Jimmy Carter Is Correct that the U.S. Is No Longer a Democracy


Eric Zuesse

On July 28th, Thom Hartmann interviewed former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and, at the very end of his show (as if this massive question were merely an aftethought), asked him his opinion of the 2010 Citizens United decision and the 2014 McCutcheon decision, both decisions by the five Republican judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. These two historic decisions enable unlimited secret money (including foreign money) now to pour into U.S. political and judicial campaigns. Carter answered:

“It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for President or being elected President. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. Senators and congress members. So, now we’ve just seen a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over. … At the present time the incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody that is already in Congress has a great deal more to sell.”

He was then cut off by the program, though that statement by Carter should have been the start of the program, not its end. (And the program didn’t end with an invitation for him to return to discuss this crucial matter in depth – something for which he’s qualified.)

So: was this former President’s provocative allegation merely his opinion? Or was it actually lots more than that? It was lots more than that.

Only a single empirical study has actually been done in the social sciences regarding whether the historical record shows that the United States has been, during the survey’s period, which in that case was between 1981 and 2002, a democracy (a nation whose leaders represent the public-at-large), or instead an aristocracy (or ‘oligarchy’) – a nation in which only the desires of the richest citizens end up being reflected in governmental actions. This study was titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” and it was published by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in the journal Perspectives on Politics, issued by the American Political Science Association in September 2014. I had summarized it earlier, on 14 April 2014, while the article was still awaiting its publication.

The headline of my summary-article was “U.S. Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy Says Scientific Study.” I reported: “The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s ‘news’ media).” I then quoted the authors’ own summary: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” 

The scientific study closed by saying: “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule–at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.” A few other tolerably clear sentences managed to make their ways into this well-researched, but, sadly, atrociously written, paper, such as: “The preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the preferences of ‘affluent’ citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.” In other words, they found: The rich rule the U.S.

Their study investigated specifically “1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change,” and then the policy-follow-ups, of whether or not the polled public preferences had been turned into polices, or, alternatively, whether the relevant corporate-lobbied positions had instead become public policy on the given matter, irrespective of what the public had wanted concerning it.

The study period, 1981-2002, covered the wake of the landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which had started the aristocratic assault on American democracy, and which seminal (and bipartisan) pro-aristocratic court decision is described as follows by wikipedia: It “struck down on First Amendment grounds several provisions in the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The most prominent portions of the case struck down limits on spending in campaigns, but upheld the provision limiting the size of individual contributions to campaigns. The Court also narrowed, and then upheld, the Act’s disclosure provisions, and struck down (on separation of powers grounds) the make-up of the Federal Election Commission, which as written allowed Congress to directly appoint members of the Commission, an executive agency.”

Basically, the Buckley decision, and subsequent (increasingly partisan Republican) Supreme Court decisions, have allowed aristocrats to buy and control politicians.

Already, the major ‘news’ media were owned and controlled by the aristocracy, and ‘freedom of the press’ was really just freedom of aristocrats to control the ‘news’ – to frame public issues in the ways the owners want. The media managers who are appointed by those owners select, in turn, the editors who, in their turn, hire only reporters who produce the propaganda that’s within the acceptable range for the owners, to be ‘the news’ as the public comes to know it.

But, now, in the post-Buckley-v.-Valeo world, from Reagan on (and the resulting study-period of 1981-2002), aristocrats became almost totally free to buy also the political candidates they wanted. The ‘right’ candidates, plus the ‘right’ ‘news’-reporting about them, has thus bought the ‘right’ people to ‘represent’ the public, in the new American ‘democracy,’ which Jimmy Carter now aptly calls “subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.”

Carter – who had entered office in 1976, at the very start of that entire era of transition into an aristocratically controlled United States (and he left office in 1981, just as the study-period was starting) – expressed his opinion that, in the wake now of the two most extreme pro-aristocratic U.S. Supreme Court decisions ever (which are Citizens United in 2010, and McCutcheon in 2014), American democracy is really only past tense, not present tense at all – no longer a reality.

He is saying, in effect, that, no matter how much the U.S. was a dictatorship by the rich during 1981-2002 (the Gilens-Page study era), it’s far worse now.

Apparently, Carter is correct: The New York Times front page on Sunday 2 August 2015 bannered, “Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving,” and reported that:

“A New York Times analysis of Federal Election Commission reports and Internal Revenue Service records shows that the fund-raising arms race has made most of the presidential hopefuls deeply dependent on a small pool of the richest Americans. The concentration of donors is greatest on the Republican side, according to the Times analysis, where consultants and lawyers have pushed more aggressively to exploit the looser fund-raising rules that have fueled the rise of super PACs. Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs.”

The Times study shows that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly advantaged by the recent unleashing of big-corporate money power. All of the evidence suggests that though different aristocrats compete against each other for the biggest chunks of whatever the given nation has to offer, they all compete on the same side against the public, in order to lower the wages of their workers, and to lower the standards for consumers’ safety and welfare so as to increase their own profits (transfer their costs and investment-losses onto others); and, so, now, the U.S. is soaring again toward Gilded Age economic inequality, perhaps to surpass the earlier era of unrestrained robber barons. And, the Times study shows: even in the Democratic Party, the mega-donations are going to only the most conservative (pro-corporate, anti-public) Democrats. Grass-roots politics could be vestigial, or even dead, in the new America.

The question has become whether the unrestrained power of the aristocracy is locked in this time even more permanently than it was in that earlier era. Or: will there be yet another FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to restore a democracy that once was? Or: is a President like that any longer even possible in America?

