The crisis of elected misrepresentation is the recognition and exploration of why the presently available forms of governance are inadequate tools concerning organizing collective humanity to self-actualize in the age of crisis. We can begin with a question. Is the American democratic experiment failing, or is it working as intended? The answer is both. It is failing because we inhabit a society of rampant inequity and low economic and social mobility. The institution has failed to evolve with the changing nature of time.
It is working as intended because the US form of representative democracy has always been a political technology designed to serve the wealthy. All governments are legal technologies intended to serve specific groups and often accomplish these goals by excluding others. Our journey toward a more transcendent humanity forces us to question why that is and what may be done about it.
While political processes around the world are rife with corruption, our focus will remain on the United States. There are many weak democracies in the world, but the US is unique in that it is especially vulnerable to ill-intentioned actors through its design, while at the same time being the dominant global power. The process of politics as it is expressed today is a propaganda technology designed to divide and distract the masses. Participants at all levels are generally unconcerned with the policy demands of the public, as evidenced by their voting records. It is a system designed by and for the wealthy, who, through their sponsored candidates, craft policies to further interests favoring their specific groups with little to no concern about how their actions will impact others.
Through the collaborative efforts of the ultra-wealthy and private media corporations, the political process in the United States shifts individual focus away from issues and onto identity. Politics is framed through the lens of duopoly, a competition between opposing political teams not unlike professional sports. Spectacle is the intent, and we eat it up. The individual is encouraged to pick a side, as if there were any ideological differences between either of the parties. In reality, there is no political alternative in the United States. The two popular parties represent the same corporate agenda while taking slightly different positions on a handful of fringe social issues. Our electoral process ensures that whoever is selected by insiders will win, and even when these plans go awry, the end results remain the same. For example, every presidential administration since 1974 has actively transferred wealth from the poor and middle class to wealthy elites. This is unsurprising when we consider that most lawmakers in the United States are millionaires.47 By slashing social services, cutting taxes on the wealthy, and actively promoting the falsehood of trickle-down economics, our elected leadership consistently sells out the working class to corporate interests. Despite this, many Americans willingly participate in the farce and in doing so develop imaginary enemies of the other.
All forms of government reinforce specific ways of being. In theory, democracy intends to provide equal say in shaping national direction to all participating individuals. In practice, the world democracies are organized as slight evolutions of monarchies and could be more accurately described as representative oligarchies. Throughout the world, democratic experiments are failing, disrupting, and disempowering the people they are intended to serve. At the time of its establishment, the United States democratic republic was a revolutionary concept of what the human experience could be outside of the rule of a king, a nation composed of smaller sub-nations (states), each representing a place for experimental ways of living. Elected representatives would meet together to work on policies, programs, and legislation that would help further the interests of the citizens they represented while putting the nation's greater good first. The initial idea of electing representatives to enact democracy was necessary given the size and population distribution of the United States at the time of its inception. It was a time experience of slow information development and spread where the majority practiced sustenance labor, making the required physical presence for decision difficult. Compared to the available forms of governance, the idea that individuals could select someone to represent their shared interests at the national stage was a major improvement over monarchs who had little concern for public desire and opinion.
For all of its innovative qualities, the political technology of representative democracy made a great effort to maintain and further class hierarchies. The United States was designed to be a property-owning democracy, existing to serve the rights of capital holders while actively excluding large swaths of the population, such as people of color, women, and White men who did not own property, from participating in the governance process. The founders were some of the wealthiest citizens in the United States at the time and for the most part were in strong alignment about the preservation of their personal wealth and power. Their support of social hierarchies was strong enough to determine that branches of our present governmental models should prioritize the protection of landed elites.
On June 26, 1787, James Madison told the Senate, “They [the landed interests] ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.” That the preservation of a specific group was legally prioritized over the majority of others sheds light on the root causes of our crisis of elected representation. The system was never intended to be equitable or blind in its distribution of justice. When we consider whether or not the present systems of representative democracy can act as catalysts for a more transcendent human experience, we do so within the context of their origin points. All legal innovations over the past 240 years are slight evolutions of the root, incremental improvements that ultimately exist to serve the same original intent. Here we identify why the present form of US representative democracy is inadequate to help humanity transcend the crisis. All possible institutional innovations remain isolated by the scope of the founding documents and in doing so continue to reinforce division and inequity as a means of social organization.
This is further evidenced by the organization of the federal government, which, through its design, is intended to slow and stifle change. Representative democracy in the United States is rooted in two core principles: slow government and the division of power. Slow government is intended to act as a failsafe, preventing rogue actors from dramatically shifting the systemic power balance within a single term. It is principally a conservative idea, actively supporting the maintenance of the status quo and stifling change. Consider that in the present day, US laws are very easy to make but extremely difficult to repeal. Over time, this compounds into layers of unnecessary bureaucracy that serve only to entrench existing power structures and limit opportunities for transformation. It also encourages lawmakers to abuse laws for their personal advantage, such as leveraging information to trade stocks before legislative decisions are revealed to the public. This blatant corruption exists because the mechanisms to stop it are extremely difficult to enact. In theory, the separation of powers is a viable and ideal component of democratic governance. However, in practice, we can observe that it creates an impasse; lawmakers are unable to effectively break ties. Today we see the separation of powers primarily used to stagnate progress, even when a specific party possesses unified control.
