Representative Democracy Or Representative Hypocrisy: a 21st century analysis of U.S. electoral politics


“There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. [They’re] right. It is the American Dream.” [1] “[The U.S.] is the only country deliberately founded on a good idea.” [2] These are but two of a plethora of quotes that have been used to describe the United States of America’s ideals, values and “exceptional” role in the world ever since the nation’s very inception. [3] Officially declaring itself independent of British monarchial rule in 1776, the United States has been almost unanimously described by its admirers as the world’s one true democracy where freedom, “liberty” and “justice for all” reign supreme. [4] Thomas Jefferson, one of the U.S.’s beloved “Founding Fathers”, once boasted about “how little my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of… which no other people on earth enjoy!” [5] Without exception, none of these quotes offer as much as a glimpse into the everyday realities experienced by most ordinary Americans. And when U.S. politicians and government officials continually refer to American foreign policy as being a “beacon of hope” or a mission to spread peace, democracy and human rights across the globe, they certainly don’t speak for millions of members of other nations who have found themselves the supposed “beneficiaries” of America’s rather unique concept of “human rights.” [6]

The truth about what has become the world and history’s most powerful nation is quite different from the often-told tale of heroic people fighting off the tyrannical rule of the British so that they can establish independence and freedom for themselves, their families and future generations alike. According to this popular narrative, the men (and sometimes women) who resided in the New England colonies went to war for the sole purpose of establishing the world’s first government that would operate for the people, by the people, providing the everyday needs of its citizens. But what is often mentioned but given very little detail is that long before the first red, white and blue flag ever waved or the first quill pen signed the Declaration of Independence, the prevailing beliefs and prejudices held by the American colonists regarding differences of class, race and gender stood in stark contrast the rhetoric being touted. In fact, large-scale rebellions and riots occurred regularly against the wealthy, elite plantation masters and landowners by increasingly class-conscious fieldworkers in nearly every decade leading up to the American Revolutionary War.*[7] Among these fieldworkers were white indentured servants who immigrated from Europe in massive numbers during the 18th century.  For many, it was their only means of entering what was called the “New World.” The pay they received for their labor was kept at a minimal and did not offer much hope of allowing them to get out of servitude. The other fieldworkers were of African descent and, having been kidnapped from their motherland and dehumanized in the eyes of the Europeans, were forced to work a lifetime of slavery.

The internal strife emerging in these communities was partly due to a growing sense of awareness among indentured servants of just how largely the elite wealthy class were profiting at their own expense. The profits the property-owners were raking in were especially large in comparison the meager salary being paid out to the field laborers. Africans also rebelled in large numbers. However, their internal struggles were overall much more complex than that of the whites due to their very own humanity being relentlessly attacked and questioned. Indentured servants, however inhumanely treated, were not reduced to being legally recognized as mere chattel in the eyes of the law as slaves were. Africans who rebelled were not only rebelling against physically being held in bondage, but also against the mental shackles created under centuries of white dominance. But while the black and white struggles were different, they were also important similarities and potential for common ground being found.

Both white and black workers suffered unfair and brutal treatment at the hands of the white landowners including beatings and lashings by whip. [8] Both were clearly being massively exploited for the economic benefit of the same capitalist class, and both desired better, more human living conditions. Only a few short years before the drums of war were sounded and New England found itself in intensive battle with its Mother country, a full 44% of the all wealth accumulated by the American colonies was under the ownership of a mere 1% of the entire landowning population. [9]

By far, the most famous of all of the uprisings that occurred throughout the nation took place in 1675 and is known most widely as “Bacon’s Rebellion.” “Bacon’s Rebellion” saw the rare uniting of black and white forces working together to meet a common goal. While the uprising was put down by brutal force, as every uprising usually is, it shook the ruling wealthy class to the very core. Until that time, it must have been inconceivable to them that poor working-class whites would temporarily put their racial and ethnic prejudices aside and unite with the dispossessed black slaves in an attempt to overthrow their reign. To landowners and the plantation elite, it signified what the future could hold if the working class’s anger were not constrained and directed elsewhere. From that moment on, the color line would be permanently etched in stone. White men were given guns and allowed a certain amount of freedom and control over black bodies, instilling in them a sense of importance and ownership they did not feel when they were simply laborers. [10]

