By Ted Wachtel
Athens, Greece, beginning about the fifth century B.C., was the first democracy. It was an inspiration to the founders of the U.S. Constitution, although they changed the method for choosing legislators, from selection by lottery to competitive election.
A Crisis of Trust
When Benjamin Franklin, a founder of the American republic, emerged from Independence Hall in Philadelphia after the secret deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he was asked by Mrs. Elizabeth Powel, who was in the crowd outside the hall, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
“Keeping it” is still the basic challenge for the United States, and for all democratic republics that have arisen since. So, how’s it going?
- In the United States, more than 40% of eligible voters don’t vote in presidential elections.
- Over 70% don’t vote in presidential primary elections.
- Over 60% don’t vote in state and local elections.
- Nearly 80% don’t vote in state and local primary elections.
If most Americans don’t vote in most elections, do we still have the government that president Abraham Lincoln famously described as “of, by and for the people?”
Voting in elections is also declining in European democracies and elsewhere. Increasingly, people do not trust their elected representatives to speak the truth. Politicians in democracies around the world have sacrificed truth on the altar of power. Truth has become irrelevant. Winning elections is all that matters.
Citizens see their elected representatives as primarily concerned with enriching themselves. A Transparency International survey of 114,000 people in 107 countries found that only 23 percent believed their governments were effectively dealing with corruption.
In 1958, about 75% of Americans expressed trust in their country’s government “most or all of the time.” Now only 19% of Americans trust their government “most or all of the time.”
Most elected officials in democratic republics represent the interests of those wealthy individuals and powerful organizations that fund their election campaigns, more than they serve the needs of the general public.
Alvin O’Konski, a U.S. congressman for 30 years, asserted that most lawmakers “are bought, sold, signed, sealed and delivered.” Campaign donations have become another form of bribery that corrupts representative government. In the U.S., repeated attempts to limit the influence of money in the election process, including campaign finance reform, have failed.
Citizens lack true representation.