We can consider the example of what happens when a bill passes in the House of Representatives but fails to pass in the Senate. At this point, the bill is essentially dead in the water, and the people it intended to serve are left without recourse. It creates a political culture where passing new legislation almost always consists of material concessions for the wealthy but rarely anything more than moral concessions to the poor. Obstructing the elevation of the majority is the most bipartisan effort our legislators engage in. The crisis of elected misrepresentation is as much an issue with the failings of our leadership as it is a critique of the system itself. How can humanity transcend the crisis when the vehicle available to us resists change by design?
Overcoming the crisis of elected misrepresentation is necessary to transcend because governments define the laws governing our relationships with each other. Nowhere is this more evident than in our economic law. The politics of modern economics is a tug-of-war between two opposing viewpoints, one being increasing support for markets through the loosening of federal guidelines, restrictions, taxes, and the elimination of social safety nets, and the other being the expansion of redistributive social protections, more heavily regulated and segmented markets, and increased taxes on the wealthy to reduce capital supply.
These two opposing philosophies create a pendulum where each consecutive administration works to reverse the direction of their predecessors, the sum of which results in stagnation. Consider also the increasing inequity stemming from our economic arrangements that has been ignored by congressional leadership. From 1979 to 2020, US productivity increased 61.8 percent while wages only increased 17.5 percent.48 During the thirty years prior, productivity and wages grew in parallel, increasing 118 percent and 107 percent, respectively. The recent decline is due to the continuous weakening of labor rights in combination with a loosening of regulations on corporations. Today the price of these market-first policies is evident, as much of the US population struggles to keep pace with the rising costs of living while our wealthiest are earning billions more per year. We are told to believe that “our side” is fighting for what’s right and protecting our interests. In reality, one side is transparent about its favoritism toward wealthy elites while the other’s primary objective is to humanize the policies of their adversaries through performative moral concessions. What is apparent is that neither of the two parties possesses any real insight into alternative visions of markets that would better serve the elevation of the collective.
Earlier, we explored how the billionaire manipulates our political discourse, but given how inseparable capital is from US politics, it requires further examination. In 2010, the US Supreme Court voted in favor of the Citizens United case, equating money to free speech and empowering organizations’ unlimited spending on political elections. The ruling stated that organizations do not have to reveal the names of their donors, providing financial anonymity and ensuring that the public would not have access to information regarding whose agenda a candidate was serving.
In the months following the decision, money spent on political elections from anonymous sources increased over one hundred times.49 Politics has always had a problem with corrupt officials, but the legalized bribery in the United States supports practices commonplace in the authoritarian nations our leaders so often criticize. A 2014 analysis demonstrated that wealthy elites and lobbying groups supporting business interests have by far the largest impacts on the direction of policy-making in the United States. Citizens and public interest groups have “little or no independent influence.”50 The predictable results of these arrangements are a federal leadership full of candidates supporting policies that are harmful to and unaligned with the best interests of their constituents. Financialized elections also prevent grassroots challengers from emerging because the money frequently flows from federal to state elections. An individual passionate about people-centric policy rarely possesses the capital necessary to compete in county, state, or federal elections. In summary, the political technologies in the United States and those operating within them consistently reinforce the national direction toward favoring monied interests instead of the collective good.
The crisis of information, truth, and trust impacts the national political direction. Ongoing propaganda campaigns funnel through various information channels to distort public opinion. Funded by the same individuals and groups funneling money into our elections, the average American is subject to a web of misinformation so expansive that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to separate fantasy from reality. This is especially true in America’s most impoverished and undereducated regions, as explained in Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas. “You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before . . . It’s like a French Revolution in reverse, in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy.” Nine out of ten states with the lowest education rankings have representatives who consistently vote for policies that support the elimination of social spending programs such as education. Six out of the ten states with the lowest education rating also are the poorest when measured for median household income.51
There is something fundamentally wrong with a representative democracy when constituents regularly vote against their material interests, especially during moments of increasing struggle and insecurity like our immediate present. It is important to avoid focusing frustrations on the victims, many of whom are products of informational universes that offer no alternatives. Their state and federal representatives, however, are participants in the willing disenfranchisement of those they were elected to serve. These propaganda campaigns instill a vision of American democracy as an unchanging, natural phenomenon frozen in time and immune from revision, promoting beliefs denying the complete malleability of our laws and institutions. In a universe governed by the single truth, everything is subject to change. The crisis of elected misrepresentation requires that we unite a majority around a transcendent philosophy of meaning and value that prioritizes the individual divinity of all. Without it, we have little to no hope of reimagining our methods of self-governance.
At the root of overcoming the crisis of elected misrepresentation is embracing our present forms of representative democracy as legal and political technologies subject to challenge and change. We must be critical of their flaws in a collaborative effort to imagine more for ourselves and the other. We must eliminate any personal attachments with our individual identity with a specific political group or system, knowing full well that these ideals only serve to enslave us to our creations. Self-actualization in the age of crisis is a journey of reimagining humanity in a new image, free from the constraints of a past we had no choice in crafting. The presently available forms of governance and those inhabiting them offer no realistic opportunity for transcendent progress. They exist to serve the specific purpose of furthering the interests of a select few and are in large part responsible for driving us toward the age of crisis. Democracy is the ideal in accordance with the single truth and the relational universe, but we require one that is truly by and for the people. This option is not available, so we must create it. To do that, we must reject what is for what will be.