By Tony Giordano
Now that campaign financing and incessant lobbying by multinational corporations and the wealthy have totally co-opted government at all levels, usurping our democracy, the compelling question becomes: Is our government still legitimate?
The U.S. continues to fall in rankings of the world's most democratic nations, coming in 15th to 21st depending on the study. “Most democratic” means first and foremost that all fundamental human rights and freedoms exist under protection by fairly and openly elected, functioning governments.
Our falling rank is bad enough, but it doesn't begin to convey the depth of the problem. If we look at a “peer group” of comparably wealthy, educated, modern nations, we would rank near the bottom — that is, one of the least democratic. We also score near the bottom in economic equality. Can this be driving the decline in democracy?
In Europe, we’ll find the lion’s share of the world’s most democratic nations. While Asia and Africa have lagged far behind in producing democracies, last year’s burgeoning Arab Spring movements show gradual but undeniable progress toward democracy. Much of the world has been moving inexorably toward greater democracy.
But not us. We’re going backward. No doubt our decline in the rankings will accelerate as recent developments, such as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, play out.
What exactly is happening here?
For one, the ever-growing concentration of wealth in the hands of large corporations and the top 1 percent has enabled them to increasingly dominate politics, since political contributions have been decreed by the nation’s high court to be “speech” and as such, cannot be restricted — never mind the devastating effects on the electoral process and the principle of equality.
Most campaign donations aren't even disclosed. Without essential transparency, we don’t know who’s behind the candidates who come to “represent“ us. This affront to democracy has drowned out the voice of the average citizen, who is all but forgotten by our elected representatives as the latter seek to please the big campaign donors.
Increasingly, national elections are won by millionaires who simply have more in campaign donations than their opponents. When the winner then enters legislative office, he goes on to favor the industries that funded his campaign, along with the companies whose lobbyists wine and dine him.
We’ve seen this corrupting effect of money in politics countless times, for example, in the House vote on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, where huge energy industry donations were behind the favorable voting to take the decision away from the president and approve the pipeline. On top of that, the State Department had an environmental impact study done by entities who turned out to be oil industry insiders! Guess what they recommended? And special-interest lobbying of Congress in favor of the pipeline has topped $178 million, while lobbying against it totals just $5 million.
The overwhelming evidence of man-made climate change and the dire need to reduce greenhouse gases clearly dictate that this destructive pipeline must not be completed. Will Congress succumb to the pressure of corporate lobbyists yet again and ignore the plight of the planet and its vital life support systems?
On issue after issue, we can see the increasing dominance of money in politics. Is this the way democracy is supposed to work? If democracy is the only legitimate form of government, then our government is losing much of its legitimacy. It’s no wonder public trust in government is at historically low levels and more and more citizens believe their vote won’t make a difference.
One has to ask-- why are we paying our hard-earned tax money to an illegitimate government that has sold out to the big money and no longer represents us?
Tony Giordano is an adjunct instructor at Brookdale Community College and research consultant in social science, is a supporter of the American Anti-Corruption Act.