Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

We can still celebrate a day off and enjoy our holiday, but is it any longer possible to deny just how much the democracy has been eroded by the powerful interests of corporate power and elite interests? (Photo: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)

Put Away the Fireworks... You Don’t Live in a Democracy Anymore

John Atcheson

Within the last 30 years, while we’ve chased bogeymen overseas and here at home, our Democracy has fallen. We have been taken over; defeated; our voices neutered; our freedoms trampled; our democracy vanquished.

No invading force accomplished this; no jackboots echoed across our republic; no alien flag was raised above our lands. Not a single shot was fired by our vaunted military to halt this takeover. No, this was a quiet coup, accomplished from within, and conducted in stealth. 

In the cult film classic, The Usual Suspects, Roger "Verbal" Kint says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.” Just so, has the Oligarchy taken over the US.

Many of us continue with the delusion that we are free. We celebrate Independence Day. We vote. We express ourselves openly. We are not jailed for our opinions, at least not usually. We live where we want. We pursue the work we choose. We get our news from a “free” press. We engage in the pursuit of happiness. 

And while all this seems true, we are not free.  Our votes carry no weight. Our news is a hollow monoculture in which six corporations own 90% of the outlets with most of the rest controlled by elitists who can no longer relate to the average person; in which infotainment has replaced information; in which a modern day version of bread and circuses keeps us distracted from the increasingly grim reality we are everyday immersed in. The jobs open to us are becoming increasingly exploitative. And the pursuit of happiness is marred by a lack of choice, increasingly desperate economic straights for the majority of us, and a feeling of impotence as we watch the American dream shrink before our eyes. 

Consider:

Dwell on these last two bits of political pornography for a moment: Congress denied the vast majority of the people’s perfectly reasonable – in fact, bare minimal – desire to keep assault rifles and weapons out of the hands of potential mass murders because a few special interests opposed it.

But it’s not simply a list of specific issues where the Oligarchy defeats the will of the people.  Their victory has been complete.

Even as we spend tens of trillions on "Defense," ostensibly to protect our freedom, we quietly relinquished it; not to an invasion from without, but to a silent coup by the rich and powerful from within. As Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page pointed out, in their landmark study on the influence of money and special interests in politics:

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. (emphasis added).

They went on to note that “… the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.” (my emphasis).

Take a moment to consider this, too. We the people have no say and almost zero influence in our governance. Forget about the land of the free and the home of the brave – we’ve become the land of the duped and the home of the indentured. 

The system which enabled this coup is the pay-to-play politics that Trump and Clinton and virtually all politicians subscribe to.   

This contention isn’t hyperbole; it can’t be written off to the excess exuberance of the young, or the unrealistic reveries of ideologues that the Establishment Media would have you believe.  It’s data.  It’s reality.  And it’s the logical end-point of the pay-to-play PACster politics that reached its apogee with the Citizen’s United Decision.

It costs about $1.7 million dollars to win a seat in the House, and $10.5 million to win a Senate seat according to a to a study by maplight.org. Daily News reporter David Knowles spoke with Maplight president Daniel Newman for an article on a recent study they conducted, and Newman told him that no shortage of this money came from corporations. He went on to say:

“Most industries give money to members of Congress because it buys them access and influence. And now, with Citizens United, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on these races. The result is that members of Congress are fearful about voting against corporate interests because there’s so much money at stake.” 

Much of the rest of the money a candidate needs to run for Congress comes from uber-rich individuals such as the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and George Soros. They too, have an agenda, and it isn’t usually aligned with the interests or the wishes of the American people. Even liberal contributors like Soros, favor members of the establishment elite such as Clinton over “revolutionaries” like Sanders, who want to completely change the system that gives them influence.

This is why we can’t enact meaningful gun control legislation when the vast majority favor it; this is why we can’t enact effective climate change policies when majorities in both parties say they want to; this is why we let the people founder but bailed out the banks when they crashed the economy in 2008; this is why politicians from both Parties still favor job-wrecking trade agreements when most citizens from both Parties are against them; this is why the uber rich and corporations can easily discharge debt and renege on promises to their employees using bankruptcy laws, but students and the poor cannot;  this is why we can’t break up the too-big-to-fail banks or reinstall Glass-Steagall or pass a tax on securities trading, again, even though the majority of Americans favor all of these measures. This is why we are engaged in never-ending wars nobody wants and that nobody can explain or justify at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars that the people don’t want to spend.

Quite simply, the United States is no longer a Democratic Republic; it is an Oligarchy.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo