I have been thinking lately about the United States of America and what type of government this collection of states typifies. In 1776 we rejected the tyranny of King George III and the notion of the Divine Right of Kings. Instead, according to the Declaration of Independence, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Rather than the power to govern coming from God, this power comes from the people being governed. If the leaders of the government derive their power from the people, how do the governed transfer that power to the governing? They do it by consent, that is, they vote for the leaders of their government.
Is our country, then, a democracy? No. In a pure democracy, there is direct participation of citizens in all decision-making. In a very large group of people, direct participation becomes unwieldy if not impossible. We cannot possibly vote on every issue. Hence, we are not a pure democracy.
Then, perhaps, we are a republic, which is a form of government that relies on the representation of the people rather than the people representing themselves, as in a pure democracy. The key concept to the word republic is that the leader of the government (or state) is not a hereditary monarch but, rather, someone who is elected or installed. Consequently, the leaders need not be elected, which we see in many autocratic “republics” such as the People’s Republic of China and Cuba. In the United States, because we elect those who represent us, we can be considered a “democratic republic.”
On the surface, it appears that we may, indeed, be a democratic republic. The problem is that, in our current government, we the people, the common people, are not truly represented by those elected to do so. If you follow the votes of those who “represent” us you will see an interesting pattern. Many of their votes seem to “follow the money,” which leads to a form of government called an oligarchy or, more specifically, a plutocracy. A plutocracy exists when a government is controlled by the wealthy, either directly or indirectly. Indirectly, it consists of regulatory frameworks and programs designed to benefit the wealthy (e.g., Trump’s tax cuts).
According to OpenSecrets.org, it costs over $9.8 million to get elected to the Senate and over $2.3 million to get elected to the House, money that comes mostly from wealthy individuals, corporations, and PACs. How do these donations correlate with congressional votes? Although 88% of citizens favor allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prices on medications according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, this benefit was eliminated from Biden’s budget proposal. Why? Follow the money. Since 2013, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has received $258,236 from the pharmaceutical industry and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-CA) has received $491,800. In the House, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) has received $541,400 since 2013 and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) has received $433,178. All are opposed, along with many Republicans, to having Medicare negotiate prices with Big Pharma. They represent Big Pharma, not their constituents.
Then there is Joe Manchin (D-WV). According to the most recent Gallup Poll, 73% of citizens are in favor of solar power and 66% support wind energy. But he refuses to support clean energy. Why? Manchin, personally, makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from coal company stock. He also has received more than $800,000 in campaign funds from the oil and gas industry.
Also, five Republican representatives, David McKinley (R-WV), John Curtis (R-UT), Garret Graves (R-LA), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) unofficially attended the Glasgow COP26 climate talks. Together they’ve raised more than $2.5 million from the fossil fuel industry over their careers. How will they vote on clean energy? Follow the money.
We are in danger of becoming a plutocracy and that may mean the end, not only of democracy but also, of our way of life. We need to overturn Citizens United and place severe limits on individual and PAC contributions to candidates and parties.
Image by Mauer88 on Flickr.
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