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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/6/20

Can U.S. Democracy Be Fixed?

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Message Richard Falk

From Smirking Chimp

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The 2020 Election and its Aftermath

I share the view that the 2020 election in the United States is above all a referendum on fascism, and for this and many other reasons I hope it produces a Biden landslide, including control of the U.S. Congress by the Democratic Party. As well, it is my fervent wish that this outcome will be followed by a smooth transfer of political power.

From the perspective of the present, this kind of benign political scenario seems unlikely to materialize. Instead, we can more realistically expect a close election, which means that if Trump wins, the fascist threat grows beyond control, while if he loses, he seems poised to refuse the result, charging voting fraud, and clinging to the presidency despite being rejected by the voting public. This prospect would provoke an unprecedented constitutional crisis and could be resolved by the first coup in American history, an unthinkable scenario until Trump came along. Even if Trump is coercively removed from the White House, the fascist cause is likely to flourish as his more ardent followers seem ready to incite civil war rather than accept a political defeat, however warranted.

And even should these horrors be avoided, or dealt with in a responsible manner, the aftermath is likely to be deeply unpleasant, raising the question, above all, whether Donald Trump's multiple crimes shall be shielded from prosecution, and a massive gift of impunity bestowed. If accountability and the rule of law are chosen, there would be myriad trials and calls of political martyrdom. Maybe the best solution would be asylum for Trump in Putin's Russia. This kind of "retirement"' arrangement would have the delicious irony of having Trump share his place of refuge with Edward Snowden. There is a kind of political poetry present as Snowden told the world damning secrets about the U.S. surveillance regime while Trump is trying his hardest to keep his nefarious doings as secret as possible for as long as he can.

Deeper Structural Concerns

(1) Reimagining U.S. Federalism

Even in the unlikely event that all goes well procedurally, it is no time to gloat about the vindication of the American version of constitutional democracy. Should Trump upset present expectations, and win in November, he will almost certainly again have the perverse, and now anachronistic, peculiarities of the Electoral College to thank. Trump will have little trouble putting out of mind the awkward fact that he prevailed although he once again as in 2016 won fewer votes than his defeated opponent. In 2020 there is no sufficient justification for counting a vote in Idaho or Montana as more valuable than a vote in California or New York. Since the winner in each state gets the whole of its Electoral College vote whether the margin of victory is one vote or one million votes. Democracy as a political system loses legitimacy whenever it cannot dislodge such anachronistic quirks of its electoral system, and the real mandate of a voting majority of the citizenry is denied the fruits of victory.

Of course, there is an important riposte to the effect that the large populations of the two coastal states, with it greater attachment to liberal values, would dominate the electoral process, and do not reflect the country as a whole. It is also claimed that this kind of direct citizen voting framework would further marginalize the relevance of the "flyover" states, and in this sense undermine the federalist character of the republic, which was integral to the envisioned constitutional balance between unity and decentralization that informed the vision of the founders. As such what is put in relief are two distinct questions: was the electoral college a clever solution to this challenge of empowering and protecting diversity while creating a desirable level of unity when the United States was established as a mega-state in the late 18th century? Has this "solution" become in recent decades an outmoded model of federalism given digitized re-framings of people, ideas, and consciousness that has so far occurred in the 21st century. Such re-framings exhibit a variety of tendencies toward localism and centralism, with diminished relevance to the units constituting the sovereign state as political actor? Put differently, is not the country at a stage of political development that federalism needs to be reimagined from ecological, cyber, temporal, humanist, and cosmopolitan perspectives? Reimagining would lead to a de-emphasis on the spatial compartmentalization of 50 distinct political entities in the context of national elections as well as acknowledge the deterritorialization of sovereign states, and especially the United States, as the sole "global state."

A further concern is with the impact of federalist arrangements on the wellbeing of peoples is its dual character. Federalism has given a safe harbor to the ugliest forms of racism and bigotry, but it has also given space for sanctuary and humane values when the central government turns against vulnerable parts of society in a regressive direction. The Trump phenomenon has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that all political arrangements are fragile, subject to lethal manipulation when the self-restraint and decency of ruling elites is replaced by narcissism, greed, criminality, and demagoguery.

(2) Rigging the Results

As others have observed, Joe Biden will need much more than a simple majority to win the election. He will need a landslide that overcomes not just the impacts of the Electoral College, but also that neutralizes the distorting effects of Republican gerrymandering and widespread voter suppression practices designed to keep persons of color, the poor, and those living in progressive urban neighborhoods from voting. Because Republicans are so focused on winning and upholding privilege whatever the consequences, they have been using their extensive control of state legislatures and governorships throughout the country to disenfranchise their adversaries while organizing their bases of support to participate in vital elections.

Again, the Democratic Party has its own inglorious past, which includes a past shameless reliance on machine politics featuring city hall political manipulations of voting patterns and electoral results. The great game of American politics has always been to varying degrees a game played by unscrupulous actors with many dirty tricks up their soiled sleeves. Political parties are formed to protect interests and win elections, which means that principles tend to be put aside, and the truly virtuous potential leaders tend to be repulsed by the game or excluded by the party leadership. Bernie Sanders is a perfect case in point, being too virtuous, too principled, and too independent to represent the Democratic Party, and this despite showing his relative popularity with the citizenry, surely greater than the candidate chosen by the gatekeepers. In this illuminating respect, there are certain considerations that outweigh winning elections. Concretely, the Democratic Party establishment would rather go with the weaker candidate than go with a stronger alternative who would threaten the donor-driven consensus.

(3) The Erosion and Debasement of Choice: Breaking the "Bipartisan Consensus"

There are further related reasons for humility about the functioning of democracy in the United States that extend beyond the electoral system and the disturbing behavior of political parties. The most glaring shortcomings are associated with the absence of alternative approaches made available to the voting public on the most crucial issues confronting society. It relates to the failure of the two-party system when neither party possesses a willingness to support candidates who are willing to advocate overcoming the distortions on the quality of life and governance being wrought by plutocracy, global militarism, predatory capitalism, climate change, and systemic racism.

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Richard Falk Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Professor Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus at Princeton University, and was Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2001-04). (more...)
 
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Can U.S. Democracy Be Fixed?

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