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  • Oren Levin-Waldman

American Democracy is Nothing More Than a Market

Those pushing for Trump’s impeachment argue that it is essential to preserve the integrity of American democracy. By placing his own interests, i.e. ensuring his reelection, over those of the nation — supposedly delivering aid to Ukraine — he has abused his power. And yet, one wonders if American democracy is really a democracy. The reality that nobody speaks about too loudly is that American democracy is really nothing more than a marketplace where respective actors pursue their self-interests.


The Framers of the Constitution rejected the idea of direct democracy along the ancient Athenian model on the grounds that it would degenerate into a mobocracy where the irrational passions of the mob would ultimately trample the rights and liberties of individuals. They specifically designed a republic with separation of powers and in which the public would be indirectly represented. They would directly elect representatives in the House and would directly elect their state legislatures who in turn would select two senators from each state. The people would elect electors in each state who in turn would select the president.


The Framers never intended for the U.S. to be a democracy. Therefore, it is humorous to hear Democrats talk about preserving our democracy, especially when they seek to undo an election through the impeachment mechanism. But this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of their blatant hypocrisy, a hypocrisy only worthy of elites who dismiss everybody else as deplorable.


Let’s talk about placing self-interest above the larger public interest. Who said that delivering weaponry to Ukraine was a matter of the larger public good and even a matter of national security? It wasn’t in the previous administration? Moreover, it is the president as commander-in-chief who defines national security interests. He is certainly within his rights to place a hold on delivery. And when has aid ever been given without some strings attached, either explicit or implicit?


The impeachment mob accuses the president of placing his electoral interests above the national interest by requesting an investigation into Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, because Biden may be the Democratic party nominee? The goal, it is alleged, is to show that Biden himself is corrupt and damage him politically But isn’t it too early to know whether Biden will even be the Democratic party nominee?


Even if an investigation was ordered, it would merely produce information that might damage his reputation, thereby swaying some to potentially vote against him. Still, how is this substantively different from standard opposition research, which is done all the time? Were the Democrats through opposition research to dig up dirt on Trump, would that not also be interfering in an election?


Nevertheless, this is really all besides the point because the impeachment mob is merely placing its own electoral interests above those of the nation. How is it in the national interest for the president to be indicted by a partisan House of Representatives to only be acquitted by an equally partisan senate? Given that the outcome is known, which is the president will not be removed, we can only conclude that Democrats are motivated to weaken him politically in order to bolster their own prospects in the next election. So aren’t they doing precisely what they accuse Trump of doing? Are they not also interfering in our democracy in order to place their self-interests above those of the nation?


Still, when we think about it, this is really child’s play. Politicians have been using the American political system to enrich themselves for years. All the candidates for the Democratic party nomination are actively engaged in purchasing votes in exchange for various programs. When they promise to forgive student loans, are they not purchasing the votes of millennials? This is not democracy; it is a naked market transaction. It is the definition of quid-pro-quo.


It isn’t just Democrats who purchase votes with programs. Republicans purchase votes with tax cuts. Both sides engage in these market transactions because the first job of any office seeker is to be elected and then to be reelected. If we return to the public choice theory of Anthony Downs, all public officials are motivated by self-interest. Those in power want to remain in power. Therefore, they will cater to the monied interests that can contribute to their campaigns. Ordinarily they will serve the interests of those with money over those of the poor. Because the poor can get anxious, public officials will purchase their quiescence with programs that provide them with money utility.


Loan forgiveness and other handouts fit that bill. And yet, Downs’s argument was only echoed by David Mayhew’s argument in The Electoral Connection published in 1974. There Mayhew argued that the first job of Congress was to get reelected, and policies and programs were only pursued as means of achieving that primary goal. If we follow this logic and apply it to our current presidential campaign, then student loan forgiveness and even Medicare for All is nothing more than an attempt to purchase votes.


What we call American democracy is nothing more than a vote plantation. Where, then, does impeachment come from? On one level, it may be an attempt to purchase the votes of a very hard core base of the Democratic party that is still angry that their candidate lost in 2016. On another level, it is an attempt to win an election by damaging the other side because “strong” economies usually mean the incumbent will be reelected.


Of course, if one doesn’t have any serious answers to those problems that truly threaten our democracy, such as it is, then by all means engage in diversion. But don’t pretend that you aren’t interfering in democracy or that you aren’t putting your own electoral interests first and foremost. Only those who truly believe that the masses are too stupid would claim that impeachment is essential to preserving our democracy. This group has neither in the past cared about democracy, nor has it had any respect for the Constitution.


If they truly believed in democracy, they would respect the will of the people. Of course Trump is unpredictable, unstable, and much of the time unpresidential. But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes opined with regards to courts overturning the will of legislative bodies, if the public wants to take the country to hell, it isn’t his job as a judge to stop them. All we are seeing in impeachment is another face of American democracy as nothing more than another market.

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