“The Death of American Democracy” is like an old headline that nobody bothered to read. The writers of the Constitution are surely spiraling in their mausoleums, as the present day practitioners of the political arts in this country are not, most assuredly, what the founders had in mind as their legacy. In the off-chance that no one has noticed, the American democracy is broken and has been limping for decades. It has been broken for so long we simply do not take notice anymore.
As an administrative bureaucracy, our Federal Government is operating at nearly a trillion dollars in debt, most of which is held by foreign governments. The legislative branch of government spends all its time blocking the initiatives of the opposite party so as a result nothing of any significance ever is passed into law that is not subsequently voted down by the opposing party. The Judicial branch of government continues to reflect the wind direction based on which political party currently controls the Executive branch. Instead of striving toward a synthesis of views that would require compromises by some yet would yield satisfaction to most, we watch helplessly as our government skillfully avoids the middle ground where progress is allowed to flourish. This monotonous and senseless dance polarizes our nation needlessly and fails consistently to achieve good for the many, which is its sole charter of being.
A Little Bit of History
Political philosophers have routinely warned of the inefficiencies and biases characteristic of governments controlled either by the military or by the merchant class. To this point, the American system of government has taken democratic political science to a new level, boasting proudly of a military-industrial complex so powerful and influential that we are assured that we will always possess the finest weaponry on the planet, and simultaneously ensuring that the American industrialist class will always remain wealthy and connected. And heaven forbid, even if there are no worthy wars to wage, the powers-that-be will find suitable unworthy wars to fight, thereby ensuring our continued economic and political support for industrial supply and military demand. American democracy has, by this not-so-subtle coup d’état, been transformed by the US military command and the US merchant elite into what can only be defined as the Elite Ruling Class. The main problem with this development is that the priorities of the military and of the rich are not the priorities of the people that depend on their government to fulfill the promises made in the American Constitution. As a result of having a ruling class populated by rich military-industrialists, we the people (~95% of the US population) have only representation in government that has the power and intention of perpetuating the status quo.
The salient point of this ongoing failure of the largest democratic republic system ever is that it was never destined to work in the first place. We all should have appreciation for the efforts of the founding fathers as they honestly believed that they were doing the right thing in the wake of their own experience with corrupted European aristocracies. They had every cause to fear a government founded on hereditary aristocracy as it has certainly proven without dispute that political corruption will rise to the intellectual deficiencies of its membership. If only the American revolutionaries had only taken the time to do their history and had researched the political thoughts of Post-Enlightenment European philosophers who were undoubtedly hereditary aristocracy’s harshest critics, the birth of American government might have gone in a more politically aware direction.
Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Spinoza, all of whom could have made persuasive, cogent arguments for the reshaping of aristocracy, for the kind of aristocracy that the Greek philosopher Plato had first advocated around 380 CE in his timeless classic entitled The Republic. But of all the voices that carried the strongest hope of political reason forward, Friedrich Nietzsche was the most vocal and compelling, Unfortunately, he was also the most radical voice of his era and not born until 1844, a century or so too late to be of assistance in the 1770’s when the United States of America was being born. Softer and less polemic was George Santayana’s astute observations and the recommendation of “Timocracy”, the call for an elite aristocracy echoing Plato, a government by men of skill and integrity, chosen for duty irrespective of their social pedigree. Such an approach was sadly ignored by America’s midwives, which is truly a pity, as US politics have become the free world’s poster child for upscale corruption and ineptitude.
An American Story
It did not start out that way, nor was it ever intended to regress into such incompetence. The men who founded this country were borne of aristocracy, but of a different kind of which we speak. They were a confederacy of exceptional men with visions of a government that would ensure personal freedoms not least of which was the freedom from religious and political oppression by those in power, and for a brief moment in history, it worked. Driven by their justifiable fear of the corruption of power they had so clearly known in Europe, they instituted prescriptive measures to prevent the entrenched of power, but in doing so also inadvertently prevented the emergence of greatness and assured the dominance of mediocrity. It seemed intuitive to them as dangerous to allow individuals to remain in positions of power over extended periods lest those individuals permit the impunity of their position to cloud their judgements and come to be influenced by corruptible elements. Their opinions on this matter had been formed with intensity as they had witnessed first-hand the undesirable effects that bribery, collusion, and other perversions of ethics had produced.
By instituting limited terms of elected office, they believed the opportunities for corruptive influences to advance would be limited, thereby protecting the political system from the individuals charged with its administration by limiting the influence of special interests and the undue will of the wealthy. The unintended consequences resulting from the limitation of elected terms of office were that the best men for these positons were soon disillusioned and spit back into the private sector only to be replaced by other lesser men. This is the theory of evolution in reverse. By forcing elected leaders to be re-elected every few years, it ensured that those who wished to be re-elected would spend far more effort during their term of office planning their re-election than doing anything of worth for the people they were supposed to be representing. The rules of the game became rigged in such a way that precluded the electorate from obtaining any benefit from those elected. As a result of a de-humanizing and grueling election process, the best and brightest people soon disappear from the political stage, only to be replaced by people of lesser talent and competency, until the quality of the pipeline is forever compromised by weakness.
