A belief in the paradigmatic nature of mature Western democracies is notoriously widespread. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, here in the U.S., have an ongoing election for president. Ongoing because the process whereby the two major parties first select a nominee, through primary elections in individual states, is a dog and pony show that runs for about six months starting in Iowa.
Why you might ask can they not get this primary business over with in one day like the general election. Why indeed? The states want the publicity, the money the candidates and parties spend, the TV stations profit handsomely from the ads where the candidates pillory each other in negative 30-second spots — negative because they work; people remember the dirt. As TV ads cost a lot of money, the candidates spend much of their time raising it — except of course Donald Trump, who generates his own publicity and foul-mouths his opponents personally in frequent press conferences, whereas Hillary Clinton has not held one in months. Telling that she seems afraid to face reporters in such a forum. But then there are a lot of questions she has not answered.
For example, how did she manage to convert $1000 into $100,000 in one year trading commodities as a novice — something akin to being hit by lightning many times in a year. And then with such a Midas touch, why did she abruptly stop? Novice traders usually lose their shirt in the commodities markets. This was in the lean days in Arkansas when her family income was less than half the amount she made, not the heady days now when the two Clintons have earned over $153 million in speeches since 2001.
What did she say to Goldman-Sachs in the three speeches, which we know were recorded and for which she was paid $675,000, a sum a couple of billion people in this world would not make in a lifetime? Why does she not release the transcripts?
There are good reasons why the unfavorable ratings for these two top candidates exceed 50 percent. Such are the circumstances under which a new poll of 1060 adults was conducted over May 12-15 by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (the National Opinion Research Center based at the University of Chicago).
The results are very disturbing as only 10 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the political system overall; even more worrisome, only a mere 4 percent have a great deal of confidence in Congress. The executive branch need not smile either: just 15 percent have a great deal of confidence. The figure for the Supreme Court is 24 percent, and the military is far ahead of the civilian branches at 56 percent. On the latter, Republicans and Democrats are divided: Seventy percent of Republicans but just under half of Democrats have a great deal of confidence in the military.
Only 13 percent think the two-party system works fairly well — 38 percent feel it’s seriously broken, meaning it cannot be fixed while 49 percent think it has big problems but could still work given some improvements. Seven out of 10 Americans are frustrated with the presidential election, and more than half, including majorities in both parties, describe themselves as angry and feeling helpless.
To summarize, the public has had an overwhelming loss of faith in the workings of this democracy.
The reasons are not difficult to ascertain. The foreign policies of successive administrations, particularly concerning the Middle East, have left the public feeling less safe and less secure. Moreover, the costs and obligations of the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone are estimated at $4.4 trillion by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, leading to inevitable macroeconomic effects.
On the economic front, the middle class faces wage stagnation. The statistics show negative annual income growth for the bottom 90 percent over the last twenty years. More shockingly, since the 2008 recession, the richest 1 percent saw real income growth of 34.7 percent over 2009-2012 while the bottom 99 percent had a 0.8 percent gain.
The natural result is widening inequality, and a Gini index inequality measure that is worse than some developing countries. Traced back to the Republican Party’s Reaganomics of the 1980s, introducing policies favoring owners of capital over labor, there has been no effort on the part of any successive Democratic administration to help swing the pendulum towards a more equitable regime. As a result, while income for the average household continued to match productivity gains through the 1970s, the two diverged thereafter with incomes stagnating while productivity continued to rise.
The astonishing fact of almost all income gains from 2009 – 2012 going to the top 1 percent, despite a Democratic president and initial Democratic control of both Congress and Senate, has meant that the middle and lower class has nowhere left to go. It explains much of the current attitude towards the presidential election, and it does not reflect a vibrant democracy.