Democracy in Decline: An Interview with Philip Kotler

by Christian Sarkar

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in Chicago. His most recent work is "Democracy in Decline: Rebuilding its Future" (Sage 2016). His previous book is "Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System."

The U.S. is passing through a very difficult and costly Presidential election cycle. How often do seventeen candidates join the race to become the Republican nominee for President? Trump is a salesman steeped in the real estate and the deal-making world. He insults his opponents and the intelligence of our citizens. He wants to build a great wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and he wants to ban Muslims from coming into the U.S. Is this what you mean with your book's title Democracy in Decline?

I would say that our Democracy was in decline long before Donald Trump but he is the most recent contributor to the embarrassingly low level of political discourse in this country. There was a time when most politicians debated issues rather than just engaged in sending insults. Hillary Clinton sticks to issues and so does Bernie Sanders. Two of the Republican aspirants, Jeff Bush and John Kasich, stuck to issues. But the deeper problems is that our democratic government is no longer working to improve the lives of our low income and middle class citizens. Recently John Stewart put it well in saying that one political party's job is "to freeze government."

What is your main complaint about the shape of our democracy today?

In a working democracy, the citizens are supposed to be the ultimate force determining a nation's policies. But this is not happening today. Yes, American citizens get a chance to cast votes for the Presidential candidates and all the other state and city political candidates. The winning candidates ultimately pass all the legislation. But these candidates manage to get elected by raising enough money from large companies and the 1%. So they owe something back to their donors in deciding on national policies. Congress is therefore not run by the politicians but by their interests of their donors and lobbyists. Ultimately much of our policies are set by the wishes of Big Business and the very wealthy 1%.

So what can be done about this "corruption" of our democracy?

The first step is to end Citizens United, the infamous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that made it possible for Big Business and rich donors to spend so much money influencing voters to vote for their candidates.

The second is to reign in the huge amount of lobbying spending and activity that influence so much of our legislative outcomes. The third is to limit political advertising 30 days as they do in Britain. The fourth is to prevent the efforts to make voter registration and voting hours difficult for a great many citizens. The voting day should be shifted to weekends or to online mailed in ballots.

I understand that you identify in 14 such abuses in your book?

Yes, another major abuse is gerrymandering where the leading party in a geographical area changes the shape of the Congressional districts to include more of the voters who favor the incumbent candidate. The result is that about 90 percent of the incumbents end up getting reelected and they become the most powerful members who run the key committees determining legislation.

Another major problem is political gridlock where the Republican Party has openly said that they want President Obama to fail to accomplish any of his goals. This party is ready to use long filibusters or even threaten closing down the government to stop voting from taking place on proposed legislation. Even when Obama scores on a new piece of legislation, the Republican Party spends much of its time to weaken or rescind the new laws. They have tried to destroy the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (called Obama Care), to weaken Roe vs. Wade, the decision allowing women to choose abortion, and other passed legislation.

Another major problem is that our system of caucuses and primaries tend to be manipulated by more extreme members of both parties leading to more extreme candidates. Then the electoral college system with its super delegates in both parties deserves to be questioned and reformed.

So what do you hope to accomplish? What do you want people who read "Democracy in Decline" to get out of it?

I hope for two things. First, that readers of Democracy in Decline will get a much better understanding of how our major political institutions work, including Congress, the Supreme Court, Presidential power and its limitations, States protecting their rights, and how foreign policy is developed. My point is that most people never took a civics course or read a deep treatment of how things actually done in our democracy.

Second, I hope that readers will get upset enough with the current weaknesses and abuses that they will talk to others, join activist groups, and think more deeply about which candidates to believe in and trust. Will these candidates really care about making life better for our citizens? Our country?

Can readers trust that they are getting an unbiased view of how government operates and what major problems afflict our democracy?

No one book on the subject of democracy can be unbiased. All that we can ask is that the author reveal his biases. I made my biases transparent. I have always been a believer in efforts to improve the lives of people and I believe that liberal thinking will do a better job of improving people's lives than conservative or reactionary thinking.

That said, I sincerely want Republicans to read this book. Otherwise my book will only appeal to the converted. For each issue, I try to show the historical sources of the issues, the effects of the issue on the lives of people, and the alternatives that voters might face in voting or acting on the issue.

In my last chapter, I discuss 16 issues presently facing Congress and the American people and I spell out all the possible positions that could be taken by any voter on each issue. Any reader who proceeds to choose the alternative on each issue that he or she favors, would get a clear concept of where his or her political interests lie and why.

I find it interesting that you chose to write a book on our political system without having been trained in political science. How does a Ph.D. economist from M.I.T. and the "father of modern marketing" decide now to write a book on our political system?

The answer is that there is a disturbing interaction between Capitalism, our economic system, and Democracy, our political system. I would say that the features and trends in our Capitalist system are doing great damage to our Democracy.

The major problem in our Capitalist system is the growing level of income inequality. There will always be some income inequality but it has moved to a level that is corrupting both Capitalism itself and our Democracy. Capitalism is doomed to grow at a much slower rate because most of the gains in income are going to the 1%. During the recovery from the 2008 recession, income of the top 1% increased by 31% but just 0.4% for 99% of Americans. A great number of workers earn less today in real terms than they earned in the 1970s. So Capitalism is dooming itself by not paying a higher wage to our workers and not raising higher taxes on the rich, many of whom even pay a lower income tax rate than their office and factory workers.

How does this harm our democracy?

The growing gap between the rich and the poor is putting major political power in the hands of the 1%. The 1% pays much less in taxes and they have the money to back the candidates that will enable them to continue to grow richer. They can get low income people to surprisingly vote against their own best interests and believe that an obsessively self-absorbed Presidential candidate who claims that he can create more jobs and build a wall on our border to keep out illegal Mexicans and keep out Muslims and promise that guns can be carried by students into schools to protect themselves is offering a better deal than the other candidate. Our Democracy is increasingly morphing into an Oligarchy, a government run by the few.

Our citizens must get engaged if they want to save our Democracy. We've created a website called that carries current articles on how we can improve our democracy. As you know, we've also created a website for the other half of the problem, namely our Capitalism, called

Our citizens must be well informed and actively involved if we are to improve our Democracy. There is no other way.

Thanks, Phil.

What do you think? Join the debate. And please tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Christian Sarkar is an artist, activist, and entrepreneur. He is the founder of the $300 House Project and manages a marketing consultancy in his spare time. He is the co-author of Inclusivity: Will America Find Its Soul Again? is dedicated to saving Capitalism from itself. Visit us at to join the debate. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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