US primaries: American democracy? A farce!

The primaries in the USA have always been seen as a lesson in citizen participation and grassroots democracy. It’s over. A few determine the fate of many.

The conversation at Mary Ann’s Diner in the small town of Derry went like this:

Nikki Haley: “Hello, how are you?”

Voter: “Good. Oh, wow, Nikki Haley herself.”

Haley: “Nice to meet you.”

Voter: “Wow.”

Haley: “What’s your name?”

Voter: “Kimberly.”

Haley: “Kimberly, where are you from?”

Voter: “Massachussetts.”

Haley: “Oh, how beautiful.”

Voter: “Yes.”

Haley: “What are you doing, Kimberly?”

Voter: “I work as an accountant.”

Haley: “Oh, how lovely. It was nice meeting you.”

Voter: “How exciting.”

Afterward, voter Kimberly said, “I’m voting for Nikki Haley. She’s so wonderful. She’s a strong woman. I’ve been following her political career for a long time.”

“What political content was the conversation about?” I asked her.

“Less about content. I was so excited that it was Nikki,” she said.

Above all, she got a selfie with the politician, she said, as excitedly as if Taylor Swift had sat down at the table with her. She showed it proudly.

The candidates’ campaign tours have degenerated into a show

This is the core of the election campaign in 2024: the voter gets her photo to show her friends. The candidate gets her photo to demonstrate closeness to the people.

There were still some tours by the presidential candidates through the restaurants, community halls and cafés of New Hampshire. But they could not be compared with previous election campaigns. Previously, candidates had to be in New Hampshire months in advance. They had to cross the entire state. They established contacts. They answered voters’ questions in “Town Halls”, a kind of citizens’ meeting. They were tested for their suitability. As recently as 2008, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had to answer every little question, in every location.

Today the whole thing has become a show, a simulation of democracy. The candidates shake some hands for the photographers. They give a few short speeches to their own supporters. Nikki Haley in front of an average of 300. Donald Trump in front of an average of 3,000. But they don’t present their election programs, but throw around a few catchy slogans. Haley’s is: We need a new generation to lead the country. Trump’s is: Haley is a sparrow brain.

Haley says: I promise to do my best.

Trump says: I am the best.

Superficiality and alienation from the citizens are not even the biggest problems in the primaries

I attended 15 election events in New Hampshire and only one allowed for citizen participation and a serious discussion about politics – that of Dean Phillips, the Democratic challenger to Joe Biden.

And yet superficiality and alienation from the citizens are not the biggest evil in the primaries. The real problem is that the vast majority of Americans are excluded from even choosing their candidates. Trump won Iowa by 57,000 votes – an “overwhelming victory,” it was said in all the media. In New Hampshire he received 163,000 votes, more than 50 percent. There was only one other person to choose from: Nikki Haley.

In total, a good 200,000 Americans voted for Trump, out of 330 million, mind you. That’s less than 0.1 percent of the population. 99.99 percent of Americans did not vote for him as the Republican candidate.

But that’s what he is now: candidate for the most important office in the world, after primaries in two small states. Votes in the other 48 states no longer matter.

The votes cast do not represent the US population

But the candidates continue to talk about the “greatest democracy on the face of the earth”, both Republicans and Democrats. For the Democrats, Biden wasn’t even on the ballot in New Hampshire – and he still won. Voters simply wrote his name on the slip by hand.

Donald Trump celebrated his election victory that evening in the small town of Nashua like a historic event and used all sorts of superlatives. If he wins, he will embrace democracy and respect the vote. If he loses, the election victory will have been stolen and democracy will have been undermined.

Those who voted for him are 99 percent white and most come from rural areas. In Iowa, the proportion of blacks in the total population is four percent, and even less among Republicans. In New Hampshire, 92 percent of the population is white, four percent is Hispanic and two percent is black.

But America is much more mixed, more urban, younger. More than half of the population is now non-white, and the vast majority live in cities. None of them had a say in the election of the Republican candidate.

There are reasons why a white supremacist was chosen as the presidential candidate

The biggest fear of many Trump supporters is exactly that: they no longer feel at home in a country where white people are in the minority for the first time. They no longer feel comfortable in a country where immigrants no longer come from Europe – like their ancestors. So now a few white people – 220,000 to be exact – have decided that their candidate for the highest office in the state should be a white supremacist who not only wants to stop the influx of immigrants, but has also announced large-scale mass deportations. What German right-wing extremists are currently calling “remigration”.

Trump, whose mother was herself a poor immigrant from Scotland, is supposed to continue to secure the supremacy of white America – and the undemocratic primaries are helping him do this. It doesn’t matter to his supporters that Trump wants to be a dictator on day 1 – as announced – and fight the media, the independent judiciary, and the state bureaucracy that keeps the country running.

Biden destroyed democracy, Trump claims, by stealing the 2020 election and making him a political persecutor. The Democrats counter that American democracy is in serious danger from Trump.

That’s what 2024 is all about: preserving American democracy. According to polls, the vast majority of Americans want neither Trump nor Biden. But the will of the people is not what matters in the world’s oldest democracy.