Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Jackson’

Gabriel Rockhill on the Myth of American Democracy

March 2, 2018

A few months ago, the Franco-American philosopher Gabriel Rockhill published a very interesting piece in Counterpunch arguing that, contrary to how the country sees itself, America isn’t and has never been a democracy. He notes that the British imperialists, who founded the Thirteen Colonies, weren’t interested in spreading rights or democracy, and that the Founding Fathers were also anti-democratic. They were like most of the other Enlightenment thinkers in that they were keen to defend to property from the mass of the propertyless, whom they associated with misrule and the mob. He points out that at the time the suffrage only extended to men of property, and excluded the poor, women, First Nations and slaves. The notion that the country was a democracy first appeared with Andrew Jackson, who styled himself as a democrat purely as an electoral pose without doing anything to extend the franchise. He writes

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

He then goes to argue that America today is also not a democracy. It has elections, but in fact the American people aren’t governing themselves, but merely choosing which members of a plutocratic ruling class they want to govern them. And his last point is that the anti-democratic nature of American politics is shown very clearly in how often America has interfered in the elections of foreign nations – either through manipulation, or by invasion – when those countries haven’t elected the leaders America wants.

The article’s well worth reading, and is at https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/13/the-u-s-is-not-a-democracy-it-never-was/

Douglas Adams made a similar point in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On one of the fictional worlds described by the Guide, there are two races. The planet’s society is stratified, so that one of the races is the ruling class, and the other their subordinates. But it is a democracy. Ever so often, elections are held, in which the subordinate race goes off to vote for whichever members of the dominant race they want in power. But the position of the dominant race and their right to rule is never questioned.

I don’t know whether this is one of the other Hitchhiker books, or if it was just in the radio series. But it’s a good satirical description of the way western class politics works. It’s probably more true now than it was in Adams’ time, as the Blairites and the Tories come from the same middle class, and promote the same free market, neoliberal policies, which the rest of us are expected to support uncritically. It’s time to break this class monopoly on power.

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The Young Turks: Trump Wants Iowa Done Again, Because Cruz Cheated

February 4, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a report from the Guardian about Trump’s claim that he lost the Iowa caucus because Ted Cruz spread the rumour that another candidate, Ben Carson, was retiring. In this clip, John Iadarola and Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks also discuss Trump’s allegations, and for cynics its unintentionally hilarious. The real picture is actually rather worse than Cruz just simply spreading rumours about Carson. He also sent out ‘Voter Violation’ warning to people, telling them that they had scored ‘F’ on their voting, and that they should immediately go out and vote for him. The Turks make the point that this is a dirty trick, and that no one grades anybody on how they vote, so people should have had the intelligence to throw these bogus notices away. But they also point out that this is widely done by the Republicans.

As for the rumour about Ben Carson, they don’t have much sympathy for The Donald about this one, as it is very, very common. Carson announced that he was going to Florida, instead of New Hampshire, where the next primary was going to be held. Cruz immediately tweeted about it, speculating that this indicated he was going to drop out. The Young Turks don’t actually blame Cruz for that, as although it’s a dirty trick, just about all of the Republicans would have done the same and it’s par for the course. They all spread dirty rumours about each other. Mike in his post on the Guardian report listed some. I mentioned a few others, going all the way back to Andrew Jackson in the 19th century and beyond. A few years ago, Karl Rove claimed that John McCain had father an illegitimate Black girl. In fact, McCain had adopted a south Asian girl. This also shows how useful the term ‘outnigger’ is to describe the competitive hatred of Blacks and exploitation of racial prejudice in American politics.

The Turks state that they had been pleasantly surprised by Trump’s behaviour up to this point. He had appeared to accept his defeat with good grace. Now it’s the opposite, and he’s throwing a temper tantrum, declaring that the election was stolen and demanding it to be done again. The Turks point out that this simply doesn’t happen, and in case, Trump lost by four points. This is far beyond what could be accounted for by the Carson supporter switching their allegiance. And even if they had, it’s their vote to give, so Trump can’t complain about not getting it.

John Iadarola does state that, at the risk of being called hypocritical, he has different standards when it comes to the Democrats, as it looks like Hillary did some trick in the Democrat elections to make a third candidate lead with a narrow majority over Bernie Sanders. This annoys him, because he expects higher from the Democrats. The Republicans, however, have always been clowns using such underhand methods against each other, and so you should expect it from them. Indeed, the Turks jokingly suggest that their supporters should embrace it and elect them because of the way they trick them.

All this just shows what a cesspool Republican politics are. In the case of the Republican party, H.L. Mencken was right when he said that the only way for a journalist to look on a politician is down.

Trump Blames Fail in Iowa due to Rumours

February 3, 2016

According to Mike over at Vox Political, Donald Trump is already pleading dirty tricks to explain his failure to take the lead in the Iowa Caucus. He claims that the results were skewed by a rumour going round that one of the other Republican candidate, Ben Carson, was going to retire. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/03/trump-gets-the-hump-over-iowa-vote/. Mike also reports that the piece about it in the Guardian states that this is par for the course in America. Both George Dubya and his father are supposed to have beaten their opponents by spreading rumours about them, or otherwise manipulating images to blacken their names.

This is true, and it’s been going on almost since the beginnings of America itself as an independent, sovereign nation. Andrew Jackson was plagued by a series of malicious rumours. One of these was that he had taken the virginity of the daughter of southern gentleman, while staying with the girl’s parents. Another was that he was drunkard and an atheist, who planned to burn Bibles. There are eerie echoes of that today, in all the bizarre pronouncements made by various Republicans about liberals in general being manic atheists, determined to destroy Christianity and American pride, decency and liberty. Ann Coulter devoted a whole book to this point, Godless: the Church of Liberalism. Or some such, in which she declared that liberals were indeed heartily opposed to God, and formed a dire atheist church in which ‘abortion is the highest sacrament’. There are atheist churches. One opened here in Bristol last October, but ‘liberalism’ as a general political creed isn’t a religious, or anti-religious faith. Atheists can be liberals, but then, so can people of faith and agnostics. And indeed, Soviet Communism was militantly atheist, but hardly liberal.

The book Rumor, by Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker (New York: Penguin 1984) lists some of the American politicians, who’ve been plagued by malign rumours. These include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin van Buren, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and JFK.

There’s a story about one of the 20th century American presidents – I think it may have been FDR, but I’m not sure – states that when one of his aids asked him what they were going to say about his rival, the great man responded by telling him to spread a particularly vicious rumour. The man was a farmer, and so FDR, or whoever, said, ‘Tell ’em he f*cks his pigs’. The aid was horrified, and protested that it was untrue. But the president continued. ‘Yeah, but let the sonofabitch prove it.’

Sometimes the attempts to cast aspersions on a rival’s character are genuinely witty, and actually show the man or woman to be entirely blameless, while seeming to do the opposite:

George ‘Smooch’ Smathers, in his 1950 campaign for the Senate, made this speech attacking his rival:

Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy.

So it’s been a long established custom in America to use all manner of dirty tricks to spread damaging rumours against one’s political opponents. However, the authors of Rumor also noted that this rarely works, though it’s the only positive thing that can be said of the tactic.

Not that this changes what happened to Trump. He still lost, and he’s whining about it. As you’d expect.