Democracy is a system of oppression run by popular consent; its enabler, the electoral politics, is a spectator sport; the select audience for the rituals is retained through appeals, and the voting is an exercise of Hobson’s Choice.
And yet such a system has unprecedented approval ratings, because in the Gramscian sense, democracy has become “the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.”
Even when Abraham Lincoln extolled its virtues, democracy was merely serving the ruling class. A government then was certainly of the people, by the people, for the people, but what Lincoln failed to address at Gettysburg was that the democracy carried out in the name of people did not include women or slaves. And today, 150 years later, the most extravagant democracy in the world being heralded in the name of people continues to exclude millions of working class members and invisibly incarcerated citizens. In fact, the hypocrisy of American democracy is more apparent today than ever before, for in a country territorially marked by immigrants and an economy founded upon slave labor, millions of new immigrants are being declared aliens and more native workers find themselves homeless.
And yet, democracy as a system of oppression needs to run exactly this course to validate its status quo. More people need to be kept disempowered, if not disenfranchised. Even as popular participation in voting ceremonies have increased in numbers, they must continue to dwindle in their intrinsic values. Even as multiple political parties are encouraged in western democracies, the reliance upon a couple of major monopolistic units must remain pervasive. In the United States therefore, more voters are being wooed poll after poll, but their imaginations are bound by two-party systemic limits. In the cloak of free speech, self-censorship is joyously observed by corporate media that cover only the national conventions of the Democrats and Republicans. Just as in Britain the tournament is run between the Labor and the Tories. History can repeat itself as a farce the second time itself, but independent of its lessons, democracy thrives on farcical representations of hope and change innumerably.
When rest of the world is gearing up – voluntarily and forcibly – to adopt American democratic norms, American democracy is itself in peril. The popular consent for the system is manufactured and imposed by the ruling class monopolists who must either be the phony liberal-Democrats or the fanatic conservative-Republicans. The Green Party must be ignored, the Communists criminalized and the independent ones ridiculed. Consequently, none but the top honchos of electoral arena get publicized by the media, and the political battlefield remains the sole proprietorship of the networked old boys since the inception of democracy itself.
But the old boys are ideologically opposed and hence, there is a clear choice, the honchos assure. They even succeed, to the extent that American citizens enroll themselves as organically Democrats or Republicans losing no moment to declare how consistently contrasted are their respective ideologies and how bitterly opposed are they to each other. After all, what good is a spectator sport without proclamations of cut-throat rivalries! In the current season of such dramatic rerun, Obama and Romney “camps” field each other as their respective nemesis, they project their political positions as such diametrically opposite and their mutually shared scopes such unmistakably exhaustive that there is no space for a third force to legitimately claim an alternative to such legendary contraries.
Legendary they must be, because only legends and myths foster the merits of electoral democracies. A critical assessment of their actual positions usually demystifies the reality show. Back in 1956, when W. E. B. Du Bois refused to register as a voter, he laid bare the truth about the American fixation with this illusive democracy based on make-believe contrasts: “Democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say…If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he/she may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by ‘force and violence’. Anything advocated by way of significant reform will be called ‘Communist’ and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing job, surrendering social status and perhaps landing in jail.”
With both Republicans and Democrats enthusiastically distancing themselves from any communistic ideals, and understandably so, American democracy continues to remain the domain of one evil party with two names. Every election season is an attempt to lull people into one or another version of American Dream – quintessentially a feel-good packaging of gratuitous freedom. A sense of freedom that is premised upon the capitalistic ingenuity that education is best attained with student loans, healthcare is best provided by feeding the insurance giants, that submitting to private banks for entitlement to housing is a desirable privilege, that token race representations imply societal equality, among various other anomalies.
Voting as a farcical exercise of popular mandate ensures that the crisis engulfing so-called civilized societies remain just the same. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans agree that it is the role of the government to ensure free healthcare, free education, free housing and guaranteed jobs. After all, a society becomes prosperous when its members are healthy, educated, sheltered and employed. If the goal is for societal progress, such aims are basic starters. And yet rarely are such thoughts entertained within the public or the profit sphere, never are these debated issues during the elections. The only oppositional voices that are entertained within modern democracies are those that engage in partisan debates, not progressive movements, and the only challenges that are allowed to exist appear in the form of disorganized, unorganized and anarchic permits for concessional freedom.
Electoral exhibitionism is a direct consequence of big business that pumps billions of dollars into this sector and the public interests are secured through gullible donations, malicious advertisements and pretentious accusations. Allegiances are reiterated towards state, religion, and an addictive mix of the two. FDR, Lincoln and Kennedy are bounced back and forth; founding fathers are recalled with awe. Positive vibes are weaved through slogans for justice, liberty and war, and with specific omissions of peace, land and bread. Militarism is eulogized and global peace doesn’t feature even in rhetorics. Colacracy continues amidst healthy rivalries between blue and the red sugar syrups. Also constant is this euphoria that lasts for a year almost equivalent to the excitement around a new blockbuster, a getting thinner formula, and the latest iPhone. What follows are next two years of depression, and a final year of anticipation until the next knockout round.
Such observations would be comic and trivial, if they were not tragically curtailing one more imagination that marks the social justice landscape. Voting is prescribed across board as the only means to bring about changes. Citizens are made convinced that if the world is an unjust place, if the socioeconomic welfare is in danger, then the only way to bring about change is through casting one’s vote. People are reminded of the great sacrifices our ancestors have made just to make universal suffrage system a reality.
Well, the truth, as disconcerting as ever, is quite the contrary. Progressive changes in society have not been made through voting and cooperation with the systemic processes; rather through studied and organized – nonviolent and violent – protests against the very fabric of an unjust world order sustained through voting mechanisms. As a result, social justice movements worldwide, including in America, have not looked at electoral politics as a weapon. They have revolted against the fanciful journeys to a sacrosanct White House, for they primarily oppose the very contest that is won through big money, false promises and by fooling most of the people, all of the time.
This year as the elections unfold, majority of Americans will continue to be fooled by the democratic virtues once again. And Malcolm X will brim with relevance with his words warning the democratically bemused: “Any time you throw your weight behind a political party that controls two-thirds of the government and that party can’t keep the promise that it made to you during election time, and you’re dumb enough to walk around continuing to identifying yourself with that party…aw, I say, you been misled. You been had. You been took.”
This year, majority of Americans will once again be taken. Voting will once again prevail over the voters.
Saswat Pattanayak, 2012
(Written for Kindle Magazine).