Making the democratic election process even more politically debilitating is the process by which elected office holders are to be re-affirmed has dissolved into nothing more than a contest of who can waste the most money by publically insulting their opponents in a non-stop blitzkrieg of negative campaign ads. Artfully crafted to fall just millimeters shy of the legal threshold for slander and libel, these “mud-slinging” contests are defamation by confusion, escalating dramatically as each election draws nearer to declaring a survivor. They are designed to discredit opposing candidates by insinuation, shock, and fear: Insinuation of evils perpetrated, shock by assassination of character, and fear of what will happen to us all should such a soulless Mephistopheles become elected. But a graver consequence is the injustice foisted on the electorate public, hopelessly inundated with factualized fictions and fictionalized facts, subjected to barrages of criticisms which defy validation, and subjected to information with the coherence and clarity level found in one of those infinite unsuccessful attempts at writing a Shakespearean play by one of those infinite monkeys.
Where did it all go so wrong?
It may be true that people originally enter politics for noble or philanthropic reasons but nobody can survive on altruism alone in this poorly conceived game of thrones. Given the gloomy state of affairs of US politics today what person of integrity and vision would voluntarily wish to subject themselves to such an unpromising endeavor? It is no wonder then that the best and brightest are most often to be found in private industry and commerce where vision and integrity are valued commodities and where people advance more often by merit than by transgression.
The grueling circumstances of the political arena beg the question of what type of person is willing and capable of enduring such onerous conditions of employment? Based on simple observation of office holders, we can make some generalizations, none of which stirs confidence. The people we see most in positions of political authority seem to fit a type: Forceful, egotistical, opinionated, proud, vain, loud, devious, self-serving, and unable to form intelligible, straightforward statements or to provide cogent, direct answers to cogent, direct questions. Every statement of the American politician is crafted toward enhancement of its value in support of election, or re-election. This is a systemic problem created by the rules of engagement set by the founders of our political system. When you create a game that encourages bending of the rules and provides a reward system that encourages coloring outside the lines, what you get are individuals that view cheating as an acceptable way to win. This renders the game treacherous and of distinct advantage to those endeared to corruption, a game that is unacceptable to those of integrity, and one where the best and brightest refuse to play.
No More Elections?
A potential answer to this question is the unlikely synthesis of the insightful logic of Plato and the energetic rantings of Nietzsche. By combining the fundamentals of the two diverse political philosophies, we would create an Aristocracy of the Elite, to be selected by a strict criteria of intellect, temperament and integrity forming a dynamically evolving body politic enabled to stand the test of time and to become the vehicle by which mankind transcends to the next stage of its development. The structure of this new aristocracy would be assembled with the brightest and most visionary minds available, educated, and refined by the most learned of our educators and sagest of our political leaders and elders to ensure that each generation of administration and diplomacy becomes progressively sophisticated and wiser in the management of our world. Each member of the government would be specially trained and educated for a position they would hold until such time as they were ready to advance to a higher position. Following the Aristotelian model, formal political education would occur beginning with the completion of high school through age 30 when they would begin political apprenticeship until the age of 50 when they would finally be educated and experienced sufficiently to govern with a compensation commensurate with their status. In all cases, financial security would be guaranteed as the reward for their service to the country and to the world. And best of all, no more damned elections! Before anyone objects too loudly or strenuously to this proposal, one should look at the current compensation packages being provided to US Senators and Supreme Court Justices.
Who would not gladly relinquish the “privilege” of voting in exchange for the surety of righteousness and security? Do we not now vote for the lesser clown to lead us? Why have we chosen so readily to settle for so much less quality in our leadership than we demand from our automobiles? Are not decisions on global warming, nuclear proliferation, health care, world hunger and the like of greater consequence than how well our kitchen appliances are manufactured? Why have our priorities become such irrelevancies? The only completely truthful answer to that question is that we have become smart enough to realize the hopelessness of the situation but not smart enough to do anything about it.
A Vision for Tomorrow
One glance at the prospects for the next presidential election removes all hope for the future. America is slowly dying incrementally by election years. In between elections, we blissfully ignore the horror, hoping upon hope that something meaningful will actually be accomplished, but just when we manage to anesthetize ourselves to the inanity, there it is again being rubbed in our face along with the same hollow message that we, the voters, can make a difference. The two-party democracy we currently enjoy ensures that as time passes more and more dead weight will be added in futile attempts to fix wide-spread systemic problems that added bureaucracy can only aggravate, and inevitably will become less and less able to provide even the most basic of services to those that foot the bill. When, at last it will be unable to support its own weight, finally and spectacularly collapsing from a massive shortage of revenue.
Alas, the valiant efforts of the Constitutional Congress would have turned out so differently had we looked to Plato and Nietzsche instead of Washington and Jefferson.
The foregoing may seem a radical departure from the political system currently in service but is it really? Do we not insist that our surgeons achieve and maintain the highest level of skills? But what type of qualifications to we require of our elected leadership? What is being suggested here is a much more efficient manner of finding, training and educating our leaders which will systemically guarantee that the highest qualified individuals wind up governing the country. The only tradeoff to instituting such a process would be avoidance of the evaluation and selection process yourself. Or do you really believe your vote still counts?
 Full acknowledgement is given that many if not most of the founding fathers were slave owners, but this in no way alters the fact that they were collectively exceptional men with vision. On the issue of slavery, they were clearly wrong and are responsible for much human suffering as a result. Subsequent leadership of this country has managed to amend the many iniquities in our Constitution that allowed numerous minorities to suffer from legal constraints of personal freedoms, but unfortunately, the negative heritage of discrimination and bigotry remain.