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10 Ways Our Democracy Is Crumbling Around Us

The financial rot is deeply impacting our democratic structures.

Photo Credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu


Our democracy is in grave danger. In fact, it may already be fatally wounded as a financial oligopoly increasingly dominates American politics and the economy. What’s most remarkable about this new form of oligarchy is that it has no face. There are no flesh and blood oligarchs, only unnamed investors. The big financial sharks can swim among our 401ks. They can flex their awesome power without getting fingered. They can set the entire direction of government activity without lobbying at all.

Here are 10 reasons to worry.

1. Money and Politics

Our democracy is supposedly rooted in the idea of one person, one vote. But the introduction of big money into politics distorts, and perhaps, destroys that ideal. Unlike most advanced democracies, we have failed to eliminate the destructive impacts of money on politics. The cost of our campaigns are rapidly rising. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision further accelerated this trend so that now there are virtually no limits on how much billionaires can spend on their preferred candidates.

Bankers too are getting into the act. One recent super PAC, “ Friends of Traditional Banking” is seeking races where it can “target the industry's enemies and support its friends in Congress.”

Of course the obvious result is that all candidates, regardless of party, spend most of their time begging for money, not legislating. You can’t get elected without kissing the oligarchs’ rings.

2. Voter Disenfranchisement

At the core of modern democracy is voting – we get to choose who governs us.  If that’s the case, then we should be very concerned about how the electorate is being dismantled. Let’s start with the fact that if you’re a felon, you may not be permitted to vote at all. Since we have the largest prison population in the world, we also have more than 5 million disenfranchised felons, and former-felons. (The voting rules vary by state.) 

Equally telling is the tidal wave of new voting laws sweeping through state legislatures.  According to a recent report from NYU’s  Brennan Center for Justice, “More than 5 million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year — a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.” These new restrictions include tougher laws requiring photo IDs, proof of citizenship, removal of early and absentee voting, and making it harder to restore voting rights after criminal convictions.

The rapid spread of these nearly identical disenfranchise efforts is not accidental. They come directly from the  American Legislative Exchange Council, which the New York Times reorts is “a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures.” The oligarchs funding this effort include American Nuclear Energy Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Chlorine Chemistry Council, Union Pacific Railroad, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Waste Management, Philip Morris Management Corporation, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. ( http://www.alecwatch.org/chapterone.html)

Perhaps the most pernicious efforts involve state legislation to discourage voter registration. (You would think that in a democracy we would do everything possible to register voters and to encourage them to vote.) Take Florida for example. The New York Times  reports how the state has basically eliminated voter registration drives.

“The state’s new elections law — which requires groups that register voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, among other things — has led the state’s  League of Women Voters to halt its efforts this year.  Rock the Vote, a national organization that encourages young people to vote, began an effort last week to register high school students around the nation — but not in Florida, over fears that teachers could face fines. And on college campuses, the once-ubiquitous folding tables piled high with voter registration forms are now a rarer sight.

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