The rebellions also had the effect of alerting property-owners to the importance of convincing the average fieldworker that both economic classes were on the same team. Realistically, the needs and ambitions of poor and working class laborers are in direct opposition to the interests of the elite wealthy class. The only way to convince the man who is being exploited and dispossessed that his fight is the same as his oppressive aristocratic master’s is by instilling in him patriotic feelings of nationalism. When people are given a sense of belonging to something much bigger and important than themselves, whether it be a noble cause or something symbolizing a set of values, defending it at all costs becomes an honor and a virtue. What could better create a sense of national pride and patriotism than to further fan the flames of discontent with the mother country, Britain? Property owners in the New England colonies had realized for quite some time that it would be in their best financial and political interests to free themselves of the burden of having to pay taxes to the English monarchs and nobles. They knew the British would never concede what they felt rightfully belonged to them without a fight, and the only way the colonial elite had a chance of winning a war would require involving the ‘peasant’ class as warriors for the cause. The more attention drawn to the tyrannical rule of the British, the more likely their own oppressive and tyrannical rule would be overlooked. By painting a visual image of a future where rich and poor alike would be able to prosper together, live under the same flag, be governed by a representative constitutional republic , and have freedom and justice for all time, the wealthy class would be able to essentially kill two birds with one stone. It would successfully distract the working man from the internal crisis of his own inferior living conditions while simultaneously eliminating all British authority. Convinced they were fighting for their own freedom and independence, the poor and working class were unknowingly fighting a war on the front lines to establish a society which was essentially the same as the one they were fighting against. The main difference was that this new society, instead of being structured around Royalty or high-ranking Nobility, was essentially run by proprietors, landowners and plantation masters. The “peoples’ government” that would be set up would basically do their bidding while masquerading as a democratically-elected representative government. We, as Americans, are not conditioned to think about our government this way. Those of us who do think our government operates as servants of the capitalist class tend to think it became this way only recently. It is rare to hear anyone, liberal or conservative, question the intentions of our “Founding Fathers” as anything other than noble or heroic. Contrary to this widely-held opinion, however, the intent of the “Founders” always was creating a government that operated for the most elite members of American society. There is no greater testament to this fact than the details surrounding the framing of the United States Constitution after America emerged victorious from the American Revolutionary War.

There is little room for doubt that neither Thomas Jefferson nor any of the other men counted among the United States’ “founders” ever truly believed in their official Declaration that “all men are created equal.” (**) [11] Anyone, man or woman, seen as belonging to a race that wasn’t a white race was automatically considered to be of inferior origin and deemed unworthy of being treated as a full-fledged human being. In fact, the United States Empire we know today can trace its very beginning to the gruesome slaughtering of the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited this land. In what can only be described as gruesome acts of terrorism that took place over five or six centuries, the white European colonialists coming from Spain, England and elsewhere took full advantage of the kindness and generosity shown to them by many of the native peoples of this unknown land. The chaos that followed would set in motion an endless crusade to “civilize” them through terrible acts of thievery, murder, rape, kidnapping and conquest. They not only wanted to destroy these people, whom they inaccurately called “Indians”, in the physical form; they also wanted to wipe out any trace of the existence of their non-European culture and heritage. [12] It’s important to understand that all of this was done in the name of “spreading Christianity.” [13] This is why the remaining children who survived the horrible destruction brought upon their people by the colonial invaders were, in most cases, forced into boarding schools where they were to be “Christianized” so that they could theoretically become more “acceptable” in the eyes of white society. (^) To say that the European colonization of the Americas and destruction done to the Native American peoples has forever changed the course of human history would be quite an understatement.  By most historical accounts, there were an estimated 17 million Native Americans inhabiting North America in 1492, the year notorious assassin and Spanish conquistador Christopher Columbus first landed in the Bahamas. By the late 19th century, that number had shrunk to only about 250,000. [14]

    Unfortunately, the white Europeans’ acts of savagery and barbarism would not be confined to the American continents. As they moved forward in their quest for dominance and control, they aimed their sights south of Europe to the provident continent of Africa. Africa became a target for European Imperialism because it carried with it an abundance of natural resources, such as the rich soil of its grounds. Because most mainstream textbooks fail to make any meaningful mention of Black people or the African continent prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, many people today are ignorant of the fact that Africa, for most of human history, was a land of advanced civilization in a lot of ways eclipsing Europe. (^^) [15] The first Africans arriving to the Western world in modern times were likely those who accompanied Spanish conquistadors in the early decades of the 16th century. Because the existence of the color line as we know it today was still in its early infancy, these Africans included free people and slaves. [16] But as the colonization of America expanded and more European nations became involved, an excessive and cheap labor force was desired. Spaniards had already begun visiting nations on the west coast of Africa during the late 15th century and were welcomed initially by some of the people who lived there. The Africans had little way of knowing, however, what was initially said to be a trade in goods and resources would end tragically with the capture, enslavement and dehumanization of their very own bodies. [17] Tens of millions of children along with the sick and elderly were slaughtered during raids upon their villages. [18] Those captured and deemed strong enough to work were placed in cages until being loaded onto a tightly-packed ship, shackled to the floor together, and forced to endure nights of endless torture. According to the most modest estimates, somewhere between 12 and a half million to 13 million Africans were ripped away from their Motherland and with it their culture, families, and traditions, never able to return again. They were boarded on ships heading west where they were to be sold and auctioned off like property. 1 million Africans who boarded the ships are believed to have perished en route. (*^) [19]

Each and every one of the “Founding Fathers”, framers of the United States Constitution, were firm believers in white supremacy and benefited from a society largely based on that belief. While the fact that they believed Africans, Native Americans, Asians and anything not considered “Caucasian” to be their inferior is common knowledge, the fact that there existed a racial hierarchy within the different white populations rarely receives the same acknowledgement.  Based on pseudo-scientific theories created to justify their prejudiced actions and beliefs, the only pure whites were those said to be exclusively of “Anglo-Saxon” origin. The Irish, Italian, Jews, Armenians and others, while still considered white, were not “Anglo-Saxon” in the purest sense of the word and therefore classified as inferior on the racial scale of whiteness. (^*) [20] The stigmas applied to these people were similar to the stigmas applied today against people who are labeled “white trash.” In fact the 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, once referred disparagingly to poor whites as “crackers.” [21] Many of the members of these ethnic groups made up the poor and working-class ranks and owned no property of their own. With the passage of time, some of them did manage to move up the class ladder and gain a modest share of the wealth America generated, becoming part of what we now call the “middle class.” Even though the vast majority of the nation’s wealth and capital continue to remain in a relatively small amount of hands, allocating a small portion of the wealth to the so-called “middle class” has created an illusion of general fairness and equality. Even though as late as 2010 a staggering 40% of the nation’s wealth was controlled by just 3% of the entire population, any critique of America’s hugely disproportionate allocation of wealth is countered with a reference to the “middle class.” [22] Their existence, or so the narrative goes, is proof that in the United States of America one can be as successful as they so desire to be as long as they work really hard and play by the rules.

After the colonies had won their independence from British Imperialist rule, they began the process of establishing their own government. The group of “Founding Fathers” charged with framing the way this new government would operate consisted exclusively of white males. Most of them owned property and had amassed a considerable fortune. [23] In framing a national constitution uniting the states, these men operated the very difficult terrain of creating government that mainly benefited elite wealthy property-owners while appearing on its surface to be democratic. In all fairness to the framers of the Constitution, they themselves never stated their goal was the creation of a democracy but a “constitutional republic.” The legislative branch of the federal government would be operated by a national congress consisting of two different chambers: the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. No law could be enacted without first being passed through both houses of congress. The House of Representatives consisted of elected representatives from each state in the union’s different congressional districts. Districts were created based on population size. This ensured each district and every state would have a representative from their community voicing their own unique concerns. While on its face this might seem to be a government fairly chosen by the people, the electorate was mandated by law to be made up exclusively of white male property-owners. This had the effect of excluding the vast majority of people including women, people of African, Mexican or Asian descent as well white men who didn’t own property. It stands as a clear indication that the United States’ constitution’s framers were interested primarily in protecting their own wealth and hierarchical status and were opposed to providing any sort of means for others to become prosperous.

In addition to the House of Representatives, the Senate would also include multiple representatives from the various states. It differed however in that it included two senators from each and every state regardless of the state’s population, and each senator was elected by their state’s legislature as opposed to any sort of popular vote by the people. This had the effect of giving Southern slaveholding states the same amount of influence in the Senate as their Northern industrial neighbors. It also ensured that there will always be a hugely disproportionate influence held by certain sectors of the population. As late as 2010, the state of Wyoming with its population of 563,626 people was given the same amount of political power in the Senate as the state of California and its 37,253,956 people. [24] A similar process was used to determine who would be elected President of the United States. Each state was allowed a certain amount of electorates based on the state’s population and they would usually cast their electoral votes unanimously for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote.

The electoral process has changed substantially since the formation of the government in 1777. The size and diversity of the country’s electorate has certainly changed for the better. While in America’s earliest days white male property-owners alone were enfranchised, white men of every social class were eventually given the right to vote as well. After more a century of suffragists struggling to gain access to the ballot, women have not only won their voting rights but now make up a majority of the U.S. electorate. [25] African-Americans and other minorities have officially been enfranchised as well after centuries of struggle against American oppression. (+) The Hispanic voting bloc has grown immensely in just a few short decades in addition to the Hispanic population becoming the largest and fastest growing minority in the nation. [26] Most importantly, the United States Federal Census Bureau has made a prediction that has sent much of the Old Guard of the white political establishment into hysteric fits. If current trends continue and modern projections hold, the year 2042 will mark the first year in which white people are no longer the clear majority of the U.S. population. Incredibly, that year could see Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Arab Americans collectively comprise a majority of the U.S. population. (++) [27] Given the way voting rights went from being a privilege only a small elite group were granted to becoming a right the majority of United States citizens now possess, it’s tempting for one to conclude that political power has forever shifted to the American working class. But as the old French proverb goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

The basic structuring of U.S. national and statewide elections remains intact. The winner-take-all voting pattern of the designated electorates who cast the electoral votes for U.S. president remains the same. It in effect devalues the votes of millions of Americans who vote for a candidate other than the one who wins their particular state. There have even been instances where a candidate wins the majority of votes nationally, but loses the election by being outnumbered (or outmaneuvered) in the electoral vote count. [28] Fortunately, United States Senators are now elected by the eligible voting population in their respective states instead of resting on a decision made by the state’s legislature alone. However, the practice of electing 2 senators per state remains intact and is virtually unchallenged.

With the passage of time, a dialogue based on sincere belief has emerged among many Americans urging political representation and access to the ballot be seen as fundamentally guaranteed American rights. Given this political climate, it is all the more remarkable that the population residing within Washington D.C., or the District of Columbia, still do not have a voting representative in the United States House of Representatives. The residents of the nation’s capital have not been allowed a political voice in the national arena for nearly all of U.S. existence and weren’t allowed to cast a vote for President of the United States until 1961. All of this is in spite of the fact that there are more people living within that district alone than live within the entire state of Wyoming. And yet Wyoming, as stated earlier, is granted two Senate seats in the U.S. Senate. On the other hand, Washington D.C. and its 601,423+ residents don’t have a single Senator or voting Representative in the House of the United States Congress to represent their district’s political interests. These are not the people who in the same area roam the halls of congress as wealthy lobbyists. These are ordinary people who happen to reside in the district’s neighborhoods and pay taxes in the same area where the country’s most callous political decisions and corrupt bargains are made, yet their existence is rendered inconsequential to the nation’s political ebb and flow. [29] The only likely explanation as to why D.C. more than any other area has systematically been excluded from meaningful political participation lies in the fact that it comprises a majority African American district. [30]

