By Zhong Sheng
Does the U.S. want democracy or money-dominated democracy? The U.S. society should really think hard about the question—although some politicians in the country already have an answer that they dare not to expose: American democracy is merely a disguise as it is actually dominated by money.
“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” The quote from the late Mark Hanna, American industrialist and prototype of the political kingmaker, revealed the truth about American politics more than a hundred years ago, and is repeatedly proven true by facts today.
The 2020 U.S. presidential election is a recent example of what Hanna said in the late 19th century. While the chaotic phenomena during the election made it seem like a political mystery, the eye-catching money-squandering plots were not surprising at all.
U.S. presidential and congressional candidates spent a total of $14 billion in the 2020 election campaigns, which was more than twice that for the 2016 election, and even surpassed the gross domestic product (GDP) of dozens of economies in 2020.
According to U.S. media, the top ten donors in the 2020 U.S. election contributed more than $640 million, and funds collected from small donors accounted for less than half of the total amount of money raised by both democratic and republican presidential candidates.
Data have shown that the American-style democracy is like a monodrama of the wealthy. On the “political fundraising market”, the ability to raise funds has become a rigid standard, sometimes the primary standard, for measuring the career prospects of American politicians. People even dubbed U.S. president’s term in office the single highest priced commodity in Washington, D.C.
Money is a plague in American politics, said James Moran, former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives who served in the Capitol Hill for more than 20 years, noting that money distorts political process and gives the rich disproportionate political influence.
The U.S. used to be a democracy, which is a government of the 100 percent, by the 100 percent, for the 100 percent, and sadly today’s U.S. has become a plutocracy; a plutocracy is the government of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent, Singaporean scholar Kishore Mahbubani pointed out.
It’s ironic that power-for-money deals are made totally legitimate in the U.S. What the widely-denounced super Political Action Committees (super PACs) has been doing is a typical example.
In 2010, a judgment from the Supreme Court of the U.S. gave the green light to companies and groups providing unlimited amount of political contributions through the super PACs. The judgment was followed by a ruling made by the Supreme Court in 2014 that struck down certain limits on individual campaign contributions.
While the Supreme Court tried to wrap the decision in nice-sounding phrases and said that campaign donations are a constitutionally protected form of free speech, it ignored the fact that in reality it’s not uncommon for a company to provide political campaign donations for both parties, which is obviously not for the purpose of freely expressing a self-contradictory standpoint, but to hedge “risks” and avoid the loss of political channels.
On the surface, the super PACs need to follow relevant legal provisions, which require them not to donate money directly to political campaign teams or have cooperative relationship with candidates or their campaign committees. However, such interest-driven “peripheral” campaign operations as advertising and article posting can certainly make the political beneficiaries know who they should “thank”.
The apparent “legal corruption” has long been controversial in the U.S., and the relevant laws, which are occasionally tinkered with, are more like decorations designed to deceive the public, as they are fundamentally against democracy, freedom, equality, and justice.
How can the country with a democracy dominated by money guarantee the democratic rights of the common people?
In the early days of the U.S., Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, worried that the financial aristocracy would erode the country’s democracy if they have disproportionate influence in the government. The concern still couldn’t be eliminated today.
An editorial by the New York Times pointed out that in recent decades, “the rich keep getting richer, and the Supreme Court has made it much easier for politicians to tap that wealth. The result is an arms race that leaves politicians ever more beholden to funders.”
Political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have proven in the book Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It that the rich in the U.S. can even successfully block a popular policy as long as they don’t like it.
In the final analysis, the present American-style democracy is a game in which the stink of money contaminates the real democracy. It’s astonishing and ridiculous that certain U.S. politicians are still shamelessly peddling the trick that perfectly explains how “money talks” and even use it as a criterion for judging the political systems of other countries.
It must be understood that there is never real democracy if the democracy is dominated by money. The root cause of various deep-seated problems in the American-style democracy is that the country replaced the say of “people” in decision-making with “money”.
(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy.)