I am sick and tired of hearing that Donald Trump ‘is a threat to American democracy.’ The more I hear this argument, the more I am convinced that most people haven’t the slightest clue of what a democracy really is. It is not a buzzword that can be sprinkled throughout political speeches for good measure, or a justification for bombing black and brown nations. Democracy has a very precise definition.
When we study the history of democracy, it is traced back to ancient Greece. For them, the fundamental feature of a democracy was the use of sortition: the process of putting the names of all the adults into a hat and selecting those that came out to serve in government. There were no elections or political parties, just a process of random selection by lottery.
That is a far cry from what we have in America, folks. Every time a politician throws their hat into the ring for public office, voters are primarily concerned with their accolades and affiliations. People become fixated with their resumes: where they have worked? What kind of law degree do they have? Which big wig donors are financing their campaign? The result is that political offices are disproportionately held by rich, white males.
In a real democracy, no one would be concerned with who is an “expert.” Adults from all walks of life – whether they are teachers, plumbers, or preachers – have a legitimate opportunity to serve in government. As the late, great C.L.R. James said: “every cook can govern.”
If this idea seems outlandish, it is because the American political system has zero faith in ordinary people like you and me. Government officials scoff at the idea that the average person can make intelligent and informed decisions. Consider the fact that the Hillary Clinton Campaign stated that they wished to produce “an unaware and compliant citizenry.” The government goes out of its way to suppress our voices: felony disenfranchisement, demanding IDs at voting booths, gerrymandering our neighborhoods, and allowing politicians to be bought off by corporations. Adding insult to injury is the fact that civics courses are barely taught in schools anymore; so it is no surprise that a growing amount of voting-age people simply disengage from politics altogether.
America is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy: a society ruled by a few. Donald Trump cannot be a threat to that which does not exist.
Granted: the Greek democracy did not allow slaves or women to vote. This much is reprehensible and indefensible. But we can correct that failure and still appreciate that random selection is necessary for building a genuine democracy. Sortition is not the solution to oppression; but if we are to eradicate oppression, there will need to be sortition.
James, C.L.R. Every Cook Can Govern