The January 6 Looting of the United States Capitol, continued refusal of 2020 results of the presidential elections and actions of some state legislatures controlling the conduct of elections has made many Americans wonder if our democracy is in danger. In fact, this condition is not unique to America. And alas, the story of democracies are dying dates back to the very first democracies, in Greece and Rome.
It is important to understand what “democracy” means and how to best define it. After all, America is not a pure democracy. It is a republic in which the people do not directly elect the president. Its system of checks and balances often allows the minority to dominate the majority. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but recently blocked debate on John lewisJohn LewisIs American Democracy on Life Support? US Navy launches ship to commemorate gay rights activist Harvey Milk To counter racial politics, Congress must protect federal voting rights for all MORE Voting Rights Act.
A democracy can be defined as a “pluralist, free and open society under the rule of law in which the governed choose their governors”. But this system only works when the public has confidence in the law and its rulers.
Moreover, democracy requires its citizens to ultimately put the welfare of the state before individual interests. Today it is reversed. Winning over individual issues dominates politics, no matter what the cost. Old President TrumpDonald TrumpMeat’s industry groups pledge to meet Paris Agreement emissions targets by 2030 Judge launches part of DC AG lawsuit against Trump’s inaugural committee.the continued insistence that he won a “rigged” the election is an incisive example of self on the country. And a lot of Americans still believe he won.
Democracy works best with few political parties. In countries where sometimes more than dozens of political parties compete for leadership, establishing a stable government becomes impossible. France between the wars; later Italy; more recently Israel; and currently Romania show how too many parties harm democracy and government.
In the United States today, the two-party system no longer exists. The Democratic and Republican parties are deeply divided, each between two factions. Along with Democrats, moderates and progressives form the two wings. So far, it is not clear that this is reconcilable with governance. Along with Republicans, Trump’s much larger wing eclipses the traditional Republicans, now tarnished like RINO, or Republicans in name only. Basically there are now four major parties.
Worse yet, when the major American engagement in the Vietnam War began in 1964, about 80 percent of Americans trusted government (and virtually every institution). Today, nearly 80 percent not have confidence in the government. One way to cripple democracy is for citizens to lose confidence in government and its institutions without any self-correction mechanism in place. None are present today.
Civility and respect for other citizens are prerequisites for a healthy democratic society. Clearly, hostility towards immigrants has been present since the founding of the nation. But the divides over race, sexual preferences, gender, and country of origin have arguably never been greater or more extensive. These differences are intensified by orders of magnitude across social media and the fact that too many people do not accept the existence of basic truth and facts in the face of fake news and alternative facts.
In all fairness, by helping win World War II and then becoming the only superpower afterwards, perhaps unwittingly, the Americans took on a much-needed role that would be untenable in the long run. As dominance deteriorated into pride, arrogance and belief in the superiority of all that is American, a kind of Pax Americana, over the decades other powers would emerge and America’s aura would be tarnished and, in some cases shattered by missteps and bad choices, for example in Afghanistan and the Second Iraq War. Recent Pew polls show how America’s position has diminished internationally.
Where is the United States and its democracy going? The answers to this question form the Rosetta Stone for the future and the future of democracy. In my next book noted below, I ask if a constitution written by the best minds of the 18th century is fit for the purpose of the 21st century?
The inability of government, regardless of which party is in charge, to respond in a timely manner to the needs of the nation and the public breeds the anger, hostility, resentment and cynicism that pervades daily life. Violent behavior on airliners; death threats to those with different points of view or to politicians on the other side; massive purchases of firearms for self-defense; and general rudeness in interpersonal relationships are inescapable symptoms of a political cancer that is eating away at our democracy.
But who is listening? And who among us will have what it takes to lead and reverse these evils? These are the questions on which the future of American democracy rests.
Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is the distinguished columnist Arnaud deBorchgrave of United Press International. His latest book, due out this year, is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: The Tragic History of How Massive Attacks of Disruption Endangered, Infected, Engulfed and Disunited a 51% Nation and the Rest of the World”.