1. Elections in Totalitarian Systems
Most people don’t know that communist Czechoslovakia was a multiparty democracy.
Well, not really, of course, I am just joking. The communist party ruled with an iron fist, but several political parties were allowed to exist in the workers’ paradise. I remember that Social Democrats and three or four other parties were allowed to exist and participate in elections, which were held with participation rates more than twice as high as the current participation rates in the United States – I seem to remember that they were telling us that participation was above 97%. Although who knows if that was true. When one party controls everything, it controls the truth as well.
The other parties were allowed to exist only under the condition that they accept as their guiding principle what the communist party called “the leading role of the party”. Their job was mostly to create the illusion of a multiparty democracy, an illusion of a continuation of the prewar multiparty democracy in a new environment, without being allowed to exert any real power on any level.
In this respect, the political system in communist Czechoslovakia was not really that much different from the current system in the United States, where Democrats and Republicans, who are being identified by more and more voters as really nothing more than two wings of the same “money party”, also allow other parties, such as the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, to exist and sort of participate in elections, as long as they have absolutely no chance of having any meaningful access to establishment media or the political system and real power.
I was among the three percenters in communist Czechoslovakia who ignored the voting process because I thought the whole thing was just a joke. But I was intimidated into voting once. When I was in my last year of studies, two guys came to my dorm room with what was then called “a unified ballot of candidates”. One guy had a box with “the ballots”, the other one had a box into which I was asked to put my “ballot”. I did not hesitate for a second: I threw it in, they thanked me and left and I went back to studying bungo, or the grammar of classical Japanese.
I was brave enough to ignore the silly, fake elections, because if asked, I could just say that I meant to vote but simply forgot. That was not really that dangerous, I figured. It was not without risk, but probably not a fatal act, and I was willing to face that risk if it helped undermine the regime even a tiny little bit. But to refuse to vote when they came for you would be a direct challenge to the regime. That could mean expulsion from the university, and I was not that brave.
The second time when two guys came for me with two boxes not to miss my chance to participate in “democratic elections” was when I was on vacation in Croatia; well, back then the country was still called Yugoslavia. They came to the restaurant where our group of Czech tourists ate lunch every day. This time I did have the courage to refuse to vote, and I noticed that about half the people in the restaurant did the same, and some even dared to laugh in their faces at the silly suggestion of being asked to vote in a fake election.
I was later told that the bus of Czech tourists that was completely full, not a single free seat was left on it when it set out from Prague, came back from Croatia half empty, because half of the people on that bus, myself included, decided to try their luck in the West.
2. The Brexit Fiasco
Western politicians like to say when they have just won an election that “elections have consequences”, with a look on their faces that I remember from cartoons featuring a cat who just swallowed a canary.
In totalitarian regimes, elections can have serious consequences, but only for people who dare to challenge the system by refusing to participate in them. Otherwise, they don’t really matter at all because nothing changes after an election.
What are the consequences of elections in nominally democratic countries that we still call, out of habit or for lack of a better term, I suppose, “Western democracies”?
Nobody knows what the ultimate result of the “Leave” vote will be for Great Britain. One possible result is that Scotland will have their own “Leave” vote because most people in Scotland want to remain a part of Europe, and that Northern Ireland will also leave the disunited kingdom, while most people in London also seem to be sorry that they can’t stay in Europe.
Unlike most elections, this referendum actually mattered a great deal, which is something that may have escaped many people who did not bother to vote. According to a poll taken before the Leave or Remain referendum, 75 percent of voters 24 and younger were against the Brexit and for remaining in the European Union and most voters 49 and younger also favored the Remain option. Fifty-nine percent of pensioners wanted the Leave option, and only 34 percent of pensioners wanted to stay in the European Union. Although 72% of eligible voters between 18 and 24 wanted to stay in the EU, 64 percent of them did not bother to vote. The passivity of young people in Britain, who could have easily changed the result had they gone to the polls, was thus a key factor in the victory (by a very thin majority) of those who wanted to leave EU.
