Demos Kratos, in the original Classical Athenian dialect, translates into our modern English as The Sovereign Hand of the People. The Sovereign Hand of the People is conceived as something by the people, for the people, and of the people-- it is democracy. It was the demes united, and for the most part each deme had a population relatively equal to the next. Each deme was represented equally in Pan-Athenian councils, and each male of middle or older age who was a land-owning citizen represented himself in the assemblies upon Pynx Hill. Democracy evolves with time. In our time, in our America, we have a government that includes the votes of women and non-landowners, which are advancements the Greeks lived without. But in one serious and terrible way our own government is not as democratic as the Athenian government of so many centuries gone by.
This paper's argument can be summed up in a single dilemma: The individual person, the human being, should be the base unit of democratic government. In today's America this one condition of democracy has yet to be met. The U.S. Senate and the Electoral College fundamentally and institutionally prevent the individual human being from being the base unit of American democracy.
More than 37,000,000 people live in the State of California. The State of Wyoming has hardly more than 500,000 residents. In the U.S. Senate, both of these states have only two representatives each. A single Senator from California represents roughly 18,500,000 individuals. A single Senator from Wyoming represents almost 300,000 individuals. In basic democratic theory every individual's voice is meant to be as powerful as any other individual voice. In America, such a basic concept remains a far-off dream.
A citizen of Wyoming is more privileged than a citizen of California. The Wyoming citizen's voice has more than 55x the power of the California citizen's voice when considering Senate representation. The Wyoming citizen is 55x more likely to be heard. The Wyoming citizen's opinion on any given political matter carries 55x the weight of a Californian opinion. It would, if we consider this theoretically, require fifty-five Californians advocating a certain stance to match the power of one single individual from Wyoming advocating a different stance. This disgusting imbalance of power dynamics creates not a healthy democracy, but a misrepresentative "republic" that accordingly passes laws that are not representative of the public will or the public good.
The Senate was created in a time of turmoil. It was a tool to bring together a set of separate states each on the verge of establishing their own sovereignty. Our colonies were united by a common self-identity and, more than anything else, by their common Revolution. The Senate was an institution intended to keep the newly independent states together in a confederated network of government in the post-revolutionary world. In 1790, the Senate was necessary. In 1865, the Senate was necessary. When the states were closer to independent tribes than to one common nation, it was necessary.
We are now a single nation, and there remains no valid reason why we have not established for ourselves a more valid democracy.
Majority opinion is repressed in America through the institution of the Senate in the manner described above. It is also repressed through the institution of the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is a tool of oligarchy. It does not enable democracy, it prohibits it, obscures it, invalidates it. In 2000 Al Gore won the presidential race by more than 50,000 votes. But George Bush, Jr. became our president despite having lost the election. The people made the decision that they wanted Al Gore to lead our country-- the vote was not even debatably close. But we do not live in a democracy. Our popularly elected officials are not, as it turns out, always elected.
The current institutions were created for several valid historical reasons. All of these reasons are outdated and have become invalid. There remains no use for the archaic remains of our outdated government structure. The "democracy" that we now inherit from our ancestors and pass down to our children is the oldest static "democratic" government in the world. It remains provincial, outdated, and in need of radical structural reform. Our Constitution is the oldest because other nations have the common sense to adapt to the times and to evolve into a higher state. We, likewise, must evolve.
These are but two very tangible institutions among a very lost list of things that prohibit our government from becoming an actual democracy. The next challenges are more complex and not as simple to address.
The structural security of the two-party system stifles important debates and sweeps important issues under the rug when the two parties decide they would rather not discuss those issues. The reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the reality of Pakistani domestic politics, the reality of our own domestic economy and the sacrifices that are necessary to revive it, the reality of international commercial policy and how it relates to domestic subsidy policies-- all of these issues are largely ignored. The fundamental flaws which are the U.S. Senate and Electoral College are also glossed over, as both Democrats and Republicans rely on these flawed institutions to maintain power. As as long as both parties in an exclusively two-party state deem it unnecessary to discuss any of these issues, none of them will be addressed.
As it is, no third party can challenge the two-party state. State political party registration requirements differ so much between the states, and are at times so arbitrary, that for a party to be registered in every state in the union is essentially impossible. Widespread American apathy further inhibits the possibility of third party emergence by not providing the avenues necessary for structural change in party registration. A political monopoly has been established in this country, in which change generally comes slowly and in small increments even when immediate and fundamental structural reform is more prudent.
The lack of political knowledge of many Americans means that even if America were to become a legitimate democracy, it would be an unhealthy one. The apparent inability of news channels to educate the public means that very active and engaging steps would need to be taken were America to attempt to become both a legitimate and a healthy democracy. This means helping citizen journalism groups secure funding, helping NPOs or other under-funded but popular interest groups with publicity, and leveling the playing field in regards to lobbyists and insider professionals. Limits on lobbyists that reflect the number of individuals committed to an effort rather than how much cash an effort can offer up would be ideal. Interest group strength should reflect number of people, not number of dollars.
In our mainstream news, opinions, assumptions, misgivings, or outright lies are often accepted as facts at face value. Censorship is not the answer. Open honesty is the answer. TV media especially need to specify when they are speaking in terms of opinion and when they are speaking in terms of fact. Fact-checking services, several of which have already been independently established, should be given more attention by the government and by the public. When a news outlet is incorrect or has outright lied to the American people that outlet should be made to apologize publicly and to set the record straight. Allowing opinionated news stories into our mainstream has polarized American citizens from one end to the other and has made obtaining cold, hard facts a difficult task.
Those are more amorphous and ambiguous challenges which this paper should only begin to call into question. Serious policy discussion on how to address those two problems, and of how to abolish or radically reform the Electoral College and U.S. Senate, needs to take place in a public forum accessible to all. That is, after all, what democracy should be about.
Our nation is blessed with stability. There is no popular call for revolution, and even if there were the preconditions necessary for revolution do not exist in this country, so such a call would be doomed to fail. There is no widespread violence, no states warring against one another, no city calling for the invasion of another city, etc. The majority of Americans do not experience physical violence or worry for their lives on a daily or even on a weekly basis. Our Senate, our Electoral College, and our other misrepresentative institutions are relics of an age when this stability was not yet secured. They recall an 18th-century form of government and have changed little over the years, despite great obstacles overcome in the past decades regarding civil rights. The time to remove these relics and to replace them with more modern, democratic, and enduring structures is now.
A rough plan of how to encourage legitimate democracy is outlined below. These are crude and unreformed ideas intended to stimulate discussion, and this paper's primary function is to raise questions and encourage critical thought and debate, with the answers in this paper delivered as a starting point for that debate:
+ Abolish the Electoral College and begin direct election for the President
+ Abolish the Senate and allow for each individual's voice to be equal in strength by channeling legislative power into the House
+ Standardize party registration and fundraising requirements under federal law and prohibit individual states from changing, obscuring, or manipulating this standardization. This will allow for a more natural process of party life and party evolution.
+ Prohibit news-giving and media organizations from obscuring or using news in an exclusive and biased way for the purpose of furthering a given political agenda unless that information is presented in a form similar to the "op-ed" article style, in which case the organization must explicitly state that the material presented is opinion rather than fact. Logical or rhetorical fallacies intended to deceive the public should be suitable material for media watchdogs.
These may sound like serious or radical reforms, and they are. Our situation requires it. It should not be the case that because a citizen moves from one state to another they must forfeit their political power. It should not be the case that the voice of one individual citizen is stronger on one side of a state border than the other. Each American should be equal to each other American-- that is an idea we all identify with, but a reality we live without.