The most common reason for not voting given by many Americans is that their vote simply does not matter. In most cases, they are correct. The reasons behind this inconvenient truth fall into two general categories: flaws in the way we conduct our elections and antidemocratic provisions embedded in our Constitution.
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There is a great deal of discussion these days about how democracy is under assault in America. That is true. It is also true that democracy is always under assault – anytime and anywhere it manages to blossom.
The most successful assault on democracy in the history of America took place over a long, hot summer in Philadelphia in 1787, as fifty-five men of commerce, many of them slaveowners, drafted our Constitution.
One of the first decisions made by the delegates to the convention was to keep their deliberations private. Nothing spoken in the convention was to be repeated outside the convention or made public.
Despite the vow of secrecy that had been adopted, several of the delegates took notes. James Madison was far and away the most active in that regard. He attended every session and took copious notes, using a system of shorthand he devised himself. The others in attendance knew that he was taking notes. In fact, he routinely checked with those who had spoken each day to verify that he had captured the essence of their remarks accurately. They knew that they could trust him not to share those notes publicly. And their trust was well placed. The notes that Madison took were not published until after his death and as the youngest of the delegates, he was the last to pass away.
Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 fully accomplished his stated objective of preserving a record of what took place at the Convention – “the process, the principles, the reasons & the anticipations, which prevailed in the formation of” our Constitution.
As documented by Madison, most of the men who drafted our Constitution were openly hostile to democracy. Only four of the delegates spoke out in favor of democracy. Nineteen of the delegates spoke out harshly against democracy. And the remaining delegates generally sided with the antidemocratic delegates when votes were taken on the motions that became our Constitution.
Most of the delegates did not want to allow “the people” to have any role whatsoever in the new government. In the end, the delegates reluctantly agreed to let the people elect the members of the House of Representatives because they knew that if they did not allow the people to have some voice in the government, it would be difficult to get the Constitution ratified.
Elbridge Gerry [who once drew an electoral map that contained district lines so convoluted that some seeing them thought that one district resembled a salamander, which gave birth to the term “gerrymandering”]: “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massachusetts, it had been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute.”
Roger Sherman referred to “the inconveniencies of democracy” and “opposed the election by the people, insisting that it ought to be by the State Legislatures. The people, he said, immediately should have as little to do as may be about the Government. They want (lack) information and are constantly liable to be misled.”
John Dickenson: “A limited Monarchy he considered as one of the best Governments in the world. It was not certain that the same blessings were derivable from any other form. It was certain that equal blessings had never yet been derived from any of the republican form.”
Edmund Randolph observed that “the general object was to provide a cure for the evils under which the U. S. labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”
Regarding the election of the president, George Mason, “conceived it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colors to a blind man.” Charles Pinkney agreed, saying that “An election by the people being liable to the most obvious and striking objections. They will be led by a few active and designing men.”
It may come as a shock to many Americans to learn that the fifty-five men who drafted our Constitution, with few exceptions, were not fond of democracy. They did not trust we, the people, to vote wisely. (And this was at a time when only white males over the age of 21 were allowed to vote.). They knew, however, that they could not leave the people out of the government altogether. The Declaration of Independence had stirred the passions of Americans by stating that governments derive their "just powers from the consent of the governed." So they gave the "people" the power to elect one-half of the legislative branch (Congress) and then put three "checks" on the will of the people in place: the Senate, the presidential veto, and the Supreme Court. They also made it extremely difficult to amend the Constitution.
If we want the "consent of the governed" to determine the "just powers" of our government, we need to make the House of Representatives truly representative of the will of the people and remove the "checks" on the "consent of the governed" that were put in place by the men who drafted our Constitution.
Our Constitution has long been revered by most Americans, very few of whom have ever read it. Even fewer among us have taken the time to make a critical comparison of the form of government put in place by our Constitution and the democratic ideals expressed so clearly and powerfully in the Declaration of Independence.
