‘Representative’ democracy? You have to be kidding!

‘The American people are trying to figure out how something can have 90% support, and yet not happen’ said President Barack Obama on Thursday, as a measure to expand background checks for gun-buyers was rejected by ‘representatives of the people’.

I would suggest, in disagreement with President Obama, that on the contrary: most Americans are thoroughly familiar with the reality of their democracy. Representatives don’t represent citizens, they represent power. If ‘the people’ aren’t aware, they should be: it is over a hundred years since Woodrow Wilson wrote the following, in his book The New Freedom:

“Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the biggest stake,—the big bankers, the big manufacturers, the big masters of commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of steamship corporations. I have no objection to these men being consulted, because they also, though they do not themselves seem to admit it, are part of the people of the United States. But I do very seriously object to these gentlemen being chiefly consulted, and particularly to their being exclusively consulted, for, if the government of the United States is to do the right thing by the people of the United States, it has got to do it directly and not through the intermediation of these gentlemen. Every time it has come to a critical question these gentlemen have been yielded to, and their demands have been treated as the demands that should be followed as a matter of course.

“The government of the United States at present is a foster-child of the special interests. It is not allowed to have a will of its own. It is told at every move: “Don’t do that; you will interfere with our prosperity.” And when we ask, “Where is our prosperity lodged?” a certain group of gentlemen say, “With us.”‘

Things have only got worse since then. What is this strange pretence, ‘representative’ democracy? Once they got rid of English domination, Americans had a perfectly good democracy to build on: the town council system of New England, praised by a swathe of historical ‘greats’: Jefferson, Tocqueville, Maitland, Hannah Arendt… but they let it languish. Well, it could still be built upon, if enough people wanted to…

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