There is a lot of talk lately about how or why we got into our current political predicament. Many seem to link members of the majority party’s “need” to be re-elected with their permissive behavior toward the President. I’d agree. Personal ambition tied with party politics and tribalism is a big reason why our nation is in this mess.
But what isn’t being said is how we got to that point. Well, isn’t being said by anyone but me, that I can find.
Vox has a wonderful article today that lays out the roadmap for the US to backslide from true democracy. It’s a good read and well researched. But it is vastly wrong on one point.
To understand democratic backsliding, it’s important to understand the essential components of a democracy. First, there must be elections, which must be both free and fair. Elections by themselves are not enough: Both Russia and China, after all, have elections that formally reflect the choice of the people, but allow only limited choices.
The key is in that last line. “elections that formally reflect the choice of the people, but allow only limited choices.” Vox is attempting to make a distinction between the systems in these two foreign nations and the one in the US. But they’re actually describing our system to a nicety. Let’s take another look at this, despite my long history on this point (here, and here and here, etc.)
We, as Americans, have an election system that lets us winnow down our choices until there are a small handful (really 2) left to choose from on election day. That would seem like what Vox is calling for above. Until you go farther back, before the primaries. To that murky, messy world of political retreats and lobbying where who shows up on the primary ballot is decided.
Let’s just use a recent example as a representative of the whole. Back in 2013, Joni Ernst, an Iowa State Senator and National Guard member who no one had heard of or cared about, was invited to a quiet get together featuring a handful of billionaires, all buddies with the Koch brothers. This little group picked over all the low-level politicians in attendance and hand-selected a few, like Ernst, that seemed to line up well with their efforts to become even richer and more powerful. Here’s a bit from a well written Politico article on the situation.
Ernst later told POLITICO she had no idea “how my name came through those channels.” But her appearance at the event impressed donors and was followed by an infusion of support that helped Ernst win the GOP nomination and, eventually, a Senate seat.
This sort of thing was apparently new to the Koch brothers, but far from new nationwide. This is how your primary candidates get selected. Some rich people pick the ones that align well with their goals of getting richer, and they are flooded with “support” (read that as mostly money) that instantly elevates them to the position of a major player in their race. And, wouldn’t you know it, Ernst came from practically nowhere and won that race. Since sitting down in Washington, she has, unsurprisingly, moved in lockstep with her corporate masters.
If this wasn’t already painfully obvious, I’ll point out that this is not an isolated incident. This is how the Democrat and Republican nominees that show up on your ballots are chosen. And I’m not just talking federal elections. This back-room dealing is seeping right down to city council races.
Why should you care? Well, only that your entire concept of democracy is subverted by this process. How? I’ll lay it out one more time.
Rich people who want to get richer carefully select and support candidates (or run themselves) that will further their agenda. Those people then get put on the primary ballot. You then get to select from this limited data set. You can’t help but pick someone who will support them and not you. What possible reason would they support you, when their whole reason for being on the ballot is to help the people who put them there? You get to pick from people who have no ties to you, the voter. People who have no reason to listen to the will of you, the voter. But they are the only ones that you, the voter, can choose from because they’re the ones on the ballot.
You get a pre-vetted, limited choice of “approved” candidates to choose from that you can then freely and fairly vote on. Because ‘Murica.
This is what a Backsliding Democracy looks like. We have zero provisions to stop this in our Constitution and we’d have to rely on the people benefitting from it to change the Constitution anyway. I’ll let you do the math on how likely that is to happen.
So, yeah. Sleep well.