The decline of American Democracy

Few days ago, the world watched the duel between Barak Obama and Mitt Romney. Who will win, people asked themselves? The “black Muslim Socialist”, as Obama was often decried by his adversaries, or the “white Mormon capitalist”, as Romney was often depicted by his detractors? Black vs. white? Modest origins vs. rich upbringing? Democrats vs. Republicans? Intellectual vs. popular education? Regardless of which sides we were supporting, the two men represented the divide of the worn out American society. They became, willingly or unwillingly, icons of their respective camps.

About three centuries after the end of the American civil war, the USA has not been divided as never before. By saying so I am not trying to raise the specter of a new civil war. However, these recent elections showed to the world two distinct Americas: the old, rich, white, conservative America, and the young, poor, multiethnic, liberal America. And as if the last hurricane Sandy wanted to prove the existence of this rift: the last few cosmetics that were covering the scars of America fell down. The hospitals that were out of hydro in the heart of New York, the long lines of people waiting for gas, the flooding of the subway stations…Classical pictures that used to inundate our TV screens from the poor countries devastated by natural catastrophes are now a sad reality for many Americans.

But the decline of the American democracy didn’t start with Hurricane Sandy or with the elections’ gaffes made by some aspiring politicians. When I hear of the astronomical 6 billion  dollars spent on this last US election, I can’t stop thinking about how many hungry children this amount could have fed? How many water wells this amount could have dug in Africa? How many poor Americans this amount could have sent to college?

Democracy became a business with “shareholders”, “dividends” and “profits” with powerful lobby groups collecting all the “dividends”, and the big fund purveyors of Wall Street and Hollywood acting as the actual shareholders.  In his powerful book “Democracy Incorporated”, Sheldon Wolin dresses a meticulous portrait of this new type of managed democracy that becomes so close to totalitarianism. Wolin’s theory isn’t extravagant or simply superfluous. After all, Barak Obama, despite all his promises and eloquent speeches, defended the Bush era by preserving all of its controversial policies: Guantanamo camp is still open and last year Obama granted a final immunity to CIA torturers. Glenn Greenwald,  the author of many bestsellers among such as “With Liberty and Justice for Some”, wrote extensively about the two-tier legal system in the US where the rich can get away with the law while the same law can be used to incarcerate thousands of ordinary and usually poor Americans.

When the economy is healthy, all social discrepancies and inequalities are smoothed with good salaries. Unfortunately, it is at times of financial distress like the ones we have been witnessing for the past two years that the cruel reality catches millions of Americans, especially those who have had hard time to pay their health care bills and mortgages.

Can the declining American democracy reverse its fate and show us, we skeptical observers, that it can still produce miracles? I highly doubt it. Even Wall Street boys seem to doubt this rebound. A day after Obama’s victory, the capital markets opened with some grim perspectives for the short term horizon. The divide inside America goes beyond the deeply reflected shadows in Washington. With a democrat president and a majority of republican senators, the economy can’t budge. The upcoming “fiscal cliff” , translated with high taxes and low spending cuts, can be potentially fatal not only for America but also for one of its closest economic partner, the northern neighbor that Americans call Canada.


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