At Open Democracy, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed argues that Donald Trump is not so much a cause of problems as a symptom of the deeper crises of American democracy in a time of growing economic and environmental constraints.
In 2014, a Princeton University study quantified just how badly US democracy is broken. Using a database of 1,779 policy issues, the study found that when a majority of Americans disagree with “economic elites” or “organised interests”, they “generally lose.”
The authors noted that when average citizens and affluent classes want the same policies from government, they usually get them. But when they disagree, the rich almost always win out. The study did not, contrary to numerous headlines, define the US as an oligarchy, but it did conclude that US democracy is in fact a system of “economic elite domination”.
Since then, the study has generated extensive academic debate, including three studies which have taken issue with these findings. However, the new studies do not contradict the Princeton study’s main verdict that the rich disproportionately dominate policy decisions at the expense of those who are less well-off. And the Princeton study’s verdict was not even that novel – it built on and corroborated the previous findings of numerous other political scientists studying political and economic inequalities in the US.
Trump was not part of the Washington political machinery, and it was this positioning as an ostensible ‘outsider’ even to the Republican Party that he used to his advantage. But ironically, the biggest reason for his victory was the sheer lack of public credibility of the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton. Democrat voters simply didn’t come out to vote for her.
Even if they had, what would they be voting for? Clinton was the favoured candidate of Wall Street, having received the most campaign donations from the US finance and banking elite.