Elitism From the Beginning
Since its inception, the United States has aspired to create a pluralistic society that celebrates diversity and accommodates various interests. However, over time, this vision of pluralism gave way to a system of elite pluralism, commonly referred to as elitism. Elitism denotes a political structure where a select few individuals wield substantial resources and influence, enabling them to shape policies and advance their personal interests. While American democracy was designed to prevent elitism, the growth of the two-party system not only perpetuates this phenomenon but hinders the representation of the majority.
Elitism is rooted in the belief that specific individuals, often referred to as "elites," merit authority and power by virtue of their social class, career achievements (including politicians, entertainers, billionaire entrepreneurs, CEOs, and religious leaders), or wealth. As a political system, it centralizes power and decision-making within the grasp of a privileged minority. These individuals, frequently endowed with significant wealth and resources, possess the means to finance political campaigns, lobby for their interests, and control the narrative through media influence. Consequently, the average American citizen encounters formidable challenges in pursuing their political objectives unless they possess the financial means to actively participate in the political process.
In the United States, the two-party system has become a dominant feature of the political landscape. While political parties were initially conceived to represent the diverse interests of the population, they inadvertently contribute to the perpetuation of elitism. Rather than eliminating elitism, the two-party system often reinforces power imbalances, making it arduous for alternative voices and perspectives to gain traction.
A deeper examination of American politics reveals the subtle ways in which elitism manifests itself. Party platforms, serving as guiding principles for Democrats and Republicans, are crafted by influential interest groups operating behind the scenes. These interest groups, often unnoticed by the general public, may harbor specific agendas that do not necessarily align with the broader interests of the American people.
Elitism in American Politics
Throughout history, the ruling class wielded power through class domination, and American politics is no exception. The groups exercising significant control over American politics frequently comprise wealthy constituents with the financial means to finance party politics. A prominent example of this phenomenon can be witnessed in the Republican Party, which, despite its smaller size compared to the Democratic Party, wields substantial influence over government policy.
According to Pew research, party sizes vary but as of 2018 and 2019, approximately one third of voters (34%) were independents, 33% iDemocrats, and 29% Republicans. Yet, the independent partisan tendencies shows 49% of voters identifying as Democrats or Democrat leaning and 44% as Republican or Conservative leaning.
The Influence of Interest Groups
Interest groups play a pivotal role in shaping party platforms and influencing policy decisions. For example, the Republican Party often aligns itself with interest groups advocating for limited government intervention, reduced taxes, and deregulation. These groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Club for Growth, exert substantial influence over Republican politicians, shaping their positions on issues such as gun control and economic policies.
Critics may argue that interest groups are a natural component of the democratic process, enabling citizens to organize and advocate for their specific concerns. They might contend that these groups provide valuable input and ensure the consideration of diverse perspectives in policymaking. While this perspective has validity, it is imperative to acknowledge that the disproportionate influence of certain interest groups can lead to policies that primarily benefit the wealthy and powerful, rather than the broader population.
For instance, when it comes to gun control measures, the majority of Americans support implementing background checks for firearm purchases. However, the Republican Party consistently works to obstruct such measures, even when they enjoy widespread support among constituents. This underscores the bias inherent in the political system, compelling individuals to align themselves with parties that may not fully represent their interests. It is essential for participants in U.S. politics to recognize that the party they align with may have ulterior motives and hidden agendas driven by affluent constituents to avoid inadvertently advancing the interests of the elite rather than their own when affiliating with any party.
The Ascendancy of Religious Influence
In addition to wealthy constituent leverage, religious groups play a significant role in shaping American politics. A notable example is the rise of fundamentalist Christians who regard the Bible as the direct and inerrant word of God. These groups have voiced concerns about increasing crime rates and perceived moral decline, prompting them to become politically active.
During the early 1980s, the Moral Majority, led by Baptist minister Jerry Falwell, emerged as one of the most politically influential groups. Another potent organization, the Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson, wielded considerable power within the Republican Party by the 1990s. These groups sought to restore religion as a centerpiece of American life and have largely succeeded: overturning Roe vs Wade and other accomplishments such as a majority Christian/Republican Supreme Court.
Despite a declining population of Christians in the US, Republicans have been able to consolidate their position and implement laws that reflect Christian beliefs, such as abortion bans, discrimination against LGBTQ+, and other initiatives undermining the rights of large swaths of the population who do not identify as Christian or do not agree with these policies but vote based on religious influence.
Partisanship and its Limitations
Identifying oneself as either a Republican or a Democrat allows voters to participate in selecting party candidates. However, this practice distorts the actual number of Democrats and Republicans, as many individuals identify as party members but function as independents. This situation creates a significant swing vote, which can lead to complications, as exemplified by the Supreme Court's decision in the Bush vs. Gore election in 2000 in which Bush secured victory with just 48.8 percent of the vote, representing less than half of the population. The narrow margin of votes cast in favor of each party underscored the significance of this swing vote.
While some may argue that the Supreme Court's decision was rooted in legal considerations rather than elitism, it is crucial to acknowledge that the Court's ruling had far-reaching consequences affecting the democratic process and raising questions about the influence of powerful interests, which fund not just presidential elections but also Supreme Court Justices.
Partisanship often fails to genuinely represent the majority. When one party emerges victorious in an almost evenly split election, it means almost half the country effectively loses. Who then truly governs the nation? Elitism clarifies as a significant influencer exemplified by Republicans with smaller numbers able to take advantage of stacking Justices on the Supreme Court in their favor.
The Pervasive Problem
Elitism remains a pervasive force in American politics. Wealthy constituents and religious groups exert substantial influence, shaping government policies and party platforms. It is incumbent upon citizens to critically analyze party platforms and intentions rather than blindly aligning themselves with a particular party. By comprehending the presence of elitism and concealed agendas, individuals can strive toward a more inclusive and representative political system that genuinely serves the interests of the majority.