Our Constitution is in conflict with our ideals. If we want to make America a perfect democracy, we need to amend our Constitution to bring it in line with our ideals.
In the end, the document that was drafted – our Constitution – gave “the people” the right to elect one-half of one branch of the newly empowered federal government (the House of Representatives) and then gave the Senate (with equal representation for states, not people), and the president (elected by the Electoral College) “checks” on the will of the people as expressed in the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court soon gave itself the power to nullify acts of Congress through “judicial review” (a power not mentioned in the Constitution).
Any provision or practice that enables a minority (or a single person in the form of a president or governor) to overrule the majority is antidemocratic. There are numerous such antidemocratic provisions embedded in our Constitution.
Those antidemocratic provisions created a form of government that conflicts with the essential elements of democracy and with the democratic ideals upon which our nation was founded. If we want to make America a perfect democracy, we need to resolve this conflict in favor of the democratic ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
Despite the rulings of five dark robed Supreme Court Justices, corporations are not people. If they were, they would not be nice people. They would be selfish, inconsiderate, greedy people who would do whatever they thought necessary to get rich.
Over the past century, as corporate interests have gained effective control of our government, the focus of nearly all corporations has narrowed to maximizing profits to the exclusion of all other considerations.
The corporate agenda is designed to help corporations take as much as they can from governments (and society) and give as little as possible in return.
The "pro-active" part of the corporate agenda is what corporate interests want from government:
The flip side of the Corporate Agenda is what corporate interests do not want governments to do:
Gaining and retaining control of governments is the key to implementing the corporate agenda. Since no item in the corporate agenda has the support of a majority of the people, the promoters of corporate interests know that they cannot succeed within a true democracy. The CEOs of multi-national corporations and the army of lobbyists they employ are among the most dangerous and most effective of the false friends and true enemies of democracy.
With the people not being given the opportunity to vote directly on issues and not truly represented in Congress or state legislatures, we are left to rely on polling to determine the "will of the people". Polling is not an exact science, but polls have consistently shown support for some key proposals ranging from 60 percent to 90 percent. With support at those levels in poll after poll, there can be little doubt that the legislation in question has the support of at least a solid majority of the citizenry.
To mention just a few issues of concern to most American that have gone unaddressed by Congress: A public option for health insurance consistently polls at about 67 percent. A federal job guarantee has majority support in every state in the Union, ranging from 57 percent to over 80 percent and averaging over 70 percent. Two-thirds of Americans now understand the global warming is a serious, perhaps even existential threat, and support the legislation needed to respond appropriately to that threat. (Which would create millions of well-paid jobs.)
There is solid support for increasing the minimum wage; for additional funding for Social Security; for keeping Medicare and Medicaid fully funded and for expanding Medicaid; for regulation that protect consumers, workers, and the environment; and for making corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
The stakes in the contest between the corporate agenda and the will of the people are highest with regard to the climate crisis. In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein offered a succinct summary of the situation we find ourselves in at present:
"The real reason we are failing to rise to the climate moment is because the actions required directly challenge our reigning economic paradigm (deregulated capitalism combined with public austerity). They also spell extinction for the richest and most powerful industry the world has ever known – the oil and gas industry, which cannot survive in anything like its current form."
If we want the will of the people to matter, if we want the legislation that makes up the Populist Agenda to be passed into law,
Noam Chomsky put the struggle in terms that relate directly to the need to make America a perfect democracy:
It may seem like an overstatement to say that making America a true democracy is a key element in averting human extinction, but it is not. We, the people of the United States, need to take control of our government. We need to make the national government and the governments of all fifty states true democracies – pure democracies. We need to enact the legislation that makes up the Democracy Agenda. And we need to infuse the campaign to make America a perfect democracy with the necessary sense of urgency.
If you want to get involved in our grassroots efforts to make America a more perfect democracy, please provide your email address. You will receive occasional emails with calls to action and updates regarding our progress. You will never be asked for a financial contribution. Your contact information will not be shared.
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