PAUL MALONE. Is the United States a democracy?

Feb 21, 2020

The disenfranchisement of much of the population, the unequal distribution of wealth and power and the muddled voting systems calls into question the US claim to be a democratic state.

If the winner of the United States presidential election is lucky, he or she will attract the support of a little over a quarter of the United States’ voting age population. (VAP)

Donald Trump got 25.1 per cent of the VAP in 2016 while Hillary Clinton, who lost the election, got 26 per cent — hardly a ringing endorsement of either.

Of those who turned out to vote, Trump got 46 per cent and Clinton 48 per cent.

By way of contrast Vladimir Putin received 77 per cent of the vote in the 2018 Russian Presidential election and yet he is the one usually presented in our media as having no legitimacy.

The Russian election was rigged, it’s said. Voters didn’t really have a free choice. They were manipulated by a controlled media, intimidated by the state, or suffered partisan government interference and corruption.

But there’s every reason to believe that most Russians wanted to see Putin elected in 2018 and where they didn’t, they voted accordingly. With a 67 per cent voter turnout he received support from over half the Russian electorate.

No-one who follows politics should be surprised by this. As a Russian nationalist leader, Putin had just managed the integration of the predominantly Russian region of Crimea into Russia. Regrettably war rallies nationalists round the flag, whether it be in Russia or the United States.

Westerners, ignorant of Crimea’s history, might howl at the “annexation” of the peninsula from Ukraine. But Russians, including the vast majority of people in Crimea, know differently.

Russians fought and died to hold this region for hundreds of years. In the Crimean War they confronted the Ottoman Turks, British and French forces. Eighty years later in some of the bloodiest battles on the Eastern front, the Soviet army fought to hold the peninsula from the invading Germany and Romanian forces. For holding out, Sevastopol was given the title Hero City.

When it didn’t really matter to the Russians, internal Soviet boundaries allocated the region to Ukraine. But with the breakup of the USSR and the development of Ukrainian nationalism, equally nationalistic Russians saw it as their duty to come to the rescue of their brothers and sisters in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Western media also makes much of all the oligarchs supporting Putin. But billionaires supporting US presidential candidates are apparently not evil oligarchs. My online dictionary explains: “Oligarch: a ruler in an oligarchy; (especially in Russia) a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence.”

In the last US Presidential campaign Hillary Clinton raised over $450 million from supporters. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna were estimated to have donated nearly $50 million to help get Clinton elected.

As the US dictionary tells us, they are not oligarchs and of course they would never seek political favours. Had she been elected, Hillary Clinton would have welcomed Australian government efforts to have Facebook pay an appropriate amount of tax.

Equally the hedge fund operators and the heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune who donated tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton campaign are not oligarchs and there’s no way Clinton would have been influenced by their donations.

And what of Clinton’s performance for Goldman Sachs, where she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to privately explain how, if elected, she would do the financial-regulations-dance for Wall Street?

And dare I mention the defence “industry” and military spending. They played no part in Clinton’s war-mongering inclinations: as Senator her support for the war on Iraq and the false claims that Saddam Hussein had given sanctuary to Al Qaeda and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; as Secretary of State her meddling in the Middle East, which contributed to the US arming ISIS in Syria and led to chaos, death and destruction in Libya.

And then remind yourself that as far as the Australian media is concerned Hillary was and is the progressive candidate in the US elections!

Now there’s talk she might run again as a candidate for Vice President, alongside presidential candidate billionaire, Mike Bloomberg, said to be the ninth richest person in the United States. Well at least this time, surely voters will see whose interests she represents.

We are expected to accept that the US presidential election circus with its razzmatazz, poor quality “debates,” national conventions and muddled Electoral College voting system, is the height of democracy. Don’t be concerned that the person who gets the most votes in a primary, may not get the most delegates or that the person who gets the most votes in the actual election may not become president.

But do get het up about Russian interference. According to a long special report published in the Washington Post in June 2017 “Russia’s interference [in the 2016 presidential election] was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy.”

But there was one crucial piece missing from this 8,000 word article: What precisely did the Russians do to win the election for Trump?

Two years ago I wrote that the claim that Russian interference cost Clinton the presidency was nonsense.

Nothing that has come out since has changed my mind. The publication of leaked emails may have influenced a tiny number of voters and a few Russian Facebook posts may have influenced others but it pales into insignificance when compared with the advertising and massive expenditure used by the candidates themselves to manipulate voters.

And if Bernie Sanders were to win the Democratic National Convention nomination, you’ll really see oligarchs in action and they won’t be Russians.

Not that Sanders, if he were to become President, would be free to move. He would be surrounded by the same Pentagon generals, be confronted by the same “defence” industries and face the same resistance to redistribution of wealth and power from the same billionaires who actually run America.

The unequal distribution of wealth isn’t the only thing that destroys one-value-for-one-vote in America. Outright denial of the right to vote is another. The US has a long history of discrimination which continues to this day.

The US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world — three times the imprisonment rate in Australia – and it imprisons a disproportionate number of blacks. Each state determines whether felons can vote, resulting in inconsistent rules and breaching the right of universal suffrage.

Former president Barack Obama observed that the US is the only advanced democracy that deliberately discourages people from voting. Backing this up, the Brennan Center at New York University has found that over the last twenty years, US states have put barriers in front of the ballot box – imposing strict voter ID laws, cutting voting times, restricting registration, and purging voter rolls. The end result is that a significant numbers of eligible voters — particularly racial minorities, poor people and young and old voters –are kept from the polls.

Paul Malone is a journalist with over 30 years of experience having worked
for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial  Review and
the Canberra Times, where he was Political Correspondent for five years and
wrote a weekly column until late 2017.

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