After the second day of the Democratic National Convention, it is not hard to understand why so many Americans are disillusioned with the American political system, and why so many Americans choose to abstain from voting. At the Democratic National Convention, the delegates needed a two-thirds majority to add an amendment to the Democratic platform stating that Jerusalem “is and will remain the capital of Israel.” In what was clearly a very close contest between the delegates, the chair of the Democratic National Convention, Mayor of Los Angles Antonio Villaraigosa, claimed that two-thirds majority had voted in the affirmative, after three rounds of voting.
It is very clear from the video that there was nowhere near a two-thirds majority on the issue, so what is the reason for this being rammed through? Perhaps Villaraigosa ruled that the motion passed due to his own personal beliefs. Villaraigosa is an unabashed supporter of Israel, regularly visiting Israel and attending pro-Israel events in Los Angeles, including one in support of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2008.
Or perhaps this is a testament to the power of the Israeli lobby. When Jerusalem was not mentioned in the version of the DNC platform yesterday, apparently President Obama personally intervened to ensure that affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would be added to the platform, perhaps under pressure from the Israeli lobby to do so.
Then again, maybe this is simply further proof of the elite consensus on foreign policy. The American political system leaves no room for democratic decision-making when it comes to foreign policy. In fact, the vote on the DNC platform is, sadly, probably the closest Americans have ever come to officially voting on foreign policy. When it was voted on, the elite consensus was finally challenged. People’s voices were heard–literally–for the first time in opposition to the elite consensus on foreign policy. Maybe what seemed like manufactured consent on foreign policy was really just the silence of the majority.
Although the amendment at the DNC may be an example of all of the above, I believe what this really affirms is that, in America, voting has become inconsequential. Voting is for exhibiting that the people’s consensus matches the elite consensus, and if it doesn’t, then the elite pretends they didn’t hear the people’s voices of opposition. The scene at the convention belongs more to an episode in an absurdist play than in a nation’s democratic process, whereby the masses shout their objections, while the Chair simply smiles and pretends not to hear them. And we stare at him, unsure whether he is being purposely ignorant, or if years of telling himself that his belief matches the people’s “consensus” has made him incapable of fathoming that it could be otherwise. It is elite consensus that determines policy. Not just Israel policy. Not just foreign policy. All policy. Sure, they may have a few setbacks every now and then. Every once in a while a bone is thrown to the masses, but it’s a sacrificial bone, to get us drunk off the victory and make us feel like we are really in control of this system. The system consolidates power by making itself lose every once in a while, and letting us believe that we can win.
But the truth is voting hasn’t changed anything. In the Democratic Party platform, the rank-and-file Democrats’ voices were drowned out by the elite consensus today. This same scenario is what happens everyday in American democracy. This episode was an emblematic microcosm of all the faults of our democratic system: even when the people can jump over the institutional hurdles preventing them from having their voices of protest heard, they still can’t accomplish anything, because their voices are ignored even in situations where we previously thought they could not be ignored. In the words of Emma Goldman, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”