How much of a blow to democracy is the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States? Political campaigner and commentator Paul Jacob blames flaws in the electoral system and the media for the upset. He sees a key role for direct democracy in his country.
Jacob hosts an online, radio and print opinion programme, Common Sense, which is aired daily by more than 150 stations.
He is one of the most experienced political campaigners in the US and has worked on more than 100 initiatives across the country.
He is also president of the Citizens in Charge, a group active in promoting direct democracy education and supporting citizens in legal cases about citizens’ participation.
swissinfo.ch: What went wrong for democracy in the US on November?
Paul Jacob: A lot went wrong, but not with the result as such. People voted the way they wanted.
The disaster of the election was that there were two candidates that were not very popular, not even within their own parties.
The problem was that there wasn’t a system in place to get better candidates
swissinfo.ch: If the result of the election wasn’t a blow for democracy, what are the structural flaws in the electoral system?
P.J.: The political parties have become creatures of the government. It controls the process of primary elections at least in some of the states, ultimately choosing delegates and the nominee.
Democrats can vote in Republican elections and vice versa. But to me, political parties are private institutions and they ought to control their own nominations.
There might concern that parties might pick people that the public as a whole doesn’t like. But there must be way for people to get on the ballot to run that are not part of these parties.
The other problem is that third party candidates were denied access to the debates even though they did well in polls had an outside chance to win.
The whole process needs a thorough house cleaning in my opinion. We need a system where people can run for president without being a Republican or a Democrat. And we need a process where the parties control their own nominations.
swissinfo.ch: Turning to the role of the media in the run-up to the election. Did they distort the campaign as commentators in Europe have criticised?
swissinfo.ch: Given the result of the November 8 election, is there a special role for direct democracy in the US?
P.J.: There should be a special role. There is no direct democracy at a federal level, but power has gone more and more to the federal level over the past few decades. Congress says they are going to solve the problem and the president is going to solve everybody’s problem.
I’m convinced that the public is beginning to realize that it is no even getting a fair choice when we vote on two candidates neither of which we like.
More and more we are going to see people saying ‘We need a direct voice’. That is the initiative and referendum process, or direct democracy.
Interestingly enough, there were more initiatives on the ballot sheets in the different states on November 8 than there have been in several years.
I hope it is the beginning of a push for a national initiative or at least a referendum process. I seems to me that when major legal changes are taking place, why not let Congress pass them and then let the public say ‘Yea or Nay’.
It might upset people in Washington because a lot of times people would say ‘No’, but it would unite the country more. People would not only be able to choose their representatives but they could also weigh in on issues that affects our lives.