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Undemocratic Elections in the USA.

Posted on 21st February 2016

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I am getting thoroughly demoralised by the constant stream of so-called news about the US presidential election. Candidates are still campaigning for their party’s nominations; the actual election campaigning hasn’t even started, but I am, already sick of it.

One of the least offensive articles that I have read recently about the US presidential election was this piece in The Economist, which bemoans how the fight is turning ugly, and the established order of things in US elections has been overturned.

The trouble is that American elections have always been broken: the process is undemocratic, and votes are decided by personalities and budgets rather than policies. Campaigns have always been dirty and disconnected from reality; it’s just that they are getting even more so.

The USA is the world’s champion of democracy, and has encouraged it in, exported it to, or forced it upon, many nations around the world. Democracy is not a silver bullet that will solve all ills: for the proof, just look at what is happening in countries that were part of the Arab Spring (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and in countries which were invaded to install democratic governments (Iraq and Afghanistan). Also, an important lesson not yet taken on board by Western governments: one size of democracy clearly does not fit all. What annoys me, however, is that the main champion of democracy is a nation whose own democracy is highly questionable. What is so special about the people in Iowa (and to a lesser extent in New Hampshire) that qualifies them to have more of an influence on the choice of president than other Americans? For many elected posts, the USA also has a first-past-the-post system, as does Britain, which many other nations consider inherently undemocratic, and then there is that bizarre electoral college system which means that the candidate with the most votes does not necessarily win the election.

Another thing that is not the answer to all problems is the free market. Free market forces create competition, and as a result US society, business and politics are all more competitive than most other people ever experience. Allowing big money into such a competitive election process pretty much guarantees excess, prejudiced rhetoric, and dirty campaigns. I don’t actually know whether Donald Trump believes and will deliver on all of the promises that he has made during his election, but it seems that if you don’t behave and speak similarly (always against something or someone, and always to excess) then you can’t win the election.

Many countries have their share of weirdos and idiots standing for election (Britain has the Monster Raving Loony Party), but amongst Western nations, the USA is unique in that there a serious chance of the nut-job actually getting to run the county.

Maybe a coalition of truly democratic nations should invade the USA and install a truly democratic system. The problem with that idea (apart from the tiny issue of America’s military might and economic influence) is finding a nation that can honestly claim to be truly democratic. My number one candidate is Switzerland; if you know of any other nation that can claim that title, I would love to hear about it.