A 2022 opinion poll by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics found 56% of respondents agreed with the statement “the government is corrupt and rigged against everyday people like me,” including 66% of Republican respondents, 63% of independents, and 46% of Democrats.
Moreover, 25% indicated that they felt it might “soon be necessary to take up arms” against the government. It is not surprising that a majority of Americans believe our government is corrupt (Gallup polls having been reporting levels in the mid-seventies for over a decade), but that 25% believe violence against the government may be warranted shows a new level of intensity.
Why do democracies fail? The word “democracy” means rule by the people in Latin, which is sometimes taken to mean rule by the majority, but simple majority rule is a formula for disaster because the wealthy are always in the minority and democracy becomes a license for the lower class to plunder the upper class, which is what happened in the French revolution when guillotines were erected in town squares.
A better understanding of democracy is “rule by consent of the governed,” which is the basis for constitutional democracy. Back in 1787 as our constitution was being debated, James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Political corruption occurs when those in government do not follow the rules and constraints imposed on them by the constitution.
If you are just waking up to the fact that big government breeds corruption, welcome to the real world. Santa Claus does not bring Christmas toys, the Easter Bunny does not hide eggs, a stork does not deliver babies, and our government is not run by angels.
Some may enter politics with the intention of serving the people, but as the Italian philosopher Machiavelli noted five hundred years ago, “All power corrupts.”
Enduring constitutional democracies need more than just a signed piece of paper; they need a strong and prosperous middle class to serve as a buffer between the wealthy and the impoverished, otherwise they degenerate into corrupt dictatorships. History shows that a middle class develops when entrepreneurs are allowed to challenge the enterprises of the entrenched and politically connected upper class.
This competition grows the economy and creates social mobility. Over and over again throughout our history, the wealthy have been displaced by the innovative, and some of the wealthiest people in the United States today where nowhere on the wealth charts twenty or thirty years ago.
By comparison, Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, ranks 136th in economic freedom, has a corruption rating of 29, and a median household income of $5,504.
(I could have added to my list stable democracies countries like Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Belgium, and Ireland, and but I wanted to save space and it would have shown the same pattern).
Where does the United States fit in this picture? We have the highest median household income in the world, but we rank 25th in economic freedom and we are tied with Chile for 27th place with a corruption rating of 67. So, we are not exactly carrying the torch of economic freedom to light the path for the oppressed people of the world.
The 2024 election is still over a year away, but it is shaping up to be a watershed for our nation.
If the Democrats win, with or without Joe Biden, we are likely to see bigger, more intrusive government. They are upset with recent Supreme Court decisions and are likely to expand the number of justices so they can appoint their “angels” to the court while imposing congressional oversight to loosen the constitutional constraint on their legislation. There will be increased government regulation of business and industry, increased regulation of public discourse, increased indoctrination of our children through public education system, and increased taxation of the wealthy so they can buy the votes of those with lower incomes, making them dependent of the government rather than enabling them to move up the rungs of the economic ladder to the middle class.
Donald Trump has already disclosed his plans if he is elected president. He intends to “drain the swamp” by removing civil service protection from thousands of government employees and replacing them with people who have been vetted to insure they are loyal to his agenda, and he will have Congress place government departments and agencies directly under his control. Just last week he announced a plan to build 10 “freedom cities” on federal lands out west (he didn’t say who he was going to move into those cities) and he wants to pay “baby bonuses” to encourage women to have more babies, but will all pregnancies qualify? He didn’t say.
Democracy is not about ideology. Nations have different cultures and values: some, like Sweden, are very liberal, others are very traditional, some are Catholic, some are Protestant, and some, like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan are Buddhist. The durable constitutional democracies on my list, like Sweden, are philosophically quite liberal, while some are steeped in tradition.
Some are Catholic, some are Protestant, while others, like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, are Buddhist. Democracy is about individual freedom, political cooperation, social mobility, and constrained government.
If one is looking for “angel” to come and save our democracy from corruption, they should heed Lord Acton’s dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”