Failed Democracy — The Elephant in the Room that None Dare Criticize

It’s almost blasphemous to say, but democracy isn’t working. We hold it up on a pedestal and don’t dare acknowledge its flaws, because to do so is to accept that we’ve been duped.

It’s no longer about which policies are best for the country, it’s become a game, one that politicians are professionally good at playing. It has been reduced to a popularity contest where likeability rates far above policies or effectiveness, and morals have no place.

The current system disproportionately benefits charismatic liars.

There are little to no consequence for broken promises, at least not for years until the next general election, by which point most of the voting public has forgotten. Politicians and the media are masters at distraction, deflection, and sweeping scandals under the carpet — indignation has a very short shelf life under their attentions.

At its core, the idea behind this style of leadership is flawed. There is no incentive for politicians to enact policies with lasting benefits, particularly not when they require short-term investment for long-term gains. Why on earth would they do something that makes them unpopular and will only reap benefits during their successor’s administration? No politician has their sights set on anything beyond the next election. Whatever they tell you, remember this: Their primary goal is to get elected, not to help society.

Where is a society headed if it has no vision, no planning beyond the next four years? This is why we’re in such a mess with areas like the environment, infrastructure, social services… None of those issues can be fixed in four years — to do what needs to be done requires an enormous short term investment for very long-term gains. There’s no motivation for any politician to ever properly address these beyond the smallest of bandages to create the illusion of doing something.

It’s become a joke. We’re briefly angered by broken promises but then we shrug, we make memes, we laugh — we both forgive and forget. Why would they ever stop lying to us when the benefits are so great and the penalties almost non-existent?

This is not a ‘call to action’, I’m not a left/right-wing agitator; I don’t think protests on the streets will fix this. Revolutions are, by their very nature, circular. What I want is for people to start thinking, to actually look at the situation and decide for themselves if it’s the best we as a society deserve. True, lasting change only comes from a fundamental shift in thinking — anything else is on very shaky foundations and is likely to be undermined by a reactionary backlash from the displaced mind-set it was trying to supplant.

I’ve thought through a couple of ideas that may start to address the problems in the above system. They’re just bare-bone thoughts, ones that should be debated and deliberated upon, to be fleshed out or discarded as appropriate. This is only going to be fixed if everyone gets involved, if there’s a widespread acknowledgement that not only is there a serious problem in our current system — whatever your political affiliations may be — but that we have the power to fix it.

Because we do. Remember, a politician’s foremost goal is to get elected. They follow public opinion; they follow the votes. But we need to ensure that their allegiance — to us — lasts beyond the counting on election day. We need to have longer memories, to hold them to account, to make their broken promises have consequences. Only then will we see change.

Politics has become a game — don’t let the players get away with cheating.

Democracy, like justice, should be blind

I would like to put forward the idea of a ‘blind democracy’. I don’t claim it’s the answer to all the issues we face, but it’s an attempt, it’s somewhere to start:

- No more popularity contests — All candidates to be anonymous in the lead-up to an election, both personal images and party affiliations. Candidates would be assigned a random name and simple symbol which would change each election that they could use for branding. They would be required to use a neutral voice (ideally artificial) for any advertisements. Any attempts to circumvent this would be penalized.

- A clear statement of policy — Candidates would be required to produce a document listing their main policies and the categories they fall under. E.g. “Health — If elected, I would dedicate x-amount to prevention, x-amount to care in the community, I would change the current setup in the following ways… etc.” This would be limited in length, perhaps 500–1,000 words for each category, but would include a link to the full policy document so people could read it if they chose, and an additional summary of what long-term effects this would have. The summary, of course, would have to be accurately representative of the full policy.

- No bullshitting — The policy documents would be collated for all candidates by an impartial body that would use experts to review the policies for feasibility and accuracy in terms of their long-term benefits. They would then give a grade for each and send them out to all households. Voters would easily be able to read the summaries, know whether they were do-able and accurate, and decide which most closely aligned with their personal views. (There would be no excuse for the voting public to not know their chosen candidate’s policies on every major issue. And their candidate would be chosen based on these policies, not personal charisma or laziness in always voting for the same party).

- No more campaign financing and backdoor deals — Funding would come solely from the national budget, candidates would not need to raise any money but nor would they be allowed to accept any donations. The funding would be set at a specific amount and would pay for the disbursement of the above policy document, and a set number of mix-media ads (all of which must be based directly on at least one aspect of the policy document, and abide by the rules of anonymity listed above). All candidates would have an equal number of ads to use within the media and on the policy subject of their choosing.

- Accountability, with penalties — Upon winning an election, the candidate would be held to their policy document in a series of yearly reviews, performed by an independent and impartial body. Significant deviation from the policies on which they campaigned would be grounds for warning, leading to eventual dismissal and the triggering of a new general election, for which the removed candidate would be barred from entering.

- People who know what they’re talking about — Ministerial posts would not be passed around like rewards or punishments between politicians. Instead, appointments would be required to be made from the field that they were representing. For example, the Minister for Education must have worked as a teacher for a set length of time. The Minister for the Environment must be a scientist with appropriate experience in relevant fields, etc. The route to power shouldn’t be restricted to lawyers or similar, but should instead be open to experts in a wide variety of fields who have extensive relevant experience and a vested interest in improving their area of expertise.

It’s very easy with the pressures of modern life to get stuck in the belief that this is the way things are done, the way that they’ve always been done, and the way that they will always be done. But we are living in a very narrow slice of time and it’s easy to ignore that the system has changed countless times before, and can do so again if enough people decide it should.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that what we call democracy is nothing of the sort, that it’s been tweaked and twisted over the years to favour the very people who should never have power.

Isn’t it time we looked further than four years into our future?