What’s the Biggest Threat to American Democracy?

Source: Common Dreams

We sure hear a lot today about external threats to our democracy, whether it’s Russia’s election “meddling” or North Korea’s nuclear expansion. But a home-bred threat might run deeper still.

Consider this. More than a third of Americans polled by the finance company LendEdu say they’d forfeit the right to vote in exchange for a 10 percent raise. Whoa…I had long assumed that such a sad choice would be tempting only in the poorest societies.

Learning that so many Americans would trade their voice for bucks could help wake us up to one simple truth: Political democracy, i.e. elected government answering to the people, is always vulnerable when citizens feel economically powerless. Put another way, political democracy without citizens’ economic empowerment can’t endure.

By “economic empowerment” I mean two things.

First, when casting a vote, we feel confident we can choose representatives who will pursue public policies protecting us, and that includes guarding us from exploitative wages as well as shady corporate practices, including those costing millions of us our jobs and savings in the 2008 Wall Street debacle.

Second, “economic empowerment” is what some of us experience first-hand in workplaces protected by a union, for example, or in the thousands of US cooperatives, such as Ace Hardware, or in the 2,500 firms American incorporated as “B corporations” whose charters commit a firm to considering workers’ well-being, among other social goods.

Yet on Election Day 2016 many voters—likely feeling neither form of economic empowerment—settled for a “strongman” who promised protection but, as we have now seen, lacked commitment to the rules and norms of democracy required to secure our interests.

If indeed many voted out of a sense of desperation, it’s easy to understand.

Workers’ wages have barely budged in almost half a century and poverty is so deep that half our newborns depend on public aid to eat. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared sixteen-fold. So, while there’s vast evidence that our money-driven politics along with voter manipulation help to explain the 2016 election, our rigged economy, denying most Americans a voice in their economic well-being, also helped give Trump an edge.

Bottom line: Political democracy is forever in danger absent an understanding of what democracy requires well beyond politics.

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