The United States of America has long been thought of as the epitome of freedom and democracy. In fact, the United States loves democracy so much that it has been aggressively “sharing” it with the rest of the world. Since the time of the Cold War, to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S.A. has spread its’ “seeds of freedom” to nearly every continent on Earth. While the United States’ policy of “sharing” democracy with the rest of the world is a controversial topic for anther article, the question of whether or not the United States is itself a democracy has become an increasingly prevalent issue.
In practice “democracy” can take many different forms. While democracies may vary on whether they utilize direct, or representative systems, or how the governments are structured, the most basic factor necessary for a country to be considered any form of democracy is that every eligible citizen has an equal ability to influence policy by voting either directly on issues, or for representatives. On the surface, the United States appears to be a perfect example of a representative democracy. When you take a deeper look at how the system actually operates it becomes apparent that it is not that simple.
One of the main issues being discussed throughout the 2016 presidential debates has been the influence of money on politics. The promise of breaking free from the clutches of lobbyists, Super PAC’S, and special interest groups has been one of the biggest selling points for not only Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, but even for the as Republican front-runner Donald Trump. While it is no secret that big-money has had a corrosive effect on democracy, most people are unaware of just how large this issue really is. I could go on a day-long rant, but I believe that the chart below speaks for itself (courtesy of Journalistresource.org)
The above chart is from a 2014 study (sourced below). Unfortunately, the data does not support the notion that every eligible American citizen has an equal opportunity to influence policy decisions. In fact, it shows that economic elites tend to have nearly double the influence of the average citizen, and are consistently gaining even more influence. Now that you know the facts, decide for yourself if you think that the U.S.A. functions as a democracy, or if it may be closer to something else. By definition, an Oligarchy occurs when a small group of elites runs a country. In my opinion, the U.S. currently falls somewhere between an oligarchy, and democracy, but is unfortunately moving closer to the former. If average citizens don’t stand up for freedom and defend our democracy by speaking out and making our voices heard, then we just may have our democracy taken out right from under us.
-Contributed by F.B.
Gilens, Martin; Page, Benjamin I. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, September 2014, Vol. 12, Issue 3, 564-581. doi: 10.1017/S1537592714001595.