This Republic isn’t very democratic. We must change that

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Puerto Rican citizens are U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote for their head of state. That is fundamentally unjust and undemocratic.

In polarizing times, one thing many of us agree is that there is a disconnect between politicians and the working class.

The U.S. Congress holds an approval rating of 28% according to a recent Statista poll. Only 6% of those polled in 2020 had a great deal of confidence in Congress.

The U.S. is a republic, meaning through universal suffrage the population elects representatives to– well, represent them. The U.S. population feels unrepresented by our elected officials. Campaign promises go unfulfilled, and the process of contacting our elected officials is beyond shallow. It is past time to introduce Constitutional amendments reforming the republic to be more democratic.

As the government drags its feet on infrastructure, facing a looming debt default crisis and 700,000 COVID deaths, it’s not hard to feel frustrated with the U.S. republic. We are constantly hounded by fearmongering headlines and quotes proclaiming our “democracy is under threat,” which only adds fuel to the fire.

Frances Haugen, a whistleblower from Facebook, testified before Congress about challenges facing U.S. democracy. The threat is serious, but anyone who thinks our “great democracy” is under assault has been so thoroughly indoctrinated into American exceptionalism propaganda that they can’t see systemic problems.

As Haugen testified, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, went sailing. Why would he worry about elected representatives he’s bought out? According to Forbes, Facebook officials have spent at least $3.9 million on political contributions. Of the 12 senators on the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, 11 received donations from Facebook’s PAC. Zuckerberg not attending a “groundbreaking testimony” to defend his company’s reputation demonstrates how unthreatened he is.

Billionaires command too much power in our republic. Ask yourself, which of your representatives have you personally sat down with to discuss the issues affecting your life? Now, Google how often that politician attends events hosted by and for billionaires.

When the founders established the U.S. Constitution, they argued the U.S. should be a republic over democracy to protect property owners from the will of the majority, who were propertyless. James Madison argued in The Federalist Papers No. 10 that a republic could balance interests of the working and owning classes. This has been proven wrong.

Even Adam Smith, considered the founding father of capitalism, noted that governments always prioritized business owners. This undemocratic issue is systemic and is not restricted to the federal government. An Atlantic article by Patrick Wyman demonstrated how local elites influence our lower levels of society.

So what democratic ideals can we look toward? Missouri has popular referendums which can become Constitutional amendments. Sadly, it is left to our leaders’ discretion. Referendums at the federal level have never been tried.

The best we had was the We the People petitioning system, in which petitions with enough signatures were addressed by the executive branch. It went down for maintenance during the Trump administration and appears to no longer exist with the Biden administration. It was a platitude, but it was better than nothing. We should be able to pass referendums at the federal level.

We must find new ways of codifying the popular will of the people. Otherwise, politicians can lie about the will of their constituents. Reforms should transfer power to the people, and away from elected bodies seemingly incapable of enacting our will.

We must also encourage legislation which taxes the wealthy at higher rates, challenging monopolies. This isn’t an issue of raising funds for social services or the federal budget; it’s about reducing the influence of the wealthy over our government.

Another necessary step towards true democracy is extending voting rights to U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. These territories were once independent nations. Under the U.S. administration, they maintain some political autonomy, but their head of state is the U.S. president.

Puerto Rican citizens are U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote for their head of state. That is fundamentally unjust and undemocratic. When we clutch our pearls screaming “we must protect democracy,” I truly wonder if these territories relate.

There are many ways to make the U.S. a more democratic and inclusive nation. We shouldn’t only be worried about protecting what democratic aspects of the republic we currently have, but actively transforming the republic to be a democracy. The best way to protect democracy is to expand it to anywhere it can reach.

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Caleb Sprous
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