By Somar Wijayadasa*
In the richest and strongest country on earth – the Land of Opportunity – only a few wealthy persons can aspire to be the President of the United States of America, the most powerful and envious job in today’s menacing world.
The Presidential candidates – with lofty words and unrealistic promises – are clamouring to get into the White House. Among the catchy slogans are: “Repeal Obamacare”, “Tear up the Iranian Nuclear Deal”, “Carpet bomb ISIS” and “Punch the Russians in the nose”. Americans love this brash talk but ignore reality.
For decades, the rich have been getting richer and the poor the poorer reducing the middle class and their quality of life. People’s frustrations were vividly revealed in 2011, when millions of people joined the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest in over 600 communities in the USA. against the undue influence of corporations on the government.
They epitomized the social and economic inequality and injustice, political deadlock in Washington, how actions of the plutocracy in Washington benefit the wealthy, undermine democracy, and destabilize the society.
Americans decide who run the country but the voter turnout in the country is among the lowest in the developed world. In 2012 presidential elections, voter turnout was 53.6%, and only 36% voted in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Americans don’t care to vote as they feel that politicians, once in power, enrich themselves, legislate in favour of those who fund their election campaigns, and that they have failed to address major concerns and grievances of the masses.
In a 2012 USA Today poll, 59 percent of non-voters said they were frustrated by the fact that “nothing ever gets done” in government while 54 percent cited “corruption” and 42 percent pointed to the lack of difference between the two parties.
No matter who becomes the President, the major issues may remain the same.
Eleven million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. – a burden on the health care system and social welfare programs – have become a contentious issue debating over building a wall on the border, and mass deportations.
Let’s not forget that America is a land of immigrants. It may bode well for all candidates to recall where their ancestors came from – and under what circumstances.
America has enough laws such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, and the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 to deal with immigration.
Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security protects the United States from “any illegal movement of weapons, drugs, contraband, and people, while promoting lawful entry and exit” in the country’s best interests.
Affordable health care for all
Instead of giving credit to President Obama for implementing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), presidential candidates vow to repeal it. It is not the ideal “Universal Health Care” but it is better than nothing as opponents provide no viable alternative.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “combined public and private spending on health care in the United States is highest in the world”. Canada and the other 19 wealthiest countries pay about 60% as much on health, and provide free health care to all their citizens.
What is needed is to make Obamacare more affordable? In America, health care is seen as an “opportunity” to get rich, not an opportunity to provide compassionate and low-cost health care services – all due to excessive influence from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries on our lawmakers who pass legislation profitable for those industries, and not fair for the people.
The Government can get care providers (doctors, labs and hospitals) establish a standard fee that is fair, just and reasonable to all – rich and poor, insured or not. Healthcare is a basic human right and cannot work as a for-profit enterprise.
Gun Control and Gun Violence
Every year, gun violence in the United States causes thousands of deaths but the Government has failed to enforce gun control because the US Congress is overwhelmingly against gun regulation.
The right to own guns is regarded by many as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and fiercely defended by lobby groups who influence lawmakers in Washington.
According to bradycampaign.org, “every day, 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and unintentional shootings” – and 89 of them die from gun violence.
Citing a Pew Research survey, which showed that “almost 80% of respondents backed laws preventing the mentally ill from purchasing firearms, and 70% were in favor of a national gun-sale database” Obama said that “the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws”.
In January, saying that “failure to tackle gun control had been the greatest frustration of my presidency” Obama vowed to take executive action to increase background checks on gun buyers.
Climate change and renewable energy
The candidates are clueless on climate change. The deal forged at the Paris climate conference in December 2015 commits rich and poor nations to rein in rising carbon levels and eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from human activity this century.
But the lobbyists in Washington would spend millions of dollars to dissuade lawmakers from supporting renewable and sustainable energy technologies (wind, solar, electric cars, geothermal), eliminate tax breaks for fossil fuel companies, and tax coal-powered plants.
The vagaries of the Electoral College
Another anomaly is that Americans elect their president not through a direct popular vote. The Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the procedure by which the President is elected, which is through the state-focused “winner takes all” system of Electoral College.
For example, in 2000, Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote but Republican George W. Bush was declared the President as he received 271 out of 538 electoral votes.
As usual, there are only rumblings of change.
Campaign financing – Lobbyists and Super-PACs
We know that money controls politics, and how and why lobbyists operate in Washington. In IVN News, Andrew Gripp wrote that “Lobbyists spend over $3 billion a year to influence legislation”, and that “Top 5 industries that lobby Congress are: Pharmaceuticals and Health Products, Insurance, Oil and Gas, Computers and Tech, and Electric Utilities”.
Moreover, limitless campaign financing unduly influences elected officials. In 2010, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commisson, the Supreme Court, citing the First Amendment, ruled that corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities, as long as it was done independently of a party or candidate.
Obama said that “this ruling strikes at our democracy itself” and that it “gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington”.
And former President Jimmy Carter said that “we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over”.
In the 2011-2012 election cycle, “super PACs spent $378 million, while non-disclosing nonprofits spent $171 million” to support candidates. I wouldn’t be surprised if campaign financing this year exceeds one billion dollars.
Voters have a choice
Only one candidate – outside the political establishment – says no to campaign funds from special interests and Super PACs. His message and vision resonate with the voter frustration and anger with the current political system.
Claiming that he is a democratic socialist, he talks about staging a political revolution. The words “socialist” and “revolution” are anathema to Americans even though they may be quite familiar with their colour revolutions and Arab Springs abroad.
If the disgruntled voters want to take their government and country back on course, they should exercise their constitutional right to vote for a candidate who is honest and trustworthy.
If their elected President fails, voters can depose him/her in four years and elect a new President who may deliver on their promises.
*Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer, was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly for ten consecutive years from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000