of politics in order to establish a more thorough and accountable democratic process. For, in defense of our forefathers, no previous generation has ever had the technology to develop an actual working democracy before. Until now.

I propose America form a bracket system much like the systems used to reach the Final Four, the Super Bowl, or any other tournament. Throughout the campaign cycle, empower a vetting process whereby citizens use online educational platforms and voting to trim all of the parties, and their representatives, down to a good ten or so, ensuring that by ballot time, the people have candidates they can actually have some hope in. By using this process to educate the American public about other political options that may allow us to rise from the status quo of two parties which consistently serve the financial forces that be, perhaps America can be better equipped to start finding candidates beholden to the people instead of special interests.

As FDR said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

Obviously, the two parties in power are quite comfortable with the current situation so we can’t really expect them to participate in any procedures that might work to unseat them. In order for the tournament to work effectively, we may have to consider sacrificing them for the greater good of America, and dismantling them, thereby empowering current members to stop enabling financial interests and invest in a more diverse democracy. Unless other parties besides the Democrats and Republicans are given credible participation in the democratic process, this system may just be too far gone to be functional.

At the very least, America should expand its voting processes to include instant run-off voting, also called ranked-choice voting, a program which allows voters to select a first, second, and even third candidate, so that, should their first choice not get a significant percentage of the vote, their second selection would receive their support. Choosing between only two parties for a melting pot society is a ridiculous notion, and anything less than four parties to address the various facets of humanity should not be considered a democracy.

Additionally, if the United States government is to truly be representative of the people, it must be made in the image of those people. As such, if the Executive branch represents the Heart of the people, the Judicial branch represents the Mind of the people, the Legislative branch represents the Body of the people, what of the Spirit of the people? Perhaps a fourth branch would give our government the properly representative four limbs in order to balance out our precarious, three-legged teetering and mediate the dramas of heart, mind, and body?

While it is indeed revolutionary to suggest such an amendment to the Constitution, and while developing a fourth branch may seem radical to some, the foundation of this country was based on radical revolution, and if we have any inclination to build further upon it, we must be conscious of and subservient to the spirit which created it. Should we choose to accept the current operating procedure of the United States government, and turn a blind eye to its apparent lopsidedness and ineffectual penchant toward conflict and violence, we have already abandoned our country and given it over to forces beyond our control. However, if we take responsibility for the operations of our government by instituting the systematic changes necessary to steer clear of the wreckage our imbalance has caused, we have the opportunity to save our country from certain destruction and usher in a new age of harmony and abundance.

Given that technologies exist today that were undreamed of by our Founding Fathers, a fourth branch of government could be used to help the other branches to set their agendas. Currently, legislators can get elected to office and start working on whatever laws they are drawn to. Perhaps the people of America should have a greater voice in what politicians do once they are elected to office.

Truth be told, there are a number of ways in which we can use innovation to create a more perfect union. But ultimately, it is going to take political will, and that has to start in the heart of the people.

“We are not ‘merely’ talking about nurturing democratic community practice,” Gar Alperovitz reminds us in What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution, “we are talking about community practice as the basis of fundamental experiences of critical importance to the nation as a whole and of democracy in general. The answer to the question ‘Can you have genuine Democracy with a big D in a continental nation if its citizens have little genuine experience of democracy with a small d in their own lives?’ is simple: No.”

In carving out the way for the renaissance we seek, according to Martin Selegman, author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, we are wise to establish a stronger PERMAculture of Positive emotion, Engagement, healthy Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. The myriad ways we have to form these foundations are the pallets, canvases, paints, joys, and muses of the Art of Life. But when it all boils down to it, throughout all of the hoopla that comes with the human comedy called civilization, the call to grace is as Saints John and Paul stated in their revelation, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

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