American democracy is not dead, but sick

American democracy is not dead, but sick. She suffers from a lack of mental exercise and personal ossification. With the leading politicians of both parties, a retirement home could easily be opened.

Even more important than aging is the following: Intra-party competition in America no longer works. Power itself is brought about by monopoly-like structures – and only indirectly by the people. As a result, there has been a noticeable narrowing of supply. 

Why It Matters: The effectiveness of US democracy as a problem-solver is suffering just as authoritarian China begins its economic overtake.

There are four factors that have led to the deformation of democracy in the United States:

1. The cant of the White House

The American Revolution, which defined the standards for modern democracy even before the French Revolution, wanted to break with feudalism and also prevent the creation of a substitute royal house. Today, however, the White House is exactly that: It functions as a structural manifestation of power and as a backdrop for a politically charged cult of personality.

The West Wing with the Oval Office, but also the other insignia of presidential power – the Eisenhower Building for the approximately 1,800 officials of the President, his official aircraft, Air Force One, the armored 8-ton Cadillac sedan, popularly known as “The Beast “ called – provide for the constant exaggeration of a democratic leader.

The US Constitution supports this overstatement: the President is the head of state and head of government in one person. He has the right to wage war. He can trump parliament with his “executive orders”. Unlike in Europe, he also has the decisive say in interest rate policy. The US President is in charge of the world’s largest army and the world’s strongest currency, the dollar.

“We elect a king for four years,” said Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. The British historian David Cannadine also regards the American president as an “elected monarch”.

This prominent position makes it almost impossible for the Democratic Party today to unseat an unpopular, frail, and senile president like Joe Biden. The aura of the office lends a majestic glow even to the electoral loser Donald Trump, who as the 45th President of the USA would now like to become the number 47 – at least in the eyes of his supporters. His backup lock is called Mar-a-Lago.

On Thursday, however, he has to leave it to appear in federal court in Washington. Trump has been charged with election interference and complicity in the Capitol storming, it became known tonight.

2. The permanent election campaign

A US President’s re-election campaign begins on the day of his inauguration. The spokesman for the White House under Bill Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, has presented the script for the daily renewal of the power base in the standard work “The Permanent Campaign”.

Accordingly, the four years in office must be designed as a major election campaign – with a focus on operations in the so-called swing states. This includes daily opinion polls and our own team of pollsters.

Clinton pollster Dick Morris – nicknamed Tricky Dicky – conducted a confidential poll to determine the president’s vacation spot. US columnist and best-selling author Joe Klein (“Primary Colors”) says, “The pressure to dominate daily news has eclipsed any thoughtful, more statesmanlike aspects of running the government.”

All presidents strictly adhere to the stage directions of their strategists: campaign managers like Karl Rove in George W. Bush’s team or David Axelrod from Barack Obama’s entourage are usually appointed directly to senior positions in the White House after the deed is accomplished.

  • Rove served as Bush’s personal adviser and deputy White House chief of staff. He also headed the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, a covert committee for presidential re-election. With Bush’s departure, this department was dissolved again.
  • Axelrod, the inventor of the “Change and Hope” campaign, became Obama’s senior adviser based in the West Wing after the 2008 election triumph before leaving the White House again in 2011 – to direct Obama’s new campaign with greater freedom from the campaign headquarters lead.
  • Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is being led by Chávez Rodríguez, currently the White House director for federal-local government cooperation. Her previous job: campaign strategist on the Biden team.

3. The dominance of funders

The American election campaigns have become a battle of materials, in which only candidates with a three-digit million budget now have a chance. Access to the big corporations and the so-called “fat cats” of Wall Street decides the weal and woe of a campaign.

  • Donald Trump’s unsuccessful 2020 election campaign (“Keep America Great”) cost a total of 800 million dollars, 27 times the Ronald Reagan campaign of 1980 (29.4 million).
  • In the 2020 election campaign of Joe Biden (“Build Back Better”), a billion dollars were invested by his supporters. It was the most expensive election campaign of all time, financed by 150 billionaires, among others, according to Forbes research. These include the owners of the Hyatt hotel chain, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and longtime Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer.

4. Media as kingmakers

The US media have discovered politics and thus political partisanship as a business model. Almost all newspaper editorial offices call on their constituents to support a particular candidate. The New York Times and Washington Post generally supported the Democratic candidates. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post the Republicans. 

However, the majority of the donations end up with the TV stations, which, at the latest in the election campaign, have abandoned any neutrality. The political discourse is staged as a Rambo-style boxing match. CNN is campaigning for the Democratic Party candidates. Fox News, with its star moderators Sean Hannity, Jesse Watters and most recently Tucker Carlson, drummed reliably for Trump. The fairy tale of the “stolen election” was also placed here as serious news.

A journalism that offers itself to the candidates as cheerleaders has given up its independence. Of all the self-harms of American democracy, this is probably the greatest: ratings and advertising revenue are traded for credibility, particularly by the TV networks.

Conclusion: The US is the motherland of modern democracy, which is why this dysfunctionality radiates to other nations. The fixed star in the firmament of democracies has not gone out, but has begun to flicker. Or, to paraphrase Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away some time ago: “Politics is like mathematics: everything that is not quite right is wrong.”

Hank Peter

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