Not as much as the Romans did to Palestine c.30 AD, if Monty Python’s Life of Brian is to be believed. They brought aqueducts, medicine, sanitation, public health, education, roads…and don’t forget peace.
Two thousand year on, the fruits of our democracy have brought us crumbling infrastructures, a bare-minimum (if that) public health system, cuts to education and insane student loans, and war, don’t forget war. Lots of it, mostly predicated on lies (remember those fantasy Weapons of Mass Destruction, courtesy of G.W Bush as enabled by Colin Powell?). Can anyone out there explain why we we’re still — endlessly — fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Bonus question: Why 165,000 active-duty personnel deployed in 150 countries around the world?
Despite having held a US passport for over two decades, I’m still bemused by the electoral college system that renders the countrywide popular vote meaningless in presidential elections. The College has overridden the popular vote five times, twice recently. Nearly three million more people voted for Clinton than Trump two years ago, while George W. Bush was outvoted by over half a million people before being voted into power by five Supreme Court justices appointed by Reagan and Bush senior. You call that representative democracy?
I just checked. You do. We do. Somehow we’ve ended up in the mess we’re in because of the founders’ lofty democratic goals, not despite of them. Turns out, about half of us don’t even vote, so the old saw about getting the government we deserve applies doubly to them. What that means in the real world is that Trump was the choice of about one quarter (25.7%) of the voting age population. Had Clinton been declared winner, she could have claimed allegiance from only slightly more: 26.8%.)
I’m not sure that the 55% or so of us who actually vote in presidential elections even counts as “representative.” Most other countries have a much greater turnout in nationwide elections: we rank 26th out of 32 OECD (i.e. top tier, economically) countries. Last May, 78% of South Koreans voted in their presidential election.
And from many points of view, our “representatives” aren’t. (“Democracy is representative in roughly the same sense that the Roman Empire was Holy,” quipped someone.) Men in Congress outnumber women over 3 to 1; one tenth of the population don’t believe in God but no declared atheists sit in Congress; 5% of Americans say they’re LGBT, with just 7 of 535 — about 1 percent — openly LGBT Congressional members. Black and Latino populations are similarly underrepresented: 14 percent of the US population is black, 8 percent of members of Congress are; 6 percent of members of Congress are Latino, compared to 11 percent of the voting-age population. And on and on.
Is there an alternative to one wo/man-one vote? God yes, many. “Approval voting” for instance, whereby voters opt “yes” or “no” for each candidate; the candidate garnering the most “yes” votes wins. (You could, for instance, have voted for both Hilary and Bernie, without one vote canceling out the other.) The idea is that you end up with candidates who are most acceptable to the community overall. Sounds good? If you don’t like that idea, check out Wikidemocracy, Range Voting, Cellular Democracy and the many other proposals offered to give more of us more of what we want.
Because, dammit, there are much better ways of taking care of this country, none of which require a Roman emperor.