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September 29, 2020

A broken democracy

Opinion

September 29, 2020

A White House that muses openly about not counting votes. A Senate rushing to cement in place a fiercely conservative Supreme Court. We have plenty of reasons these days to despair for our democracy. The Commission on Presidential Debates has just added another.

This independent blue-ribbon panel has produced every presidential debate since 1988. The 2020 debate series will launch this coming Tuesday, and the Commission has now announced the six topics that will each get 15 minutes at the initial square-off between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Those six topics, as selected by Chris Wallace, the first debate’s moderator: the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.

This imprecise jumble of broad categories and specific issues makes little logical sense. Are we talking here about 'race' or 'racism'? Can a question about the 'economy' come up in the 15 minutes devoted to “the Trump and Biden records”? And how can a topic list for a presidential debate in 2020 – the year West Coast skies turned red – not make any reference to climate change?

The Commission claims to be looking “forward to bringing high-quality, educational debates to the electorate” in 2020. Tuesday’s debate will bring us nothing of the sort. We will get instead an exercise that reveals the emptiness of our contemporary democratic dialogue. We simply do not have the capacity to seriously confront, let alone solve, the real challenges we as a society face. We seem structured to fail.

And that brings us to another massive concern absent from Tuesday’s topic list: our staggering maldistribution of income and wealth. Tuesday’s debate will almost certainly come and go without any serious discussion of how economically unequal we have become as a nation. In these days of despair over the state of our democracy, we desperately need that discussion. A deeply unequal society can never be a vibrant, healthy democracy.

At its most basic, after all, the ideal of democracy rests on the notion that we all come out ahead when people can get together and freely discuss and debate the common problems they face. But in deeply unequal societies people don’t share common problems. They live in separate worlds.

In one world, the world of the vast majority, people struggle day in and day out for economic security. In the other world, the universe of the awesomely affluent, deep pockets face an entirely different set of challenges — and their wealth ensures that their challenges get priority attention.

We end up with a broken democracy that afflicts the afflicted and comforts the comfortable, that lets working people die in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley and cuts taxes for the chemical industry movers and shakers whose plants keep spewing chemical killers.

We end up with a society that lets the fortunes of billionaires soar while truly essential workers can never be sure whether this will be the day they catch Covid.

Excerpted from: ‘The Real Threat to Democracy: Concentrated Wealth’

Counterpunch.org