As we enter the final month or so of the election, it is good to think about the systemic problems we have with the way we choose our political leaders. Widespread disgust with government has been with us since the 1970s when the legitimation crisis first appeared, with Congressional approval rating now at a pitiful 13.8%, and disapproval at nearly 80%. I hear from people all the time that representatives just don’t do what’s right for the general public. While conservatives think the system is distorted by those who they imagine to be the betrayers of America -- liberals, scientists, unions, immigrants, feminists, people of color, and the LGBT community -- a more reality-based view begins with the question, cui bono? Who benefits? Who is it that gains the most from our current electoral system, as it actually functions (or more accurately, dysfunctions)?
Given that middle- and working class incomes have stagnated since the early 1970s while the share of society’s commonly-created economic pie going to the wealthy has exploded, the obvious answer is that it is the wealthy few who are the main beneficiaries of the status quo. Despite conservative attempts to divide and conquer the working class with culture wars, ultimately the main special interest group that a democracy should always vigilantly watch as a potential source of tyranny is the wealthy elite.
While the United States (and other advanced societies) call themselves democracies and ideally believe themselves to be governed of, by, and for the people, the names of things do not always match reality. We still retain some vestige of democratic control, in that the public when roused can slow the machinations of the 1% for a time. But for all other practical purposes we are an oligarchy -- a government of, by, and for the wealthy few -- that keeps up the illusion and pretense of being a democracy. We are in effect an oligarchy because most of the political decisions, large and small, are made by an elite corporate class.