One of the first things you learn in school about the American Government is that we live in a ‘democracy’ (or to be more specific a, representative democracy), a nation “for the people and by the people”. However, there are many arguments to be had against this claim.
Take for instance the Electoral College, the system used to elect the president of the United States. To get elected as president, a candidate must win the most Electoral College votes, determined by each state, rather than the most votes from the general public. This is how we have elected on several occasions a leader who did not receive the “popular vote”, or the majority vote of the public.
Or, take for instance our Supreme Court system. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life by the president of the United States and have played a role in shaping many laws and regulations in our nation, all without the direct input of the public.
Both of these systems trace their origins back to the beginning of America. Our founding fathers-those white, male, land owning, wealthy elite- felt if America were to be a direct democracy (imagine voting for every policy measure like you vote for American Idol), they, the more intelligent and worthy members of society, would lose their rightful power and the country would fall apart. Therefore, they created a system where their interests would be protected: one with elected representatives, checks and balances, and vague rules for how to govern (that wonderfully evolving and ever-interpretable Constitution).
We’ve run with this form of government for over 200 years now, constantly evolving and changing how it functions to benefit different interests. Many changes have created a more open, equal, and democratic society for all Americans, while others…not so much.
One such democracy debilitating change is the creation of the fast track negotiating authority for trade agreements. This authority, when granted by Congress, gives the President of the United States the power to negotiate international trade agreements, and then essentially “fast track” them through Congress by not allowing the Congressional body to amend or filibuster the agreements.
Now, you might say, “Well what’s wrong with that? Congress has to approve the fast track authority, therefore they should know before agreeing to do so that they have no problems with the impending trade agreement. That checks and balances the deal.”
Ah ha, but you see, the problem is: the contents of said trade agreements are generally kept secret before they are put on the fast track, and negotiations are done behind closed doors. Congress has little to no clue what the agreement specifically does. Which means, the public they are elected to represent don’t know what the agreement does either.
The fast track authority has been used numerous times to pass trade agreements since the Nixon administration, but its use expired in 2007.
President Obama has never been granted fast track authority, though not without lack of trying. In 2012 his administration began seeking the renewal of the authority to pass the very controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, but was stopped by both his own party and Tea Party Republicans.
Now that there is a new Republican majority in Congress, President Obama and his administration seem more hopeful to gain the fast track authority and pass the elusive Trans Pacific Partnership, a goal he laid out in his recent State of the Union address.
But there are a lot of questions to still be answered about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the most glaring being: what does it actually do, why are the Republicans who have fought the president at every step ok with it while his own party is not, and why is his administration calling to debilitate democracy in order to get it through?
Let’s look to the experts for our answers:
If you unable to watch the video, here is a simple breakdown from a piece on occupy.com
“…the TPP will offshore millions of good paying jobs to low-wage nations. And on top of that, it will extend corporate patents, decrease access to affordable healthcare, encourage privatization of land and natural resources, allow multi-national corporations to sue sovereign nations for loss of profit, and slash environmental regulations leading to even more grave damage of our already imperiled global ecosystem.”
Wait, President Obama, the man who uttered during his most recent State of the Union address: “…this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success- we want everyone to contribute to our success.” wants to circumvent democracy and pass an international trade agreement that will help big corporations make bigger profits, hurt consumers, and possibly create more lost jobs over seas? This doesn’t seem right.
Or, maybe it does. Maybe the President is playing a very specific political move here. If he is granted fast track authority from a Republican majority Congress, he will be seen as bipartisan. If he successfully uses the fast track authority to pass a huge trade agreement that no one has ever heard of; he not only looks bipartisan, he appeases his big money corporate donors that helped him get elected in 2012, gets a controversial agreement passed without anyone noticing, and still gets to play the part of a progressive, fair president deflecting Republican interests at every turn.
We’ve come a long way since our founding father’s thoughts and ideals formed America’s Constitution and thus created the wealthiest nation the world has known. We’ve seen slavery abolished, women’s given the right to vote, minorities allowed to own property, African American’s the right to eat, sit and learn wherever they choose, and even elected the first ever African American president, but if the fast track authority and the TPP proves anything-it is that we are still living within our framer’s elitist democracy.