Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Robert Buddan | Failings of American democracy

Published:Tuesday | November 15, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Robert Buddan
Donald Trump raises his fist as he speaks during a campaign rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on the eve of the presidential elections last week. Trump will assume the presidency on January 20, 2017.
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Last week, I focused my discussion of the American elections on the Electoral College (EC). It became a key focus of electoral reform in the week after Donald Trump won the presidency while losing the popular vote. It's the fifth time this has happened.

Presidential campaigns and elections now centre on only 12 battleground states, where the EC makes the difference. The other 38 states are safe and largely ignored. California, the richest state with the most EC votes, was so strongly for the Democrats that the candidates did not bother to campaign there.

Now, there is a National Popular Vote Bill, which is law in 11 states that together have 165 EC votes and is making progress elsewhere where 95 EC votes are available. When enough states adopt the bill, a new law comes into effect for all. Each state's EC delegates will be bound to vote for the candidate with the greater popular vote across the nation. It could become law for the 2020 elections if enough states support it in time. This would effectively end the role of the EC.

The Republican Party opposes changes to the EC. It benefited in 2000 also when Bush beat Gore on the EC votes, though Gore won the popular vote. In 2012, Trump said, "The Electoral College is a disaster for democracy." Imagine!

Meanwhile, celebrity performer Lady Gaga is urging Americans to sign a petition titled 'Electoral College: Make Hillary Clinton President on December 19'. This is the date the EC will confirm the next president. The petition calls on the EC delegates to ignore the current rules, which bind them to vote for the winner of their state only. It asks them to cast their ballots instead for the winner of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton.

So far, more than two million people have signed the petition. By December 19, this could double. This won't change anything, but will make a statement.

We in the Caribbean must pay attention to what works and what doesn't. Remember that the National Democratic Movement had proposed the American model for Jamaica.

We have talked about electronic voting in Jamaica. Though a highly sophisticated system, it can be abused. Exit polls asking Americans who they voted for after they had voted showed Clinton winning in key states, but the computerised results later showed Trump as the winner. Americans wonder if the computer programmes had been rigged to change the results. This would explain the shockingly different results compared to expectations. African Americans, Hispanics, women, and young people, we are told, did not turn out enough or vote for Clinton to the extent expected. Remember, we are in an era of expert hacking, even of election data and Clinton's own emails.

 

A POWER ELITE

 

These failings of democracy let down the poor, minorities, immigrants, women, and the young, who are the worst victims of democracy. They are victims of inequality under a power elite. This is what the #NotMyPresident protests are about.

In 1956, American C. Wright Mills published an influential study titled The Power Elite. It spoke of the dangerous overlapping power of the ruling elite of top leaders in business, politics and the military.

Today, the Clintons and the Trumps are established members of this power elite. Did the Trump machinery rig the results? I wonder. Other great problems of racial voter suppression and boundary redistricting must be addressed.

Before the elections, 39 per cent of Americans 18-35 years old said Obama should just declare himself president for life rather than allow Trump or Clinton to be president. In other words, scrap democracy as Americans know it. Worse, 53 per cent said they would prefer that a meteor destroy the earth than for Trump to be president. About a third preferred the earth to be destroyed than for Clinton to be president. In other words, scrap life on earth as we know it. What a price to pay for democracy!

- Robert Buddan is a lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and robert.buddan@uwimona.edu.jm.