As for today’s political incumbents: they now have their careers for as long as they want and are willing to do the biddings of their masters. And, then, they retire to become, themselves, new members of the aristocracy, such as the Clintons have done, and such as the Obamas will do. (Of course, the Bushes have been aristocrats since early in the last century.)

Furthermore, the new age of aristocratic control is not merely national but international in scope; so, the global aristocracy have probably found the formula that will keep them in control until they destroy the entire world. What’s especially interesting is that, with all of the many tax-exempt, ‘non-profit’ ‘charities,’ which aristocrats have established, none of them is warring to defeat the aristocracy itself – to defeat the aristocrats’ system of exploitation of the public. It’s the one thing they won’t create a ‘charity’ for; none of them will go to war against the expoitative interests of themselves and of their own exploitative peers. They’re all in this together, even though they do compete amongst themselves for dominance, as to which ones of them will lead against the public. And the public seem to accept this modern form of debt-bondage, perhaps because of the ‘news’ they see, and because of the news they don’t see (such as this).


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

  • Tom

    The greatest irony is that none of this need be. What is a “campaign” but disseminating information about a candidate (or his/her opponent)? The internet has caused the price of disseminating information to fall closer to zero than it has ever been in history, but the money spent on “campaigning” has never been higher. When candidates can win campaigns with websites costing no more than a few thousand dollars per election cycle, we will get our democracy back. Until then, the chimps who vote for the flashiest campaign ads and the biggest balloon drops will hold the balance of power.

    • cettel

      That’s an interesting comment. You are saying that if and when the U.S. population spread their news-access away from the top 20 or so (in audience-size) ‘news’ sites, to sites such as this one, then we’ll be able to have democracy again.

      • Tom

        Certainly abandoning mainstream media for alternative news sources like this one would play an important role, although we have to be ever-vigilant wherever we get our information for how it tallies with our accumulated knowledge and whether it passes the smell test.

        Domain names are cheap and can be gotten and used for as little as one campaign or as long as a career. Simple websites can be built for a few hundred dollars, or by for free by anyone who wants to learn the skill. Collecting links to all political websites on an easy-to-use site like Craigslist, arranged by topic, office, and region is eminently doable — Craigslist has already done it for selling stuff, why not for political issues and candidates?

        There is a spectacular profit potential for specialized delivery of political information via the internet. A Craigslist of Politics could undercut the current cost of campaigning by 99%. If the developers of that system charged a small fee for posting on the site they could get rich AND restore democracy at the same time. The problem now is the number of (mostly older) people who have missed out on the internet revolution. They will slowly die off and be replaced by younger voters who wouldn’t think of getting their information from anywhere else.

  • Cretins Bezoar

    What makes you think FDR was so great? The oligarchy has been going on longer than since 1976.

  • Carroll Price

    When it comes to freebies for the “have-nots” democracy (which is mob rule) certainly rules the day.

    • Arcanek

      All government is mob rule. The only difference is the size and the constituency of the ruling mob.

  • Sooriamoorthy

    Was the US ever a democracy?

    • Arcanek

      No. It is, and always has been, a republic. The purpose of a republic is to thwart democracy. None of this was unseen. Patrick Henry called it all in his anti federalist arguments. And it is not a ‘democratic republic’, either. The constitution makes no mention whatever of any democratic process.

  • Tom C

    If anyone thinks the two party system has our interests in mind or that the electoral system is legit, you are part of the problem, not the solution. Presidents are selected not elected.

    We’ve have never been a democracy and the two party system was never formed to represent the people, only to keep us in a state of constant stupor. Our government is owned and controlled by Zionist International bankers and their New World Order agenda. Congress, legislation, judicial, executive, all run a daily scam of political “theatre” using the ZioMedia to create our reality. Our system has always been under attack by the power elite. There is nothing about our history, our government or financial institutions that reflects a free society…we are still under the rule of England/Vatican/Rothschild. Common Core, which is our communist curriculums being taught in our schools, will guarantee our communist leaders a wave of freshly educated comrades, loyal not to the Constitution, but to our NWO being put in place.

    The British army went home, we didn’t win a our independence. All an illusion.

    The last country to stand up to these people ended up being having to fight a war against the entire Zionist controlled world and were demonized so bad, people actually believe the holocaust happened to this day.

    General Patton said it best in a letter to his wife before the International Communist Jews had him murdered…”- After the war, Patton openly admitted that we (the U.S.), fought against the wrong people.

    On September 22, 1945, Patton stated: “There is a very apparent Semitic influence in the press. They are trying to do two things: first, implement Communism, and second, see that all businessmen of German ancestry and non-Jewish antecedents are thrown out of their jobs … in my opinion and that of most nonpolitical officers, it is vitally necessary for us to build Germany up now as a buffer state against Russia. In fact, I am afraid we have waited too long.”

    And in a letter later that night to his wife, Patton wrote: “I can’t tell them the truth that unless we restore Germany we will ensure that Communism takes America.”

    Know thy enemy and Americans are clueless who that is…we are told it’s al Qaeda, ISIS, Arabs, Iran, Iraq, Russia…never the real culprit. If you don’t know who the enemy is, you don’t know which way to point the revolution.

    And the extremely saddening point is ….We fought for Communism, befriended the International Communists (Russia), and helped to defeat its one true, and final enemy – Germany.

  • Tony B.

    Who does Carter think he’s kidding? The U.S. was never a democracy nor was it ever a republic, for that matter. Not since the Articles of Federation were replaced by the constitution anyway. Since then this country has always been run by an oligarchy of Rothschild prostitutes.