Americans may have forgotten what democracy looks like.

Our current president was chosen in 2000 not by the voters — Al Gore won the popular vote by a comfortable margin of more than 500,000 ballots — but by a Supreme-Court dictated Electoral College vote. Another Electoral College “win” came in 2004, when George Bush secured a second term on the “strength” of Ohio results that, while more favorable to the Republicans than the 2000 numbers from the battleground state of Florida, were so dubious in their generation and so uncertain in their accuracy that the congressional certification was challenged by Ohio representatives and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. Our Congress, which was elected in 2006 to end the war in Iraq, has rejected the will of the people and handed the Bush-Cheney administration more money than it requested to maintain the occupation of a sovereign land where the people would prefer to guide their own affairs. And even as the vast majority of Americans — including six in ten Republicans — oppose trade policies that offshore jobs, devastate communities in the U.S. and abroad and batter the environment, an unconscionable president and an unresponsive Congress pursue new agreements designed to empower corporations rather than citizens.

If Americans want to find evidence of democracy, they might look south to the Latin American republic of Costa Rica — where voters will decide Sunday on whether they want their country to sign onto the Central American Free Trade Agreement that is currently being promoted by the White House, The Wall Street Journal and the multinational corporations that are the generous the patrons of both those institutions.

Imagine that: In Costa Rica, the people are being invited to participate in the debate over their economic future.

It is a concept so foreign to the United States as to be almost unimaginable. Yet, once upon a time, there was a lively debate in the U.S. Congress and this country’s media about measures such as the Ludlow and Bricker amendments to the U.S. Constitution, proposals designed to give American citizens a real voice in decisions about whether to go to war and how and when the country will enter into multilateral treaty agreements.

Today, the members of Congress who are cheering on the democratic process in Costa Rica, such as Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, are ridiculed by the Wall Street Journal as opposing open markets and U.S. interests. Sanders is savaged for traveling to Costa Rica to reassure citizens there that voting against CAFTA will not mark their country as a pariah in the eyes of responsible U.S. officials. The senator’s defense of democracy and citizen engagement is dismissed by the Journal as “as pure a distillation of the case for protectionism as you’ll find outside the pages of Nation magazine…” Of course, The Nation has a long history of embracing enlightened internationalism, as does Sanders, but free-trade fundamentalists do not have much taste for the facts — or for the will of the people.

So be it.

Democracy has never had many friends among the elites. But Sanders is right to celebrate the fact that, as he notes, “On Oct. 7, Costa Rica will become the first country where citizens have the opportunity to vote for or against a trade agreement. Despite being heavily outspent by the moneyed interests, despite opposition from the Costa Rican government and the U.S. ambassador, despite an extremely hostile media, the latest polls have the election as a toss-up. Incredibly, just the other day, in a nation of only four million people, well over 100,000 marched in opposition to the treaty — a sign of the deep grassroots opposition there to CAFTA.”

Sanders opposes CAFTA. But, on his trip to Costa Rica, he did not tell people there how to vote. “That’s there business, not mine,” he says. So why did he make the journey? “To help counter the lies being spread in Costa Rica that suggested that if the people there, exercising their democratic rights, voted ‘no’ on CAFTA, the U.S. government would punish them…”

Unlike his critics, Sanders is enthusiastic about democratizing the debate about trade policy. And he does not want Bush-Cheney administration appointees, The Wall Street Journal or multinational corporate interests to stifle the process. “When the people in a free, democratic and independent country like Costa Rica vote their conscience they should not be punished by the world’s superpower,” the senator says.

Make no mistake, Sanders is being attacked for expressing deeply-rooted American values. Instead of threatening Costa Rica, our leaders should renew those values by borrowing a page from our good neighbor to the south. If Costa Rica can democratize the trade debate, why not the U.S.?