The Tyranny of Democracy

The latest and most persistent reason given from Washington for America’s entanglement in Iraq is “democracy building.” Our holy mission, which has gone from disarming a brutal tyrant harboring weapons of mass destruction to something intangible and sublime, is meant to liberate Iraqis from themselves. Provided with the cleansing salve of free elections and representative government, the thinking goes, our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters (but mostly brothers) will rise up from the depravity of dictatorship and enjoy the prosperous existence of free men and women. Liberty will triumph over totalitarianism, etc.

It’s a nice-sounding idea, but, as recent uncivil developments have demonstrated, putting the theory into practice is closer to impossible than to difficult. The power of religion to incubate entrenched hatred for the other team trumps the most well-intentioned governmental program, and no matter who gets the votes it’s awfully hard to govern when the populace is determined to blow itself (and the other guy’s shrine) into oblivion.

Implementing American-style democracy has an essential problem, which tends to get overlooked when people are dying needless deaths: It’s not truly representational government.

How can anyone — not the least someone who has lived his entire life under the specter of a megalomaniacal regime — believe in America’s way of running a country when that way disenfranchises nearly half the population? Almost exactly half the people in the United States voted for candidates other than the ones who got elected in the last presidential and senatorial elections. This massive bloc of citizens, however, has no voice in government. The way most states pledge their electoral votes is all-or-nothing, meaning that although voters may have been split 50.5% to 49.5% at the polls, 100% of the king-making juice goes to the candidate preferred by .5% of the voters. Similarly, thanks to the elitist roots of the institution, it’s possible (and even plausible) that the Senate can be controlled by senators representing a minority of the voters, thereby disenfranchising millions of concerned Americans who naively believed that their one vote counted as much as the next person’s. If we were sensible enough to structure our democracy proportionally, as many other countries do, our ruling bodies would certainly be more fractious, splintered, and inefficient. They would also be fairer and more inclusive.

Anybody who has watched carefully over the past eight years how Americans install their leaders must surely suspect that the concept of “majority rule” isn’t really how we do things, nor is it necessarily a noble concept. The majority, even when it is truly representative of the largest number of assenting people, often acts in something less than the best interest of the minority, further disenfranchising those without access to power. It’s no wonder that the average Iraqi is mistrustful of the United States. The brand of democracy we’re selling can be as insidiously tyrannical as one-party rule. It just looks nicer.

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