   Some changes made in the U.S. electoral system stand apart from the rest when measuring just how detrimental their impact has been on this country’s political distribution of power. The 20th century saw the rise of big businesses spending large amounts of corporate money towards various political campaigns as a way to ensure the likelihood of their business’s interests merge with the interests of politicians, affecting public policy. [31] Numerous attempts were made to try and curb the oversized influence of giant corporations in public elections, and some of these methods were incrementally successful over the years. But for those attempting to minimize corporate influence in election campaigns by way of “reform”, their cause was dealt a fatal blow in the January, 2010 ruling of Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission. The ruling essentially erased the limits that corporations and unions were allowed to spend promoting campaigns for elected office. The effects of this ruling have been devastating for candidates who fail to amass a huge financial backing. With billions of dollars being spent to promote candidates, what hope is there for an elected representative who isn’t beholden to large corporate interests? Selling one’s soul to Big Business has become mandatory for any candidate hoping to have a realistic shot at being elected. [32] Just who are these candidates, once elected, in all likelihood going to cater to when making policy decisions: the residents of their districts who vote based on what they hear in advertisements, or the business interests who bought the expensive ads on the airwaves in the first place, who could just as easily jump ship should their candidate not deliver the desired outcome?  The United States of America is still a country where wealth and power are monopolized by a privileged elite class, only instead of plantation owners calling the final shots, oil executives and big corporate CEOs are.

The greatest tragedy of the U.S. election system is that it serves not only to distract from the horrors the United States Empire has brought upon the darker nations of the world, but also the deprivation of its own people. As long as the nation’s 46 million+ impoverished people remain the favorite scapegoat of the so-called “middle class”, “shared prosperity” in America will remain little more than a myth. Capitalism in its essence exists to enrich a privileged class of few at the expense of the overwhelming majority of people. Its only means of survival is by capitalizing on the labor and subordination of people who never reap the benefits of their own labor. The U.S. brilliantly masquerades its European Imperialist roots, presenting itself to the world as an example of truly representative government. One has to wonder why it is that the Democratic and Republican parties alone managed survival all these years while all other political parties faltered; the reason being that both parties, despite incremental differences, have been capitalist servants who adjusted necessarily to the circumstances dictated by each political era. Choosing between Republicans and Democrats is choosing between capitalism and a slightly more empathetic version of capitalism. Whichever choice is chosen will end essentially in the same result: capitalism. If capitalism is the only choice, then there isn’t really a choice at all.

Noted Sources and Citations:

  1. Quote by Archibald MacLeish: “There are those, I know, who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.” Retrieved from
  2. Quote by John Gunther: “Ours’ is the only country deliberately founded on a good idea.” Retrieved from
  3. Guns Jr., John A. (2011, Nov. 21). American Exceptionalism and the Politics of Foreign Policy. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  4. Taken from the official “Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America” recitation.
  5. Quote by Thomas Jefferson: “My God! How little do my countrymen know of what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy.” Retrieved from
  6. McGreal, Chris. (2012, Aug. 8). Hillary Clinton’s Thin Gloss on U.S. Aid in Africa. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  7. Zinn, Howard. A Peoples’ History of the United States. Page 59.
  8. Zinn, 47-49.
  9. Zinn, 49.
  10. Zinn, 33-58; PBS Online. Africans in America/ Part 1/ Bacon’s Rebellion.
  12.  Zinn, 1-22.
  13. Zinn, 1-22.; Clarke, Richard H. Christopher Columbus and the African Holocaust: slavery and the rise of European capitalism.
  14. Documentary film: Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School.
  15. Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality? And Pre-colonial Black Africa. ; The Huffington Post. (2012, Oct. 17). Mansa Musa of Mali Named World’s Richest Man of All Time: Gates and Buffett also make list.
  16. Clarke, 81-84.; Gates, Henry Louis. Life Upon These Shores: looking at African American History 1513-2008. Pages 5-7.
  17. Clarke, 59-60.
  18. Clarke, 48.
  19. Gates, 4-7.; Port Cities Bristol. How Many People Were Taken From Africa?
  20. Painter, Nell Irvin. (2010).The History of White People.
  21. Painter, 264; full quote from Teddy Roosevelt is as follows: “…people who were drawn from the worst immigrants that perhaps ever were brought to America- the mass of convict servants, redemptioners and the like who formed such an excessively undesirable substratum to the otherwise excellent population of the tidewater regions of Virginia and the Carolinas. Many of the Southern crackers or poor whites spring from this class, which is also in the backwoods, gave birth to generations of violent and hardened criminals, and to an even greater number of shiftless, lazy, cowardly cumberers of the earth’s surface.”
  22. Reich, Robert. (2010, Jul. 7). We’re in a Recession because the Rich are raking in an Absurd Portion of the Wealth. The Nation. Retrieved from
  23. Gewen, Barry. (2005, Jun. 5). Forget the Founding Fathers. New York Times.
  25. Martin, Emily. (2012, Nov. 7). Yesterday, Women Showed Up. National Women’s Law Center.
  26. Siek, Stephanie. Census: Hispanics are “the most populous” and “fastest growing minority group”. CNN.
  27. State of the Dream Report. (Spring 2012 Issue). The Crisis. Page 54.
  28. Cook, Charlie. (2012, Oct. 19). Bush-Gore Redux? An electoral-popular vote split is a real possibility. The Atlantic. http://theatlantic/politics/archive/2012/10/bush-gore-redux-an-electoral-popular-vote-split-is-a-real-possibility/263847/.
  29. (2011, Jan. 17). Taxation without Representation, Indeed. New York Times Op-ed.
  30. Masur, Kate. (2011. Mar. 28). Capital Injustice. New York Times Op-ed.
  32. Gold, Matea. (2012, Oct. 31). 2012 Campaign Set to Cost a Record $6 Billion. Los Angeles Times. ; Dunbar, John. (2012, Oct. 18). The ‘Citizens United’ Decision and Why It Matters. The Center for Public Integrity.

