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Arnold O. Beckman High School

Opinion: America Isn’t A Democracy

One of my closest friends, diagnosed with clinical depression, recently told me this: “I’m depressed because of the government.”

Comments like these are often adrift in teen conversation, “fan favorite” topics being Trump and the Second Amendment.  Some flaws within our Land of the Free receive more spotlight than others, but a baseline unrest is ever-present in our Generation Z.

In other words, my friend’s quip — although mildly facetious in nature — is no joke. It is a sign of the times.

America is, by definition, a democracy: the people represent themselves in the government with elected officials. The Tenth Amendment in the Bill of Rights specifically delegates power to the people.

However, our fatal flaw is not in the definition of democracy, but of representation.

In a governmental system like ours, the opinions of citizens are everything. Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, a duo practicing at Princeton and Northwestern University respectively, capitalized on this importance. They studied 20 years worth of public surveys and synthesized the relationship between citizen opinion and national policy.

The results were not surprising: The opinions of the bottom 90 percent of American income earners had essentially zero impact on government decisions.

Other surveys posed similarly daunting outcomes. For instance, 44 percent of Americans believe that corruption is pervasive in the White House, and 7 out of 10 believe that the government fails to combat it.

Logically, public opinion is the foundation of democracy. The irony lies in the fact that the voices of the people imply a lack thereof.

The FBI’s 1980 investigation on the legislation emphasizes the longevity of the corruption issue. The ABSCAM examination involved agents posing as sheiks and bribing our congressmen into malfeasant activity, primarily granting gambling licenses in exchange for large sums of money.

There was one point when a congressman took the money, put it in his pocket, and asked the undercover agent, “Does it show?”

Still shot from ABSCAM investigation (Photo courtesy of David Handschuh/AP)

The senators and congressmen who chose to engage were arrested and found guilty, but this 1980 scandal brings forth frightening revelations. Not only is corruption “such an old song that we can sing along in harmony,” but a direct combatant to democracy.

Our senators are meant to represent the state they come from and the people within it. With deep-rooted nepotism, though, it is completely arguable that some represent nothing but their own greed.

Albeit more implicit than ABSCAM, the influence of money remains high in today’s modern legislation. The unspoken “pay to play” rule is seen in sponsor-legislator relationships as well as in political action committees.

With our current policies, billionaire sponsors donate money in exchange for middleman political access. Likewise, politicians must seek out financial benefits, purchase lobbyists, and find sponsors to obtain a chance at a seat in office. Alexandria Ocasio’s victory in the 2018 primary elections have proven that lobbyists do not always equate success, but cases like these are declared nearly “impossible” in headlines.  Generally, voices are heard based on the size of the speaker’s wallet; it is preposterous to assume that the power of the people extends past those who can pay for it.

Alexandria Ocasio,winner of NY primary election without use of lobbyists. (Photo courtesy of William B. Plowman/NBC)

Likewise, the executive branch of today is highly conducive to corruption within itself. The Special Counsel Investigation, set in motion by Robert Mueller, has produced concerning events alongside multiple indictions.  A full list on Mueller’s indictments and plea deals involves four men directly involved in Trump’s campaign. George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Rick Gates boast charges including false statements to the FBI, bank fraud, and conspiracy. Other aspects of the Investigation heavily touch upon conspiracy in foreign affairs, especially to strengthen campaigns made in the 2016 election.

In summary, a country in which national figures are influenced by interests of those other than the American electorate is one that should not be considered a democracy.

Robert Mueller (Photo courtesy of Win McNamee/Getty Images)