Checks and Balances

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The last four years have thrown the inadequacies of what Americans are happy to call ‘democracy’ into stark relief. Like many, I’ve been watching aghast as the country’s fabled political arrangement of ‘checks and balances’ turns out to be nothing but a pious hope.

In America, if a president wants to enrich themselves and their family at the taxpayers’ expense, they can. If a president wants to receive bungs and bribes from foreign powers, they can. If a president wants to murder people, they can. An American president can do all these things because there is nothing to stop them.

I know the theory – the legislature and the judiciary are in place to hold a president to account. However, as events over the last year have amply demonstrated, the theory doesn’t work in practice. When Trump was impeached by the House for being an all round shitbag, his fellow gang members in the Republican-dominated Senate simply ignored the evidence and declared the president innocent of all charges. What check? What balance?

The judiciary, meanwhile, is being packed with the criminal president’s cronies and the so-called ‘Justice’ Department is run by the Gangster in Chief’s consigliere. Whistleblowers are sanctioned and toadies are given sinecures. We’ve seen this before. Hail to the Führer.

A big part of the problem, I believe, lies in America’s voting system. This is not the place to get into the history of the Electoral College but suffice it to say this archaic institution was put in place by America’s founders as a sort of break on democracy (which was not generally well thought of at the time). In the 18th century, plutocrats like Washington and Jefferson had a dim view of the rabble and while they espoused ‘democracy’ they were not keen to see power spread outside their circle of privilege. (Today’s plutocrats feel much the same way.) Over time, of course, voting rights and practices have been reformed and the franchise extended to people the Founding Fathers never imagined being worthy of a vote (for example, women and, shock, horror, black people).

Think of an election as being like a set of scales. One pan receives the votes of candidate A, while the other receives the votes of candidate B. The scale then indicates which pan holds the most votes. Not complicated. The problem with America’s electoral system is that the scales are rigged.

The consequence of this is that the ‘left’ in America must always overcome the built-in bias of the system. It obliges left-of-centre candidates to tailor their programs to attract those magical centrist voters who are decisive in America’s first-past-the-post elections. The right doesn’t have this difficulty – they can be as rightwing as they like. Thus, bizarrely enough, the current neo-Nazi POTUS is in power despite the fact that he ‘won’ the 2016 presidential election with nearly three million fewer votes than his opponent. This is flat out crooked.

Imagine if I were a market trader selling fruit and veg and that my scales were fixed to show the weight of the apples at twice their real value. What would happen to me? Simple. Customers would spot the scam and call the cops and quite right too.

Naturally, I’ve read the complicated excuses for the electoral system in America but I’m not convinced. With state’s weighted voting, the Electoral College, widespread gerrymandering and voter suppression the American system is seriously encumbered to the clear advantage of the conservative minority.

Sorry, folks, you cannot call America a democracy, until such time as the country holds true to the basic democratic principle of one citizen, one vote and every vote counted. That day will not be soon in coming.