Saturday, 28 September 2019

Trump, impeachment and the real problems in US politics

On 25 September news filtered out, as usual initially on social media, of the decision by the Democrats in the US House of Representatives to start an inquiry into matters that might lead to the impeachment of the president. This news ran on air on the TV all day and I knew that it would continue to dominate the media for a while.

The question that the Democrats have to answer is whether Donald Trump solicited and received information from the government of the Ukraine about Joe Biden’s son. Biden is currently one of the front-runners in the race among Democrats to find a candidate to compete against Trump, who is a Republican, in the 2020 presidential election. Dirt on Biden’s son might, the thinking goes, damage the father and reduce his chances of success in any polls.

So the whole impeachment thing turns on a technicality, a piece of legalistic thinking of the most arcane sort. In the US, it is illegal for a politician to receive anything of value from a foreign country to use in an election.

But this minor item of US legal exotica is of little consequence compared to the reality of US electoral dysfunction. Let’s leave aside the debacle of the 2016 presidential election, which all evidence says Russian influencers skewed in favour of Trump. If this was the only problem the insignificance of the piece of election law being analysed in this post would already be proven but there’s much more that makes it even less relevant.

In the middle of last year I wrote a post which was a review of a new book on democracy by a British academic named David Runciman. In my review I talked about some of the problems with the US electoral system. I have seen, since then, many people online talking about “the system” in a way that makes me think that there is a lot of discontent in the country about the political settlement. Back on 7 August 2018 I wrote:
In fact (and Runciman hints at this at one point in the book) the US is not actually a democracy at all, but rather an oligarchy. And the political right [wing] there is always working to further limit access to the democratic process to exclude people living in the lower-socioeconomic strata of society. Look at recent efforts by Donald Trump to make having photo ID mandatory when going to vote. It’s all about trying to make sure the elites are the only ones who can cast a vote.
I went on to list a number of things that the US should do to make it easier for the maximum number of people to vote in elections because the whole US electoral system is skewed in favour of the conservatives through a variety of means. I have slightly revised the list:
  • Make voting at all elections mandatory
  • Establish a federal statutory body (and separate state bodies) to run elections and (in order to eliminate gerrymandering) set electoral boundaries; such bodies would operate at arm’s length from any executive or legislature and appointments to their boards would be based on bipartisan consensus
  • Stop preventing ex-convicts from voting 
  • Increase the number of voting booths and make them easily accessible
  • Stop using electronic voting machines (which can easily be gamed) and only use paper ballots
  • Move voting days to Saturday
There are probably another half-dozen things that might be done to improve the political process. You might, for example, outlaw political action committees and prevent political appointments being made to make up the Supreme Court. The list above is just what I can right now come up with sitting here, in Australia, looking in from outside (and feeling a bit helpless).

If things such as these were promoted by the Democrats with the same energy they are displaying in their effort to impeach Trump, then they might have a better chance of winning elections. But they either don’t know what the real problems are or else they are just in thrall to the moment, like a junkie who needs his fix to get through the day. The system is the problem. Trump is not the disease, he is a symptom of the illness of entrenched inequality. An illness that, furthermore, permits rich corporations to heavily influence the process of government through donations and through professional lobbying. Foreign influence? Pah! The Ukraine thing is a nothing but a sideshow.

[UPDATE 5 October 2019, 8.55am:] A comment went up this morning at 8.37am Sydney time. It was from a person whose Twitter name is Steven Badeener and who had joined the site in June this year, and had accumulated 21 followers since then. It went, "You have no business commenting on these things, they are above your head. Now take your worthless opinion and self promotion and shove it." I had evidently hit a nerve with someone. A Google search turned up no-one with this name. The only record I found was the Twitter account that had responded to me. In the tweet, the mixture of suppressed politeness and conscientious thoroughness made me think that this person is not young. You can't please everyone, it seems.

No comments: