This article was written before the allegation of Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election was made.
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election came as a shock to people of all different political stripes. This election was noteworthy for the exposure of the corruption of the entire system, run by the two major parties. The corporate elites’ backhanded dealings were exposed from the primaries through election night. From the unabashed influence of big business money, to the Democratic National Committee’s obstruction of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid, to the corporate media’s uneven election coverage, and the active disenfranchisement of minority communities, the U.S. presidential elections were exposed for what they are: a rigged system.
Running a coordinated fifty-state campaign requires significant resources; as with every presidential election, this race was a multi-billion dollar affair. However, the origin of each candidate’s support tells its own story.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid relied overwhelmingly on the purse strings of big business and superPACs—inevitably, this money came with strings attached. Donald Trump, a billionaire, pulled mostly from his own fortune to run his campaign. In contrast, underdog Bernie Sanders proved that it is possible to challenge corporate politicians on a national scale based only on the donations of ordinary working people. The average Sanders contribution was only $27.
His was the only presidential bid in recent memory that was not dependent on corporate cash. Bernie Sanders’ campaign, by prominently displaying “Not Funded by the Billionaires,” underscored the corporate nature of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party leadership. Bernie raised millions from small donors while running inside the Democratic Party. Had he run as an independent, this sort of fundraising power could have changed the face of the general election and laid the basis for a new party of working people.
Donald Trump won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by over 2.9 million votes. He will take office as one of the least popular presidents ever–some exit polls even illuminated that 20% of those who voted for Trump found their pick to be “unfavorable.”
We have already seen an unprecedented resistance swell up in the aftermath of the election, but on January 20 – Inauguration Day – there will be massive demonstrations to oppose Trump’s agenda of oppression and exploitation. The majority of American voters do not approve of a Trump presidency, and these sorts of protests and actions are sure to persist throughout his time in office.
This is the second time in the past five elections that the candidate who won the most popular votes will not go on to take the White House. So why have an Electoral College at all?
During the American Revolution, the ruling class created the Electoral College to maintain power over presidential elections. It functioned as a failsafe: those in power could overturn the popular vote if they deemed the elected individual to be “unfit” to be the president. The historical backdrop of slavery and the Three-Fifths Compromise, which based population counts upon total enslaved and free populations, not simply total white population, gave this mechanism of the bourgeois class the secondary aim of leveling out North-South power imbalances.
The Electoral College has no place in a modern democracy. In addition to perpetuating the legacy of its dubious beginnings, the existence of the Electoral College disincentivizes getting out the vote and creates swing states with increased political weight that receive the majority of candidates’ campaign attention.
Democratic Party’s Sabotage of Sanders
Previously considered an outsider, Sanders’ campaign proved a threat to the ruling class and their corporate profit margins. After all, his platform was predicated on a purposeful dismantling of highly concentrated bastions of power in favor of a more equitable system of wealth distribution. The Democratic Party proved its loyalty to big money by repeatedly sabotaging Sanders’ candidacy in favor of Clinton.
Every objective marker including major polls across the board, projected that Sanders would deliver a thumping defeat to Trump, while a Trump-Clinton match up was much riskier. The Democratic Party leadership was plainly more invested in pushing their corporate candidate through to the general election and protecting their capitalist interests than actually winning the White House.
What’s more, the leadership of the Democratic Party consistently opposed progressive movements throughout the course of the campaign, and beyond. Minority Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was recorded saying that the Democratic Party would make absolutely no concessions to BLM. Clinton herself did not stand with the water protectors at Standing Rock either in rhetoric or in action. This might have won her more votes, but such a gesture would put her in hot water with corporate backers who have significant resources invested in the pipeline. Clinton’s showed time and again that working class Americans come second to her deep-pocketed friends.
The Corporate Media’s Bias
In school, we are taught that an independent media is a hallmark of a democratic election. However, the for-profit nature of the corporate media puts corporate profits over public good or fact checking. Uneven coverage, collusion with political candidates, and media blackouts negatively impacted the democratic nature of the U.S. presidential election.
The Tyndall Report, which examines the newscasts of three major news networks, determined that Donald Trump received 327 minutes, or nearly one third of all campaign coverage during the primaries even with 16 other republican challengers in the picture. According to Tyndall, “ABC World News Tonight” aired 81 minutes of reports on Trump compared to only 20 seconds of coverage for Bernie Sanders.
