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December 1, 2012

Our November election: This Isn’t What Democracy Looks Like, by Robert W. McChesney

Robert W. McChesney, professor at the University of Illinois, has written in the Monthly Review magazine (available on line) a cogent analysis of the last election in context of the U.S. economic and political system which explains in part the problems that U.S. Greens have faced in proposing an alternative vision to the American people. Excerpted below (with permission of the publisher) are three paragraphs of McChesney’s article that summarize the relationship of the corrupted political system in the U.S. to the interests of the economic elites. Readers are urged to read the full article on the Monthly Review website: http://monthlyreview.org

This Isn’t Waht Democracy Looks Like, by Robert W. McChesney, Monthly Reivew November 2012, On the brink of the 2012 presidential election, and without considering that electoral contest itself, it is useful to comment on the state of U.S. democracy. The most striking lesson from contemporary U.S. election campaigns is how vast and growing the distance is between the rhetoric and pronouncements of the politicians and pundits and the actual deepening, immense, and largely ignored problems that afflict the people of the United States. The trillion dollars spent annually on militarism and war is off-limits to public review and debate.1 Likewise the corporate control of the economy, and the government itself, gets barely a nod. Stagnation, the class structure, growing poverty, and collapsing social services are mostly a given, except for the usual meaningless drivel candidates say to get votes. The billions spent (often by billionaires) on dubious and manipulative advertisements—rivaled for idiocy only by what remains of “news” media campaign coverage—serve primarily to insult the intelligence of sentient beings. Mainstream politics seem increasingly irrelevant to the real problems the nation faces; or, perhaps more accurately, mainstream politics is a major contributing factor to the real problems the nation faces.
Depoliticization” is the term to describe this phenomenon; it means making political activity unattractive and unproductive for the bulk of the citizenry. This is, to varying degrees, an important and underappreciated issue for all democratic societies where there are pronounced economic inequalities. It moved to the fore when all the great battles over suffrage were won and there was universal adult suffrage. Scholars have pointed out that some, perhaps much, of the impetus for the creation of the field of “public relations” a century ago was to lessen popular understanding of and opposition to corporate power, and to discourage informed popular participation in politics. The idea was to “take the risk out of democracy” in a society where the majority of potential voters may not be sympathetic to the idea that government’s job was first and foremost to serve the needs of big business and the wealthy few.59 An omnipresent commercial culture that emphasizes consumption over civic values, and a lack of organized political power, go a long way toward greasing the wheels for depoliticization. Twentieth-century voting turnout among eligible adults in the United States has been low compared to much of the rest of the world and its own nineteenth-century standard. It has been a generally depoliticized society, even before Dollarocracy.

The United States of the past generation is a classic example of a depoliticized society: most people know little or nothing about politics and are estranged from it except at a superficial level. Young people are constantly reminded it is not “cool” to be political, and the point of life is to take care of number one. The evidence suggests that most people, especially working-class and poor people, have no influence over politicians and policy, so to the extent people understand their real status they will lose incentive to participate. Regardless of which party wins it seems like nothing ever changes that much, at least for the better; elections are often fought over symbolic issues only loosely related to actual policies or actual political values. It is a game played by and for elites, where tangible issues of import can be in play. But it is a spectator event for others, who are seen by the elites as objects to be manipulated. http://monthlyreview.org/2012/11/01/this-isnt-what-democracy-looks-like