Is The U.S. A Democracy?

Posted on 6/16/2021 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Americans of my generation (I’m 85) need to apologize to our children and grandchildren for the dysfunctional political mess we are leaving them.

We have taught our children that the United States is the greatest and best country in the world, that American democracy is the world’s best political system and that the U.S. Constitution signed in 1787 outlines a government structure that will forever be superior to all other political systems.

We teach that there is very little, if anything, in the Constitution that needs adjustment or change.

We have promised our children that if they study and work hard their lives will always get better and that the U.S. will always be the leading and most powerful nation in the world.

Much of this is false.

Too often we Americans take on an attitude of superiority, haughtiness, presumptuousness and self-importance when it comes to relations with other peoples of the world. American First. America Best.

In a democracy the wishes of the majority are supposed to establish state policies. All citizens have the right to choose their leaders. Leaders are expected to act in ways that will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the majority of citizens.

In the U.S. there are 100 senators. The 48 Democrats and the two Independents who usually vote with the Democrats represent 56% of the population. The 50 Republican senators represent 44% of the population. Given the filibuster rules, senators representing only 23% of the U.S. population can defeat any proposed legislation that the 77% wants to implement. And some of the 23% That’s minority rule, not majority. That’s not compromise, it’s demanding almost universal acceptance of anything that’s implemented.


The United States is a “Capitalist Society” not a “Democracy.” Often, the two cannot successfully co-exist.
The key difference between capitalism and democracy is that while capitalism pertains to the economy of the state, democracy pertains to the governance of a country. The U.S. is a Capitalist society that pretends to be a democracy.

Democracy is about seeking what is in the best interest of the community - and the world at large. Capitalism is about seeking wealth, influence and power for oneself while exploiting others to the degree necessary to achieve one’s personal goals. Success is measured by how far one can advance compared to their neighbors, and the rest of the world.

As Ezra Klein said in the New York Times, “The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response.”

Capitalism is all about maximizing profit. In a Capitalist society each individual acts in what he or she perceives is their personal self-interest to legally increase their wealth and influence. If certain actions are not recognized as legal then they seek to change the laws to protect the wealthy and those with influence.
In 1776 leaders of the 13 states joined together to try to remove the British monarchy’s control over activities in the new world. The Declaration of Independence says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” When Jefferson used the term “men” he was really referring to “white, Anglo-Saxon, males of wealth, privilege and influence.” He didn’t use the word “people.”

When drafting the Constitution in 1787 they ignored the idea of all men being created equal and made it possible for a few elite, male citizens in the colonies to control the future of the country. Initially, the only people who had a say in how the country would be operated were white, educated males. These leaders systematically discriminated against Women, Blacks and Native Americans all of whom had no say in how the country would by operated. Capitalists do everything they can to suppress the will of the majority when their interests are threatened.

In 1787 in order to get 13 independent states to agree to establish one central government and determine the number of seats each state would have in the House of Representatives, it was necessary to allow the Southern states with relatively small white populations to count black slaves as 3/5th of a white citizen for the purpose of determining the number of representatives each state would be allowed. Indians living in the country were not counted.  This compromise gave white, male citizens of the Southern states (actual voters) more representatives and power than they might have had otherwise. That’s not democracy

Given the way our governing system is designed the will of the majority has nothing to do with it. Decision-making and investments are determined by the owners of wealth, property and production ability, not majority rule.

Even after the Civil War in 1965 and the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 it wasn’t until 1870 when the 15th Amendment barred voting rights discrimination on the basis of race that black male citizens were given the right to vote. However, the door was left open for the states to “determine the specific qualification for suffrage.” Many Southern state legislatures used such qualifications—including literacy tests, poll taxes and other discriminatory practices—to reduce the number of Black voters. White males of wealth and privilege continued to rule.

Today, many states are instituting other voting rules that will make it difficult not only for blacks, but also liberal whites to vote.

It was another 50 years in 1920 before women were given the right to vote. Before 1920, it was assumed that what was best for white men was best for all citizens. Up to that time married women were treated as their husband’s property with the duties of raising children, caring for the home, feeding the family, harvesting the crops and servicing the man. Non-married women had no say at all.

It was 1924 before the passage of the Snyder Act granted Native Americans full U.S. Citizenship and the right to vote. They were the original citizens of the country.

The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants but since WWII more and more people from other parts of the world, not just Europe, began legally entering the county and gaining citizenship. As I see it, this has been a good thing because immigrants have done a lot to help this country grow and prosper. However, now it is so easy to travel and move goods and resources anywhere in the world that we all need each other, both to supply resources and buy our products. As humans we also need to care for one another and find ways to co-exist peacefully with other humans wherever they were born or live, not just U.S. citizens

In the last 50 years or so white voters of Anglo-Saxon heritage have become a smaller and smaller percentage of the U.S. population. White males are now definitely a minority. Many of these males see this as a threat to their control and influence over how the country should be operated to benefit them. A significant portion of them are fighting to regain their privileges. Given the changes in the population structure they are unlikely to be successful in the long run, but in the meantime, they can be very disruptive.

Meanwhile, other nations outside the U.S. are getting stronger and more influential in the world.


Until recently, the U.S. was the largest trading country in the world. Now China is the largest. Since 1984 life expectancy in China has increased by 10 years while in the U.S. it is 1.6 years. China’s average per capita income has increased 22 times and is now about $12,472. In the U.S. the average per capita income in 2019 was $34,103 and the average disposable income per household (including many two worker households) was about $44,000. While the income per person is higher in the U.S. than China the growth in income rate for U.S. workers since 1970 has only been 6.74 times and not kept up with inflation.