Despite the fact that Bernie addressed the largest crowds on March 15—dubbed “Super Tuesday 3”—major media outlets aired all other candidates’ speeches, and skipped over Sanders’ remarks entirely.
Despite this excessive coverage, Trump decried the media as a neoliberal propaganda machine hell bent on undermining his candidacy. He used both right-wing outlets like Brietbart news, and even fake news to editorialize to this effect, and otherwise justify his claims.
Earlier this year, CBS CEO Les Moonves celebrated the lucrative dividends Donald Trump’s attention-grabbing campaign paid for the network. He said, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” The media has its own monetary interests in mind—not those of the American people.
When CNN News analyst, Donna Brazile, was caught leaking debate questions to Clinton, she showed no remorse for these improper disclosures, and instead vowed that if she had to do it all over again, she would take better care to be more discreet. Brazile’s disturbing sentiments reveal a guiding ethos of the Democratic Party: do whatever it takes to win, even if it is proves antithetical to a truly democratic system.
Not only was there active collusion between corporate media sources and the democratic party, but third party candidates such as Jill Stein and Gary Johnson were barred from the DNC-RNC-run presidential debates. This cut them off from millions of prospective voters and left candidates friendly to ruling class interests unchallenged on the national stage.
Trump’s Unfounded Claims
Donald Trump purposely propagated false information to divide the electorate. He leveled the claim that the US election system is rigged, because deceased voters and undocumented immigrants illegally cast votes at staggeringly high rates. However, a study of votes cast between 2000 and 2014 by Loyola Law School renders this accusation false: of 1 billion votes cast, only 31 of them were deemed fraudulent.
While Trump’s claim is unfounded, in the first presidential election to take place without the protections of the 1965 Voters Rights Act, the system is being rigged in quite a different way. Currently, there are 14 states—including several swing states—that have placed new voting restrictions on their electorate, often targeting left-leaning minority constituencies and marginalized communities.
Polling places have been closed down, funneling huge volumes of voters to limited overburdened polling places, and ultimately preventing many from voting. Early voting has been cut in many states, and strict voter ID laws have been put in place to make it more difficult to vote.
Trump insisted that 2.5 million Americans are registered to vote in two states, and cast duplicate votes illegally. While this is also largely incorrect, what he failed to point outis that there are far more Americans who are denied the right to vote in any state. Over 6.1 million Americans are not able to vote due to felony convictions including those who have served their time.
These undemocratic restrictions disproportionately disenfranchise minority populations. For example, although African Americans men account for only 6.5% of the general US population, they make up 40.2% of the prison population, and are therefore affected by criminal disenfranchisement laws at greater rates than their white peers.
A Party for the 99%
On the local and state levels, many of the same issues play out. Voter suppression, unequal media representation, corporate money in elections, and political gerrymandering as well as a failure of the left to build a compelling alternative compromise the democratic nature of races.
Democrats or Republicans run for—and win—the vast majority of seats in state, city, and municipal governments, sometimes running uncontested or against members of the same party. This holds true for cities across country, from Seattle to Houston to New York City, many of which are dominated by a single party. Our system is suffering from a lack of choices, at both the local and national levels.
Before Bernie showed that it is possible to challenge big money in the presidential election, Kshama Sawant demonstrated what is possible as an independent at the local level. As an open socialist, Seattle City Councilmember Sawant has helped build movements that won the first major city $15 minimum wage, $29 million for affordable housing, increased rights for renters, and limitations of rental move-in fees. Along with her party—Socialist Alternative—Kshama is fighting to build a new party of and for working people.
President-Elect Donald Trump is correct in calling our presidential elections a rigged system, but not for the reasons he suggests. Our presidential elections pit the big business elite against working people. Whether it is the antiquated Electoral College, mass disenfranchisement of minority communities, or corrupt political parties, the current system does not work for everyday people.
In spite of this broken system, Bernie Sanders and Kshama Sawant and the grassroots movements that support them prove what is possible when working people fight for their interests. If we are unshackled from the shady dealings of establishment parties, we can win!
In 2016, voters were presented with the two least popular candidates in recent memory. In light of a corrupted political and electoral system, we need an independent party that puts forth candidates that are not beholden to big money, but to the interests of the 99%!