by Lenny Cavallaro
So many volumes have been written, extolling the virtues of “representative” government. Sadly, the USA now presents conclusive proof that such a system cannot work. What is needed is truly proportional government, but in the absence of a parliamentarian system, we can never hope to see it.
I became painfully aware of this harsh reality in 2000, when George “the Usurper” Bush became president by virtue of a 5-4 Supreme Court vote. Although Dubbya’s father (George H. W. Bush, aka Bush-41) had appointed Clarence Thomas to the bench, no one sensed any impropriety in letting that judge cast a vote. Let us reflect for a moment on what occurred.
The popular vote, which is by far the closest indicator of national sentiment, showed that Gore was more than half a million votes ahead. He garnered 48.4% of the vote to 47.9% totaled by Bush. Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, running on the Green Party, took 2.7% of the vote. Several other candidates appeared on various ballots, but none garnered even 0.5% of the vote.
Nevertheless, the Electoral College – an antiquated device contrived to prevent the “ignorant masses” from exerting too much influence on the election outcome – went narrowly to Bush, 271-266, with one abstention. In the USA, it is the Electoral College that determines the outcome.
We can split hairs well into the evening about the Florida ballots: how many people were confused by the strange alignments across the physical document, how “dangling chads” worked their way into the lexicography, how the Republican administration of Jeb Bush, the candidate’s brother, may have removed up to 19,000 blacks from voting eligibility (19,000 from a demographic that ran 90% for Gore, and in a state Bush “won” by 537 votes), etc. All of these are reasonable arguments, yet they obscure the bigger problem.
Under a parliamentarian system, Gore, who got the most votes, would have had the first opportunity to form a government. The Greens would surely have formed a coalition with the Democrats, reasoning that they would thus gain leverage for many points on their platform, since they might otherwise withdraw and spark a vote of no confidence, causing the government to fall.
Let us fast-forward to 2016. Last November, Donald Trump captured the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million. In fact, he won handily: 304-227, as seven electors “defected.” Thus, he has his “mandate,” fueled by egotism, narcissism, and paranoia. When something is reported that Trump doesn’t like, he simply screams, “fake news.” He has appointed a cabinet of billionaires unparalleled in the harsh criticism their names have evoked: a Secretary of Education who favors for-profit charter schools, a Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare who is an “insider” for big pharmaceutical interests, a head of the Environmental Protection Agency who made his career by fighting the EPA in court, and many others. We also know that Trump’s hundreds of projected judicial appointments will consistently rule for corporations over people, management over labor, and police over civilians. However, let us reflect for a moment on how this all happened.
We know that Trump won the Electoral College, and we must concede that Clinton and the Democrats ran an abysmally poor campaign. However, it is the “winner-takes-all Electoral College that decides the election. The Libertarian Party got 3.27% of the vote, which equated to zero electoral votes; the Greens (this time with Jill Stein) took 1.06%, again totaling zero.
We can speculate as to whether there was more antagonism toward Trump (from Libertarians) than Clinton (from Greens), yet chances are reasonable that Clinton might have formed a government under the parliamentarian system. Even if she could not – the Democrats and Greens had but 49.09% of the popular vote between them – any coalition formed by Trump would have been shaky to say the least, and the government might certainly have fallen. Moreover, parties that tally less than 1% generally receive no seats in parliament. In fact, in some countries, they need at least 5%.
More significantly, though, where do people stand on the “issues” – which, in the USA, is almost a moot point, since personality, slick advertising, and outright lies are far more important concerns. President Trump has declared war against science, dismissing the irrefutable arguments about climate change. Of course, he also asked the Irish government for help building a wall around his golf course at Doonberg to protect the facility from the threat of rising sea levels (source: The Guardian 17 Nov. 2016). [These, of course, will be caused as more ice melts from the Arctic and Antarctic regions!]
Let us leave aside what most U.S. citizens believe and focus instead on what most of Trump’s own supporters believe! A recent Climate Change in the American Mind survey of the latter revealed shocking statistics:
By 49% to 30%, far more believe we are experiencing global warming.
By 47% to 28%, they feel the USA should participate in the international agreement to combat climate change.
62% support regulation or taxation of carbon fuels linked to global warming, while only 21% opposed either or both measures.
Perhaps most surprisingly, more than 70% expressed strong interest in renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind, etc.).
Nevertheless, the die is cast. Trump and his cronies will “drill, baby, drill,” cram the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native American lands, ignore science, and encourage policies that have been linked to climate change.
Let us look at health care. 58% of Americans surveyed favored the single-payer (i.e., federally funded) system (source: Gallop Poll, 16 May 2016). By 58% to 37%, they also favored reproductive choice – absolutely anathema to the hard-core Republicans (source: Pew Research Center, 26 January 2017). And 61% felt that the wealthy (especially those “one-percenters”) were paying too little in taxes – again, absolutely contrary to the Trump/GOP agenda (source: Gallop Poll, 15 April 2016).
Congress will dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which already fell far below the single-payer ideal favored by the majority of the people they allegedly “represent.” Instead, our elected leaders will put in some sort of system that will make health insurance even less affordable than it is. The judges Trump appoints will all oppose abortion rights. And Congress is already poised to enact legislation that will cut taxes on the wealthy and eliminate the estate tax altogether. What sort of “representation” is this?
Here’s another interesting question. Why is it that the USA has never had a referendum initiative at the national level?
We have seen many governments fall – e.g., in France, Italy, and the United Kingdom – when the prime minister backed a referendum position that failed. On 23 June 2016, voters in the United Kingdom elected to leave the European Union, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who had opposed the “Brexit,” promptly announced his resignation.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a referendum initiative in the United States of America – one that might result in toppling an administration? Alas, that is impossible, because of our system of government.
Here is another consideration. Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 until 1990. She was never defeated by a Labor candidate at the polls, but was removed by a vote from within her own party, even though she actually topped challenger Michael Heseltine by 204 votes to 152 (with 16 abstentions). Under the rules of the Conservative Party, she needed to win by 15%. Thatcher got 13.9% more votes and might have campaigned into a second ballot and beyond, but she decided to resign. Thus, effectively, the parliamentarian system enabled the candidate’s own party to remove the person at the top of the ticket.
Let us go back to early 2008. With the imminent financial crisis (signs of which were already apparent in 2007), suppose the Republican Party had voted to remove George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and in their stead named the very popular Condoleezza Rice as president! This would have stolen the thunder from the Democrats completely. While a woman and a black man would contest the Democratic primaries that year, the Republicans would already have placed a black woman in the White House. She might well have been re-elected that November – and at the very least, she would have fared far better than the hapless ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Ah, “but the Founding Fathers said . . .” And herein lies perhaps the biggest problem faced by the American people politically. They are “married” to a document that simply doesn’t work! In fairness, the Founding Fathers – those “sainted” and “enlightened” white men who believed in slavery and did not believe women had the right to vote – were intelligent enough to see the inherent dangers within the document they had contrived. That is why our first president, George Washington, warned against “factions” (i.e., parties). Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, opined that any constitution needed to be re-written from scratch every nineteen years. James Madison, our fourth president (whom most regard as “father of the Constitution”), conceded that “factions” were probably inevitable, but expressed grave doubt that the document to which he had contributed so much could possibly withstand the advent of formal political parties. The list goes on.
Of course, at this juncture we get the legal scholars involved as well. We find different “schools of thought” – e.g., those who go strictly by the text of the Constitution, those who focus instead on the intent of what was written, and those who treat it as a “living document” and project how the writers might want to be interpreted today.
Really? Do we need all these fine “scholars” – most of whom do little more than find and distort phrases to conform with their political ideologies? I do not think so. If we write new laws, these same brilliant minds can surely find ways to interpret those instead of the ones we currently have in place.
At the end of the day, change is often, if not invariably difficult, painful, and unpleasant. Unfortunately, stasis leaves us in a hopeless position. We have seen “gerrymandering” – a process by which Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives (and which they’ll probably hold for decades) despite the fact that more people voted for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans nationwide. We have seen two presidencies (2000 and 2016) “won” by the candidate who lost the popular vote; we would have seen a third such phenomenon (2004) had John Kerry won Ohio (as exit polls clearly showed he had!). Most alarmingly, we now have an administration that is hell-bent on an agenda that the majority of Americans oppose.
Perhaps some clever wordsmith can counter everything I have written by claiming that this sort of minority rule by the wealthy is what the Founding Fathers – the slaveholders, racists, and misogynists whose policies would also result in the genocide of Native Americans – truly wanted. I really don’t care. Those worthy gentleman did not receive instructions on government from the deities of Mt. Olympus; neither was this Constitution dictated to them at Mt. Sinai. It is a document written by men, and at least as flawed as those mortals were themselves.
It is time to admit the obvious. Our “representatives” do not represent us. PERIOD. They represent those with the real power – the large banking interests, the biggest corporations, the military-industrial complex against which President Eisenhower warned us, et al. Donald Trump has simply brought the inherent weaknesses of our system into clear focus. Whether one supports him or opposes him, it should be blatantly obvious that he and his cohorts have an agenda most Americans oppose.
Let us retreat just a few years before our Constitution and review the Declaration of Independence: “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government . . . it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
Governments derive powers “from the consent of the governed” – not by a minority of the people. The people have the right “to alter or to abolish” government. It is not only “their right,” but it is also “their duty” to do so! However, we need more than just a change of government. We need a new system altogether. The parliamentarian models of Europe, for all their faults, clearly offer a far better reflection of the will of the people than this two-party “duopoly” that has produced the Trump regime. The American people should recognize the inherent weaknesses that concerned the Founding Fathers and try what most of the civilized world finds vastly superior!