Former President Jimmy Carter thinks the United States is no longer a democracy, calling the nation an "oligarchy" during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. The comment came from a trailer for an upcoming episode of the talkshow host's SuperSoul Sunday, which will have its season premiere this Sunday.
"We've become now an oligarchy instead of a democracy. And I think that's been the worst damage to the basic moral and ethical standards of the American political system that I've ever seen in my life," the 90-year-old former president told Winfrey.
For those who need a quick civics refresher, an oligarchy is a system of government where the leadership is held in the hands of a small group of elites. According to Carter, shifting systems of political influence have made it so that a rich few basically control the political process.
Carter, who served as president from 1977 to 1981, added the amount of money required to compete in the modern American political system was no longer practical and that he himself would be unable and unwilling to participate in elections today.
"There's no way now for you to get the Democratic or Republican nomination without being able to raise two or three hundred million dollars, or more," Carter said. "I would not be inclined to do that, and I would not be capable of doing it."
Actually, he's right. As it turns out, Carter's comment is increasingly prescient.
In 2014, researchers at Princeton and Northwestern universities caused a minor uproar after they concluded the U.S, was not a democracy as is commonly assumed but, in fact, an oligarchy as Carter has now suggested. "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy," Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page wrote in their analysis.
Their conclusion, that the opinions of ordinary Americans are functionally irrelevant toward shaping public policy, shine a light on how things like gun control legislation can be repeatedly stymied despite overwhelming public support for policies like background checks.
"I would tend to agree that the plutocratic tendencies of the system are now tending to overwhelm democratic principles," Peter Rajsingh, an adjunct professor of finance at New York University, told Mic.
As the Democrats gear up for their first presidential debate on Oct. 13, Carter's stern admonishment may likely be one that will continue to resonate.
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