3. The Upcoming US Presidential Elections Fiasco
I am just an observer of what is going on in Great Britain, a country that seems far away and whose dynamic I don’t understand very well.
But just like I had a front row seat to the fake elections in a communist country four decades ago, I am observing the presidential elections in United States from a front row seat here in Virginia.
During the primaries, I was among the minority of some 30% of Virginians who voted for Bernie Sanders, although I thought that there was no chance that he would be on the Democratic Party’s ticket as I wrote in this post five months ago.
And unfortunately, I was right. The Democratic Party went out of its way and used every dirty trick in the book to make sure that its establishment candidate would win. More than 500 “Superdelegates” voted for Hillary Clinton even before the election started, in an undemocratic sleight of hand that can only be described as an outright rigging of an election to ensure that the pro-establishment delegate will always win, regardless of what the voters want.
But the rigging did not stop there. Among other despicable acts, the party got rid of half of the polling places in areas suspected of harboring pro-Bernie sentiments and defined many primaries as closed in order to disenfranchise independent voters, who might as well be called by their real name, namely “unrepresented” instead of “independent”. In the primary election in Arizona, voters had to wait in line for five hours, so that many obviously had no choice but to go home without voting. I remember that CNN declared Hillary the winner in Arizona during the early afternoon in Virginia when only a small percentage of people could have voted because Arizona is three hours behind Virginia.
And then, the AP declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Democratic Party contest before the all-important primaries in California and New Jersey in a disgusting attempt to rig the elections and suppress the turnout of pro-Bernie voters by counting “Superdelegates” who pledged their support for Hillary, although these “Superdelegates” are free to change their mind at any point prior to the Democratic Convention, as they did in 2008 when Hillary Clinton lost the election to Barak Obama.
After the primaries in Virginia, I received the usual sticker with an American flag and the words “I VOTED” as a reward for fulfilling my civic duty. I did not know what to do with it, so I put it on the back of my iPhone. As I carry my phone with me everywhere I go, the originally vibrant colors on the sticker started fading away and became a muted, washed out version of what the original bold colors once were.
And that is how I now think about the upcoming presidential elections: in muted, washed out, hardly recognizable colors.
Just like I did not see the point in voting for “a unified ballot of party candidates” four decades ago, I don’t see the point in voting either for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I have been voting for Democrats for the last two decades, I voted for Bill Clinton twice. But although I can’t vote for Trump, I will not be intimidated into voting for Hillary Clinton.
It is so unbecoming when she now assumes a populist stance in her fiery critiques of Trump. She reminds me of a horse who is forced to dance on two hind legs in a circus, that’s how unnatural her act appears to me. I almost have to feel sorry for her, because just like it is animal abuse when horses are forced to dance on their hind legs in a circus, it is an abuse of Hillary when she is now forced to pretend that she is something that she is clearly not.
I do not plan to vote for Hillary or for Donald on November 5th because it does not matter to me which one of them ends up in the White House. I will probably stay home because I think that voting for a third party that has no access to the political system would be a symbolic, largely meaningless gesture. And I don’t even know if third parties will be allowed in the presidential elections in Virginia as no relevant information seems to be available even on the internet because both Democrats and Republicans do all they can to exclude other parties from participating in elections, while the media pretends that there are no other parties.
Just like I thought that the best approach to the rigged elections in a totalitarian system was to ignore these non-elections four decades ago, I think that the best approach to the extremely undemocratic system of elections in this country is at this point to ignore the noisy circus as much as possible.
I used to be able to tell for many years that the Democrats were, if nothing else, at least the lesser of two evils. But at this point, I honestly can’t tell whether Hillary or whether Donald would be worse for this country.
Over 320 million Americans, and the is the best we can do? Since it is what our political system has produced, there can hardly be better evidence of the fact that the system is now completely dysfunctional.
And this, to me, is the farce of the upcoming fiasco of the presidential elections in the United States: the two candidates left standing are so widely despised by large segments of the population, possibly by a majority, that the old system of intimidation of voters into voting for the “lesser of two evils” may no longer work if it is no longer possible to tell which of the two evils is lesser.