What’s Wrong with “Representative Democracy”?
America’s political system is not just plain “democracy.”
It’s a specific form of democracy called “Representative Democracy.”
This is where we vote for other people to make our decisions.
It is quite possible that representative democracy was our best choice
in 1787 when we signed our constitution.
And it may have been the best choice up into the twentieth century.
But the world is changing fast,
and it only makes sense to analyze
and critique the fundamentals in our democracy.
A representative democracy has some basic problems.
First, we are trusting an individual
to do what’s right for all of the citizens.
I think we can agree that people have flaws.
Representatives are self-interested,
no matter how much they want to be objective
and serve the public.
Representatives are watching their re-election,
wealth, and exit strategy.
Representatives make mistakes that they hope to hide,
making them less than truthful and susceptible to corruption.
Representatives are vain and egotistical,
which does affect their thinking, as it does all of us.
Second, we are giving substantial power
to a very small number of representatives in our country.
People experience real change when they have power.
History bears this out, and it tends to alter them in a negative way.
Along with power, we give representatives fame.
People with fame tend to love that experience and crave more.
It is why there are so many elderly politicians.
It’s an ego thing and it’s in all of us.
Third, representatives have difficulty thinking clearly and objectively.
They are susceptible to close mindedness,
as they stand rigidly on opinions they have held for a long time.
Representatives hold grudges, owe conflicting loyalty,
have limited time to learn, conceal hidden agendas,
encounter conflicting motives,
and are vulnerable to outside pressures.
Plus, when you vote for a representative,
it is very unlikely that they share the exact same beliefs,
values, and judgment that you do.
All of this changes when we move to Direct Democracy,
where the citizenry votes for everything themselves.
One negative factor that came with representative democracy
is the campaign.
A person needs to campaign in order to be elected.
Our history is full of shenanigans
to get people to vote in a certain way.
Twisting the truth, lies, psychological tricks, mudslinging,
voter registration schemes, bribery, scare tactics,
and re-drawing districts for political purposes.
And of course, we now have money
as the primary factor in winning an election.
That opened the door of influence
from the wealthy and the corporate world.
Now, peddling influence is just a given fact,
as representatives are beholden to their sources of money.
Politicians in office spend upwards of 50% of their work time
raising funds for re-election.
That’s not just in their last year of a term,
but all of the time.
How pathetic is that?
With campaign money becoming pivotal,
industries have a method to gain influence.
Politicians respond to the lobbyists,
or lose their moneyed support come election time.
Lobbyists even write the laws
that politicians submit to congress (e.g. ALEC).
These are the “Special Interests” we talk about,
who push for laws benefiting them,
without due concern for all of us citizens.
Another natural outcome from our representative democracy,
is the party system.
Political parties are supposedly a voting bloc,
where citizens get together based on a common interest,
and vote accordingly.
That sounds fine, but as issues have gotten more numerous,
the party tends to dictate all of your opinions on all of the issues.
What if you support gun control and reduced government spending?
There is no party for you.
What if you support a choice on abortion and gun rights?
No party available.
America has not comprehended how much power
has drifted to the top of the political parties.
The politicians are at the mercy of their party leaders
so as to assure their support in the next election.
That’s why politicians tow the party line.
The constitution dictates a winner-take-all election method.
It just so happens that this method always eventually
results in a two party system,
not a three four five and so-on party system.
It has to do with the winner of an election
having to appeal to the broadest range of people,
and voters not wanting to waste their vote.
Winning candidates must be very centrist.
That doesn’t seem like a problem,
except that alternate views from third party candidates
don’t get heard.
Those new ideas might become better understood and accepted,
if we heard them debated.
Other countries use the parliamentary system
to allow more parties to be involved.
But for us, this is what our Constitution says.
Then we find that the two parties
make so much noise blaming each other,
which creates a polarized citizenry,
that instead of focusing on issues,
we vote to be against the other side.
How often have we had to vote for the lesser of two evils.
You see this finger-pointing in parliamentary systems as well,
so even that tweak to government procedures
will not do away with polarized bickering.
Representative democracy limits us to only choosing personalities,
limits us practically speaking to only two choices,
and leaves us unfulfilled as a democratic citizenry.
Then we encounter our mass media:
TV, radio, printed news, and Internet newsfeeds.
Virtually all are privately owned by just a handful of corporations,
that are based on a model and motive of profit and viewership.
They are not giving us what we want,
but what they know from psychology will keep us glued.
They love the polarization and the blame game,
to string us along like a laser pointer and a cat.
On a final note, government has gotten too big
for our elected leaders to effectively oversee.
In fact, it’s quite likely that our leaders don’t really even know
or control some of the activities taking place in our government.
Trump talked about our agencies like the FBI and CIA,
as if he did not have control over them.
The President is supposed to have that control.
Obama said he didn’t know the NSA was spying on US citizens,
as was revealed by the Snowden leaks.
The Pentagon, CIA, and NSA all have black ops,
secret programs with large budgets,
that are off the radar of congress and sufficient oversight.
These secret operations have negatively influenced
the US’s reputation around the globe.
It is not only the size of government that is a problem.
It is the lack of transparency and accountability.
Every representative wants to manage information,
so that they maintain their reputation.
You would too.
So if transparency is a problem for each representative,
it is not surprising that they allow secrecy
See also: Is transparency a problem?
Could we improve our current representative democracy?
We definitely could.
Term limits, radical campaign finance changes,
independent information sources, transparency laws,
independent re-districting, proportional and ranked voting,
one issue bills, and lobbying controls
would all help if implemented together.
See also: Can Representative Democracy be fixed?
In fact there have been attempts over the years
with laws and amendments to fix the problems.
Things improve a bit, but still, the issues exist.
There is resistance to major change from those in power.
We need to ask ourselves if this is a band aid approach,
and whether larger fundamentals need to change.
In fact, we should be very honest and forward looking,
to decide if our approach of trying to address problems
issue by issue, will ever result in the system we want.
Remember, it is extremely difficult to change a system of power,
when those in power enjoy the advantages
it currently offers to them.
Some even say it is impossible for peaceful change.
But we owe it to ourselves to consider
what we would have to change,
in order for the citizenry to once again gain control.
It may be a bundle of changes
that separately cannot make the difference,
or it may be the right time to reconstruct our constitution,
to guarantee that we the people rule.
See also: Is now the right time?