Do We Really Want Democracy?

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Our founding fathers raised this same question! They didn’t want a Monarchy. But they also didn’t want a Mobocracy. John Adams, our second president, distrusted the masses and defended inequality among men and advocated a government by an Aristocracy based on birth, education, and wealth.

Even our two political parties want to moderate Democracy. They each appoint “super-delegates.” Super-delegates are (1) given more votes that the normal delegate and (2) they are under less obligation to follow the will of their voters. The hope is that super-delegates will counter the pressure of too much “populism” that might give the nomination to the wrong candidate for that party. The super-delegates in the Democratic Party will side with Hillary Clinton to counter the growing popularity of Bernie Sanders, a strong populist and progressive.

The Republican Party also wants to exercise some control over who they will have as their Presidential candidate. They have fewer super-delegates but there is back door group trying to make sure that Donald Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot of the Republican Convention that will take place in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.

Our founding fathers did not vote for a direct democracy. This would require our citizens to vote on successive referendums. Instead, they asked the citizens to vote on candidates who will represent their interests. Our founding fathers chose a Republic, not a Democracy, and as citizens it is our job to vote in “wise” elected officials who will do the voting for us on serious public issues.

Every four years, on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November, our citizens enter voting booths to vote for the next president and vice president and other officials. At the end of the day, we have a record of the popular vote and the winners will be declared. But this statement on the winner is not guaranteed because the Electoral College has not yet cast its vote.

Our founders established the Electoral College in Article II, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It represented a compromise. Some politicians favored a purely popular election where the candidate with the most votes became the President. Other politicians thought that this would be reckless and could lead to mob rule and a poor Presidential choice.

The Electoral College involves citizens actually voting for electors who would then cast their votes for the candidates. Each state gets a number of electors equal to the number of its senators and representatives. Today the Electoral College consists of 538 electors. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December, electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for president and vice president. Some states have laws that require electors to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote, while other electors are bound by pledges to a specific political party. These votes are sealed and sent to the president of the Senate. This Senator opens and reads the votes in the presence of both houses of Congress on January 6th. The winner is sworn into office at noon on January 20th.

Most of the time, the vote of the electors corresponds with the popular vote. The laws of some states require electors to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote, while other electors are bound by pledges to a specific political party. There have been four elections – in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 – when the presidential candidate who won the popular vote lost the election because of receiving fewer electoral votes.

Which democracy would you prefer?

There are four possibilities. We could go back to the smoked filled rooms to choose our Presidential candidates. Those smoked-filled rooms gave us as many poor candidates (think Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge) as well as able ones (think Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson).

Or we could eliminate the Electoral College – this would require a Constitutional amendment – and agree that the President will be the winner of the popular vote – even allowing for the possibility of a Mobocracy result.

Or we could keep the Electoral College and risk that some favored Presidential candidate occasionally loses the election because of the skewed votes in the Electoral College.

Or we could insist that the electors in all states follow the popular vote, not allowing delegates to vote on pledges to a specific political party. In that case, we don’t even need an Electoral College.

What type of democracy do we prefer? How do we avoid electing as President a bigger-than-life figure who promises to deliver a better life to those who have been crushed by globalization, technology, and foreign groups. H.L. Menken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Given the low quality of public school education in the U.S. and the high complexity of public issues, no wonder many voters just vote for the Presidential candidate who promises them the most.

But we need to distinguish between two vastly different types of super-populist candidates whose platforms overwhelm those put forward by the more conventional candidates. The first is a “snake-oil type salesman who promises to have the solution to every problem. Trust him to make a “deal.” He has an oversized personality, highly absorbed with himself, has an opinion of every matter arising not out of deep analysis but personal instinct. The second is the “issue evangelist.” The election is not about him but about issues and solutions. He wants to make the world a better place and he has identified the major issues and he proposes specific remedies. This super-populist is much more acceptable even if his solutions are difficult to implement. Our democracy must guard against the first type of super-populist.

Those who believe in democracy are followers of the liberal tradition. Liberalism came out of the Enlightenment and the belief that citizens should have a voice in how their government works. The preferred democratic ideal is “one citizen, one vote.” Voting consists of holding regular elections where citizens can reject disappointing elected officials and choose better ones. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very much. Over 96 percent of our incumbents are reelected in each election, thanks much to the shenanigans of gerrymandering. The incumbents try to redesign their Congressional voting district to contain as many voters who are favorable to them.

Democracy requires more than regular elections. There are many countries that have regular elections but no democracy. Democracy requires free speech, free press, free assembly and the rule of law. Democracy requires political parties who are willing to work together to enact legislation in the public interest, to avoid gridlock.

Democracy requires a President with leadership qualities who does not overreach. Democracy requires a Supreme Court made up of learned judges who are open minded, not ideologically predisposed with each new issue.

And perhaps most importantly, Democracy requires the public funding of elections to ensure that our elected officials are not “bought” by special interests or corporate lobbyists. There are organizations like MovetoAmend.org working for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen’s United.

In analyzing our American democracy, I identified fourteen problems whose solutions would lead to a much better working democracy (see Democracy in Decline, Rebuilding the Future – Sage 2016). If these problems are neglected, our democracy will decline in its ability to serve its “customers.” Do we really want to live in a Democracy? The answer is yes, especially if it is designed to better serve the real interests of our citizens.

For more on this topic, see Philip Kotler’s current book: Confronting Capitalism, andDemocracy in Decline, Rebuilding the Future (forthcoming – Sage, July 2016).

What do you think? Join the debate. And please tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in Chicago.

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