American democracy as spectacle, a concept

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As my past writings have asserted, I am no fan of President Donald Trump. As many Americans did in 2016, I struggled with his electoral victory. Only after several weeks had elapsed did I grit my teeth and attempt to bear with this new and unfavorable reality. Now, four years older, more experienced and wiser, I have come to understand Trump’s presidency in all of its complexities and facets. Understandably — after four years, complete with executive corruption, an impeachment, several lewd comments, fabrications and a reign of presidential tyranny comparable to no leader of a first-world nation alive or deceased — it has not been the easiest period of time. Yet, Trump’s time as president has offered Americans something that no president has ever offered before: the truth about democracy, and how it has existed as a spectacle for all, but a reality for few.  

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Many have claimed that our democratic principles and values have eroded over the past couple of years. Increased partisanship within the legislature, questionable immigration policies and heightened levels of misinformation in the mainstream media are a few of the trends cited as evidence of a damaged American democracy. However, as a mixed-race Muslim man, I understand what is really being damaged. It is the image of democracy that is damaged. The spectacle of American democratic exceptionalism is slowly but steadily crumbling under the eyes of the world, ready to expose the truth in all of its spectacular glory and malevolence. 

Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering exactly what I mean when I say democracy has only existed for a select few in America. Allow us to begin with the voting process. The power of political self-determination is what defines democracy, yet so many have no say in who represents them. In several states, even in 2020, felons cannot vote. Gerrymandering is used to smother the voices of those who live in lower-income communities, which are more often than not (surprise surprise), Black and Brown. Trump himself has openly attempted to stop mail-in voting from being allowed in the 2020 election by way of debunked claims of widespread voter fraud. Not convinced? Let us discuss human rights.  

The power of political self-determination is what defines democracy, yet so many have no say in who represents them. In several states, even in 2020, felons cannot vote. Gerrymandering is used to smother the voices of those who live in lower-income communities, which are more often than not (surprise surprise), Black and Brown.

America has not entirely outlawed slavery. It is still legal to this day, under the 13th amendment, which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…” The practice which contradicts the very words written within the American Constitution, is still very much alive and well today within prisons around the nation. In another case, the land on which we live was finagled from the possession of Native Americans, who existed here long before the Age of Exploration, yet are virtually non-existent and unacknowledged in the written history of our turbulent times. Those that do still represent the Native tribes are relegated to reservations in middle America. Furthermore, descendants of slaves (like my family) have yet to receive reparations from the U.S. government. Malcolm X even attempted to bring the U.S. to justice under the United Nations to no avail. I doubt most of you knew that. Lastly, let us talk about the economy.  

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In 2016, almost 40% of American wealth belonged to the top 1%, with reports predicting an increase of up to 70% in 2021. Those individuals and groups are the ones who get the largest say in elections, in policies and law. In America, a common phrase is “nobody is above the law,” which doesn’t apply to all. To be above the law, you have to be somebody, and somebody with some money. Even when these people get pinched for undercutting the law, rarely do they pay the price. Just ask Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Or Trump.  

The only reason this spectacle exists is because that is what America has decided. America does not function to work for all men, because unlike what the Constitution states, all men are not created equal. Some have a more favorable skin tone, live in a nicer neighborhood, are more connected and at the very basic level, richer. Democracy in America functions for the few, and has ingrained into all of our psyches that this country is exceptional, above criticism and questioning, for while we search for the freedom promised in our bylaws, democracy exists as spectacle rather than reality. 

The only reason this spectacle exists is because that is what America has decided. America does not function to work for all men, because unlike what the Constitution states, all men are not created equal.

“The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep,” Guy Debord said in his book “The Society of the Spectacle.” “The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.”  

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