The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy”
It’s time to stop calling the U.S. a democracy not only because there is insufficient evidence for it but also because failure to challenge the Big Lie perpetuates the core problem it seeks to obscure. There is abundant evidence the U.S. is an oligarchy or, perhaps more accurately, a plutocracy.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — Joseph Goebbels
School teachers who told us about Hitler also taught us that the U.S.A. was a “democracy” and perhaps in 1975 it was still true, but any reporter who continues to refer to the U.S. as a democracy today, without qualifying the term, is committing journalistic malpractice. Sadly, the Big Lie is buried among so many others it tends to go unnoticed.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit democracy index 2020, the U.S. is a “flawed democracy” but it would be more accurate to call it a “pseudo-democracy” or a “former democracy” particularly at the federal level, because there are serious weaknesses in the way this index is measured. The methodology is not transparent, relies largely on “experts’ assessments” and the survey used ignores the crucial question of whether the average voters’ preferences are actually reflected in public policy.
Our own experience tells us that no matter what the majority of us vote for, what we invariably get is what the economic elite want or are willing to allow. In 2014 an academic paper by Gilens & Page confirmed what the average voter already suspected, based on data from 1981 to 2002. In a nutshell:
“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
I don’t have concrete evidence upon which to draw conclusions about the health of democracy prior to 1981, but we do know Reagan’s election marked neoliberalism’s shift into high gear. The efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, outlined in the infamous Powell Memo, culminated in what Chris Hedges called a corporate coup d’état turning a once-proud Republic into a covert plutocracy.
Naturally, the corporate media propagates the Big Lie that the U.S. is a democracy or constitutional republic for self-serving reasons. Those who do speak the truth have gone unheeded, although this now appears to be shifting as the consequences of plutocracy become harder to hide. The process of Manufacturing Consent is breaking down because the mainstream media is losing it’s grip on the public mind and social media censorship hasn’t replaced it… yet.
Most mainstream media outlets ignored ‘the Princeton study‘ and its disturbing conclusions. MSNBC did a segment on the findings, and another outlet attacked it, but few even mentioned it before the story disappeared from public view. Critics of Gilens & Page argued over the extent to which the wishes of voters aligned with those of the economic elite without taking into account the extent to which public opinion is shaped by the media. One criticism of the study – I kid you not – is that governance is so darned complicated that we’re better off leaving it to the “experts.” Events since 1980 make it clear we are not ruled by benign philosopher kings, but looters making off with everything that isn’t nailed down.
Setting the truth before the public, though, is not sufficient for them to accept it. Because we took in the Big Lie at an early age, it is harder to dislodge than more recently acquired knowledge. The psychological phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance” makes it very difficult to convince people that U.S. Democracy is, in fact, a lie. Like a red pill covered in barbed spikes, it does not go down easily, not even for me.
The widely held misconception that we can make the world a better place by “voting” blinds voters to the reality that other methods will be needed to overturn oligarchy. If we hope to rebuild representative democracy we must first admit that we’ve lost it. We all need to open our eyes now, even if it hurts, and insist on honesty about oligarchy/plutocracy while there is still hope to overturn it.
Note: Prior to 2020/08/21, this piece was much longer, but it has now been split it into a 4-part series.
The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy” (The U.S. is not a republic)
Part 2: Duopoly = Oligarchy = Plutocracy (How they get away with it)
Part 3: Plutocrats = Looters (Why we need to fix this)
Part 4: Cancel Plutocracy (How to solve the problem)