The U.S. advantage in terms of overall income is deceptive. The cost of basic lifestyle needs are much higher in the U.S. than China. Thus, the average Chinese worker probably enjoys a much better and improving lifestyle than the average U.S. worker due to lower costs of most basic needs.

On the other hand, given the way Capitalism works senior corporate leadership enjoys a much better lifestyle than most workers. From 1978 to 2018 the average U.S. worker’s salary rose about 12% and did not keep up with inflation. In the same period the average CEO’s compensation rose 940%. In 2020 while Covid 19 raged top corporate leaders in America saw huge growth in their fortunes. As of October 2020, there were 614 billionaires in the U.S.

In February 2021 the wealth of U.S. billionaires was $4.2 trillion while the wealth of the bottom 50% of Americans was only $2.36 trillion. That’s an average wealth of about $14,300 for everyone in the bottom half of the country. Not much if a major emergency arises.

The poverty rate in China went from 88% in 1984 to less than 1% in 2019. The following is the poverty rates in the U.S. in 2020 depending on the persons in the households.

Persons    Income Below
1    $12,880
2    $17,420
3    $21,960
4    $26,500
5    $31,040
6    $35,580
7    $40,120
8    $44,660

In 2019 the Adjusted Gross Income of those filing tax returns were as follows:
Earning of percentage filing tax returns – Adjusted Gross Income
Under $10,000            13.8%
Between $10,000 and $20,000    13.9%        27.7%
Between $20,000 and $30,000    12.1%        39.8%
Between $30,000 and $40,000    10%        49.8%

Remember that in many cases these returns represent the combined income of 2 workers in a household. 27.7% had incomes below $20,000 and 39.8% had incomes below $30,000. Almost half of all those filing had incomes below $40,000

Of course, there are a lot of things not to like about the way the Chinese government operates. Their treatment of the Muslim minority Uighurs, some call it genocide, is unconscionable. Their attempt to regain control of the independent country of Taiwan is unacceptable. Their attempt to control traffic in recognized international waters and their pressure tactics on European and Asian democracies are also unacceptable.

But, the U.S. also has a lot of things not to be proud of as well including our treatment of minorities; not taking climate change seriously; ignoring science and facts; blaming and discriminating against all Muslims for the actions of a very few; white supremist and our insistence that everyone should have the unrestricted right to own a gun. (We place restrictions on driving a car, but not on gun ownership because the Constitution written by white, privileged males says so.)

There are an estimated 434 million firearms in civilian possession in the U.S. About 214 million of these guns have entered the market since 1991. In 2020 there were 19,373 gun deaths, not counting 24,090 suicides using a gun. In addition, there were another 39,427 non-fatal gun injuries.

One advantage of a dictatorship is that once the leader makes a law or decides that something should be done it gets done quickly.

China has 40,000 kilometers of high-speed rail. The U.S. talks about high-speed rail, but has none. When Covid 19 struck in Wuhan, China built a 4,000-room quarantine center in 10 days. China has also built a 50-story skyscraper in 19 days. China has launched its $900 billion Silk Road project to improve transportation on land and sea between China and Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The Chinese say they will ultimately lend $8 trillion for infrastructure projects to 68 countries. In the U.S. where our infrastructure is collapsing, we talk about infrastructure needs, but we can’t find the money to do anything about them.

Our political system is dysfunctional. When a new idea is presented our leaders ignore the issue, debate it, fight about it, decide what will be best for their personal fortunes and political party and make arguments why we can’t afford it. Paying for anything that doesn’t provide immediate personal enjoyment and gratification is anathema. The idea of everyone contributing a fair share of the cost based on their assets is never considered.

Then the leaders lie about the new idea, endlessly litigate, kick it down the road, sunset clause it and create a bill which either can’t get passed through the legislature or offers a half ass solution that doesn’t kick in for 10 years.

Dictatorships usually aren’t great either unless the people are lucky enough to get a “benevolent dictator” which is very rare. But a Capitalist system where the wealthy 1% only does things that will protect and grow their fortunes regardless of how their actions exploit the masses isn’t the answer either.

An apology is not enough. Recently, I was asked by a 30-year-old what could be done to get us out of this situation. I didn’t have an answer. Everyone is so focused on their immediate personal interests. No one cares about anyone else. In such an environment it will hard for one or a few to bring about any meaningful change.

There are no facts or truth anymore. Only what someone says on social media. Even when a major issue like Covid 19 should bring us together, it doesn’t. Over 600,000 people have died of the disease. We have very effective vaccines with almost no evidence of serious reactions to them. And yet 40% of our population refuses to be vaccinated, if not to protect themselves then to protect others they might pass the disease to.

Over the last 30 or 40 years we have allowed our leaders to dig us into such a deep hole that I don’t see much if anything the next generation can do to climb out of the problem.

Copyright © 2021 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


  • Spencer Grant Posted Jun 18, 2021
    Well put and relevant. It reflects what thinking people in the US believe. But how many of them are there? I'm reminded of when a supporter of Adlai Stevenson said "You have the support of every thinking person in the country," to which Stevenson replied "That's not enough! I need a majority!" Let's hope there'll be one this time. Thanks again -- Spencer

  • Leif Skoogfors Posted Oct 3, 2021
    Thank you, Jim. Well said and very relevant today. Thanks, Leif

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