Saturday, February 17, 2018

Are factions threatening to American democracy?

Are factions threatening to American democracy? The People’s best interests are being ignored due to partisan fighting in Washington and the division it is causing.

The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays that were written and conceived by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, and appeared in New York newspapers between October of 1787 and August of 1788. (Madison, James.) The essays were a means in which to urge New York delegates to ratify the Constitution. Federalist paper #10 in particular addresses how to guard the new government against factions, or groups of citizens with special interests. In a free society, some of the population are inevitably going to pursue their self-interests, but if the government takes away their rights to pursue these self-interests, it also takes away their political freedom. To protect America from that, Madison and the Framers wanted a limited republic rather than a democracy. The elected officials, not the people, would make the laws; this created a divider between people’s passions and making laws. Madison thought that competing interest groups were necessary for good government because it gave people a means for contributing to the democratic process, and it also prevented any single minority from imposing its will on the majority. Interest groups were thought to be an essential part of a good democracy. 

An analysis of modern day American Politics, with all of the political maneuvering in Washington, the best interests of Americans are being ignored and factions have become a threat to American democracy.

Pluralism is the idea a democracy consisting of various interest groups all working against each other, which balances each another for the common. It has been argued that interest groups have been overly successful; the term hyperpluralism best describes political systems that cater to interest groups and not the people. Too many interest groups lead to demosclerosis, which is the inability of the government to accomplish anything substantial; the government becomes paralyzed and can’t make any big changes.

Factions have taken control of our political system, the special interest groups have penetrated and subverted our political parties. The National Rifle Association (NRA), H, religious groups, real estate, oil and gas, insurance, and commercial banks interest groups heavily influence the Republican Party, while the AFL-CIO, trial lawyers, education, public sector unions, the health insurance industry interest groups heavily influence the Democratic Party. When corporations have full-time lobbyists that are pushing their agenda and are representing their interests more intensely than the general public can, political parties are then representing themselves and are not representing the people. Many of the core special interest groups spread their money widely among the legislators of both parties in both houses of the Legislature; this broadens their influence. ("Capitol Capital: Special Interests are Major Source of Funds.")

This is why everyone is so upset with our government. Democracies are supposed to be run by the people for the people, but instead, our democracy is being run by the Republican and Democratic Parties who have high-jacked the system. George Washington said, political parties “misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts…No alliance, however strict, between the parts, can be an adequate substitute” for the government as a whole. (Rademacher, Thomas)

Our country has increasingly become more polarized over recent years to the detriment of the country’s productivity because these political parties are slaves to the special interest groups. The U.S. courts have lifted limits on the size of political donations, and special interest groups in the form of super PACS are playing a larger role in how campaigns are financed. “The more concentrated the sources of funding to a political campaign, the higher the risk a politician will be influenced by special interests.” (“Media Relations and Communications.”)
The price tag for political influence is not trivial. The top interest group spenders in Washington in 2016 were: Amazon at $11.4 million; Exxon Mobil at $11.8 million; A big-name defense contractor, Northrop Grumman put in about $12 million; FedEx spent more than $12.5 million in lobbying efforts; The National Cable & Telecommunications Association spent $13.42 million; Lockheed Martin, one of the country’s biggest aerospace and war contracting companies, spent $13.615 million; Dow Chemical had over $13.635 million in lobbying; Southern Company spent $13.9 million; Comcast spent $14.3 million; Google’s (Alphabet) sent $15.4 million to lobbying companies;  AT&T spending more than $16.37 million; For-profit, over-the-air television and radio companies spent $16.4 million; Boeing spent $17 million; The American Medical Association spent $19.4 million; The AMA spent almost $20 million; The American Hospital spent more than $20 million; Blue Cross Blue Shield spent more than $25 million; The National Association of Realtors spent roughly $65 million; The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $104 million dollars, and these are just the top twenty interest groups. (Becker, Samuel)

The advent of the internet has created a breeding ground for factions to conquer and divide.  Social media has been hijacked by politics to spin stories and create narratives that will create even more division among the American People. In order to stop the direction of politics from moving away from the intent of James Madison’s Federalist #10, we must demand information that has integrity, funding transparency, and understanding of what we are agreeing to before we sign any petitions, repeat a story, or re-tweet/re-post a story. We must advocate campaign finance reforms for political candidates and initiatives that provide full transparency, have limit spending, and close all of the loopholes that are exploited by the Super PACs. Without action, we will divide more into smaller and smaller factions, until we are completely powerless.

Madison, James. Federalist No. 10: "The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection." New York Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787.

"Capitol Capital: Special Interests are Major Source of Funds." Deseret News, Dec 12, 2004, pp. A01, US News Stream.

Rademacher, Thomas. “Political parties are bad for democracy.” The Daily Cardinal, 24 Feb. 2016, 
“Media Relations and Communications.” Money and influence in 2016 Presidential Campaign tracked by New Index at Chicago Booth | Media Relations and Communications | The University of Chicago, 

Becker, Samuel. “Money in Politics: 20 Interest Groups Fueling Government Corruption.” The Cheat Sheet, The Cheat Sheet, 19 July 2017,