Other Notes:

*According to Howard Zinn’s A Peoples’ History of the United States, there were at least 45 different riots or rebellions against the American aristocracy from the year 1676 up until the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.

** Thomas Paine may have possibly been one notable exception.

^ These boarding schools were little more than brainwashing programs and were wrought with mental, physical and sexual abuse of Native American children.

^^ According to a study by modern historians and economists commissioned by Forbes magazine, the world’s wealthiest person who ever lived was in fact a Black African emperor of the Islamic faith named Mansa Musa. He ruled the Malian Empire in the 14th century while Europe was in its Dark Ages. This notion by European colonizers that Africans were uncivilized people or “savages” couldn’t be further from the truth.

*^ According to Gates’ Life Upon These Shores, of the 11,863,000 who survived and arrived to the “New World” (North and South America) during the Atlantic Slave Trade from 1501-1866, about 450,000 were forced to work in what we now call the United States of America.

^* These same racial beliefs would later become the basis on which Adolf Hitler’s right-wing ideology was formed, culminating in the 20th century with the European Holocaust.

+ I used the word “officially” because sadly the promise of federal protection of African American voting rights is a promise that has been broken time and time again. In fact, a full century after ratification of the 15th Amendment to the constitution, Southern states largely disenfranchised potential Black voters which resulted in need for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These rights are still regularly attacked albeit in more subtle ways. Some recent examples include the dismissal of many ballots coming from largely Black and Brown areas during the infamous Florida recount of the 2000 presidential election as well as the sudden emergence of “Voter ID” laws in state after state in the wake of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

++ In other words, 2042 should see the white population statistically reduced to 49% of the population, instead of 50+%. Some news reports have inaccurately reported that the year will see whites become “the minority”. For a group to be in “the minority”, another group would have to collectively make up 50+%. It should also be noted that the prediction was made without any differentiation being made between white Hispanics and nonwhite Hispanics, which would alter these predictions somewhat.

5 thoughts

  1. If I were in the shoes of an African or Native American, I feel that I would not be obligated in any way, shape, form or fashion whatsoever to act “civilized” when I was taken from my home to a different place against my will.

    1. I think you are right that one should not feel obligated to act any certain way for anyone else, though something I’ve learned over the years is that we can never say for certain what we would do if we were in the shoes of another people, particularly an oppressed people, as we cannot possibly know how they are feeling dealing with the situations they face.

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