When democratic processes may destroy the essence of democracy

26-2-20

Dear Partners in thought,

Looking back at the two major break points in recent history, which were Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, also points to electoral systemic issues that helped these outcomes. In both cases, these were linked to electoral processes that were perfectly legal and enshrined though markedly less than suitable in the way they led to the final outcome of these historical turns. We are actually witnessing a third development that, if not a denial of democracy, carries some serious problems like with the current Democratic Party’s presidential primary process.  

In the case of Brexit and while “the will of the people had been heard in June 2016 (as we rightly heard from Brexiters), the final outcome was only made possible after three and half years of a divisive process. Brexit finally happened strangely through a general election, this mainly as a result of an enshrined inept and unsuitable technical “first pass the post“ one single round process favouring a de facto abysmal two party system choice that for tactical reasons mainly benefitted the pro-Brexit Tories. Adding insult to injury, this general election that was set up to find an outcome for Brexit took place in lieu of a second referendum where the focus would have been clearer. Putting aside that opinion polls for two years had shown a majority at 52-54% for Remain, it is a fact that 53% of the voters in the December 2019 general election voted for parties that were in favour of a second referendum but the unsuitable and arcane electoral system on offer nullified their wishes. Based on all those facts why did Britain, however tired, let itself be convinced that such a convoluted and unfair decision process was suitable to decide finally on its future in Europe? Where is the debate on this key question? Nowhere.

In the case of the election of Donald Trump in November 2016, he was amazingly elected with a popular vote of less than three million votes thanks to the way state delegates are allocated, this by narrowly winning less populated, rural states though getting in many cases all of their delegates. This relatively over-weighted representation of some “lower profile“ states originates from a system that was enshrined by the principles behind the thinking of the Founding Fathers who wanted then to build a nation and were aiming at what they strongly perceived as fairness among diverse states. It is likely that Donald Trump will not win the popular vote in 2020, this with an even wider gap than in 2016, all the more with the mobilisation of the bi-costal states like New York and California. However this massive bi-coastal influx of votes for the Democratic candidate will not change the 2016 picture those states will give in terms of impact via delegates. In the end and quite aside from the identity of his Democratic opponent, Donald Trump may be reelected by winning, even by small margins the rural and “lower profile“ states that already gave him the White House in 2016 and get most if not all of their delegates. By how many millions of popular votes less than his or her opponent can a presidential candidate seize the White House, making a joke of the “one man one vote“ principle, hiding behind out-dated historical reasons? Today nobody in America, even among well-balanced individuals, dares speaking about this denial of democracy given the enshrined roots of the electoral system.

In both cases of the British referendum and the last U.S. Presidential election the “majority“ lost or could not express itself fairly this due to technicalities and sheer politics. And yet no real debate has taken place as some matters are too sacred or sensitive to even be discussed. There is a need for the spirit of democracy to supersede its tools when those become unsuitable or obsolete, also as a way to save democracy from itself.

Similarly, the primary system of selecting a candidate for the presidential contest that allows “only party members”, many of whom have “strong” and not moderate views, to vote enables a radicalization process that favors the selection of a nominee who while being fairly selected, may not represent the average voter of the party concerned and stands a high likelihood of losing the eventual presidential election. A case in point is the current Democratic primary process where a motivated radical base is driving Bernie Sanders to eventually become the nominee, while standing little chance of winning the presidential race even against an incumbent like Donald Trump, this with far reaching consequences for America and the world. It is clear that the current primary outcome is helped by the highly differentiated style of Mike Bloomberg and his fragmentation of the moderate vote, this regardless of the many qualities the three times Mayor of New York may have. It is also clear that the choice of candidates, none of whom seem to have attracted primary voters like an Obama did in 2008, is also the cause of the potential disaster to come.    So while this third case may be less blatant a problem and likely not a denial of democratic essence there might be some merits for U.S. political parties to review how they select their presidential nominees. Food for thought.

Warmest regards, Serge

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