If you’ve watched more than thirty seconds of CNN in the past three months, you are most likely aware of America’s rapidly changing political climate. Whether while scrolling through Facebook or skimming the Huffington Post, your attention has been called to the orange elephant in the room (a room which is soon to be the White House) that is Donald J. Trump.
President-elect Trump has run his campaign under the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Four words with an increasingly complex and controversial meaning. But instead of examining Trump’s promises for the future of our country, I’d like to take a look at the American values that we as a nation hold so dear.
American values fall under the Eurocentric umbrella of Western values, a sort of ideological dogma allegedly held by any self-respecting democratic nation, with the United States serving as the poster child for these values. Western values, as their geographical nomenclature suggests, depend upon the core assumption that the East is fundamentally different than the West (see Edward Said’s Orientalism), and that Western values are undoubtedly superior.
One of the central tenets of Western values is democracy. More and more, democracy is referred to not as a system of government but a way of thinking. The “essence of democracy,” according to cultural historian Jacques Barzan, “is popular sovereignty, implying political and social equality.” These may be the values that we define as American, but we have yet to achieve such equality here in the States. Yet, the United States government has time and time again used the alleged superiority of Western values as justification to bring democracy to other countries. Perhaps the most American ideal of all is the call to power, “an all-inclusive urge to adopt, adapt, and ultimately influence other cultural trends around the world.”
We may not constantly think about it, but democracy is the backbone of American society. No wonder why the West values it so much! Democracy is what gives us our agency as American citizens; if we did not have a vote, we’d have no voice in how our government works. It’s safe to say that on a worldwide scale, our system of representation affords Americans quite a bit of agency.
Interestingly enough, although we love to preach about democracy, America is not technically a democracy. We are a republic, and a complicated one at that, due to the institution of the Electoral College. The Electoral College has been in use since the birth of our nation. In the U.S., the Western Value of democracy comes with an asterisk.
It’s true that the presidential election and the Electoral College only comes around every four years, but it restricts our agency on a daily basis. The decisions made in D.C. affect everyone in the United States. And who decides who’s sitting up there in Congress? You guessed it… the Electoral College.
You may be wondering – how does the Electoral College diminish my agency. I thought it was one person, one vote? It certainly is one person one, one vote, but it is not one state, one proportionate amount of electors. Because the Electoral College gives even the smallest state a minimum of three representatives, this means larger and more populous states get the rough end of the bargain. Even well-known politicians such as Bernie Sanders have called into question the validity and fairness of the Electoral College.
The Electoral College directly undermines the American value of democracy because it limits our agency. Emily Badger of The New York Times does a great job of examining “the rule vote’s disproportionate slice of power.” So the next time you think we’re all as American as apple pie, remember that pie isn’t cut into even slices.