DOWN FOR THE COUNT
Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America
By Andrew Gumbel
The New Press, New York, 2016
Nothing new in this book. It’s a rehash of what keen observers of American politics have written for years.
Nevertheless, author Gumbel gives a worthwhile reminder of just how fraudulent America’s purported democracy is.
Start with the terrible decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, Citizens United, putting elections up for sale. The ruling, under the bogus rationale of free speech, allowed limitless expenditures by corporations and the enormously wealthy.
Then there are voter ID laws in many states to prevent voting by blacks, Latinos, college students and the poor. Five million felons and ex-felons are barred from voting despite the fact that America signed the 1990 Copenhagen agreement endorsing the vote for felons.
Insufficient voting machines in some precincts result in huge lines on election days, causing many people to leave without voting. Some states like Nevada and Iowa hold caucuses rather than the more expensive elections.
Nevertheless, caucuses are time-consuming and again many would-be voters often leave without balloting. Solution: abolish them and reinstitute the easier and faster elections. Research has shown that 750,000 American citizens leave the polls without voting.
And then there’s the gerrymander where politicians draw up voting districts for partisan advantage. District lines need to be draw by non-partisan commissions.
‘SACRED’ CONSTITUTION UNDEMOCRATIC
But the biggest problem of all is the “hallowed” Constitution: it is frightfully undemocratic, so much so America appears to be far more conservative than it is. Each of the 50 states has two senators despite the vast population differences of the states.
“California, a solidly Democratic state, has 66 times the population of Wyoming, a solidly Republican state, yet each has two senators,” Gumbel writes. “In 2004, 2010 and 2012 Democrats won more Senate votes nationwide than the GOP but lost seats. In 2014 Democrats lost their majority despite again winning more Senate seats nationally than the Republicans.”
Then there is the woefully undemocratic electoral college imbedded in the Constitution. It produces winners of the national popular vote losing the presidency. It has happened four times in U.S. presidential history, the most notorious the election of G.W. Bush in 2000.
Bush’s main rival, Al Gore, reaped 440,000 more popular votes but lost in the Electoral College. Clearly, that undemocratic institution should be abolished and replaced by direct election of presidents. Doing so, however, would require a constitutional amendment.
That is unlikely, requiring a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate. (That fact plus the apathy of most American voters.)
COMPACT WITH THE DEVIL
The Constitution, ratified by 13 colonies in 1788, made a pact with the devil. It provided that Negroes should be counted as three-fifths of a man although they could not vote. This gave a tremendous boost to the South in Congress.
Congress added to the evil with passage of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, put it direly: “The Constitution is a compact with Hell.”
The compromise led eventually to Civil War which tore the nation apart and resulted in a horrible death toll on both sides.
Still the Southern states were unsatisfied, enacting Jim Crow laws in the 20th century to prevent African Americans from voting: literacy tests that most white voters couldn’t pass, grandfather clauses allowing those who could vote before the Civil War to skip property taxes and the phony “understanding” tests. Poll watchers, so-called, actually threatened and intimidated black voters.
The 15th Amendment of 1870 gave ex-slaves the right to vote but women had to wait 50 years for a similar right (19th Amendment).
Finally, the Voting Rights Act in 1965 put an end to these nefarious practices but a reactionary Supreme Court in 2010 overturned it. It said anti-discrimination laws were unnecessary in the 21st Century, Discrimination against blacks is still all too prevalent in 2016 and likely to exist 50 years from now.
What is necessary is a constitutional amendment abolishing the upper chamber and making Congress just one house.
This body would have representation based on the population of each state. Such a measure would give the nation
Lincoln’s ideal: government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
As for the Andrew Gumbel book, the introduction is far too long at 18 pages. Indeed, it is unnecessary. The two-page author’s note gives the tenor of the book.
Moreover, his book is disjointed and poorly written. For instance, Gumbel doesn’t tell why the Electoral College is undemocratic. In short, he writes like the university-credentialed PhD—badly.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor from the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)