Democracy in America is an enduring theme in the United States, but its history has many defining characteristics. Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic text, “De La Démocratie en Amérique,” literally translates to “On Democracy in America.” But the official English translation typically refers to it as “Democracy in America.”
The concept of democracy evolved from the Greek, Roman, and Celtic ideas of government. It has undergone several political adjustments over the past two centuries. Franklin has often referred to this as the “other half of the apple of civil discord.”
Democracy in America was published in 1831 by a French civil servant of aristocratic descent. It was the result of a nine-month visit to the United States. While Tocqueville’s book received a warm reception from critics, it eventually faded into obscurity. Tocqueville’s observations of democracy in America are nonetheless timely and important. The author’s predictions were right on many fronts.
The democratic process in the United States is fragmented and long. Individual veto players have the power to prevent the whole body from taking action. “Checks and balances” are supposed to prevent abuse of power, but their function has been distorted. The two parties are increasingly polarized, and areas of agreement have become far smaller. A liberal Republican versus a conservative Democrat is one extreme example. Mutual inhibition has permeated the political culture in the US.
Despite these advantages, US democracy has been plagued by problems. Among the many problems, COVID-19 is a prime example. It disproportionately affects communities of color, making health disparities in the country even worse. As a result, this pandemic has revealed the fragile state of democracy in the US. The disease has exposed the systemic racism in American society and raised questions about health and well-being.
Democracy in the US is an international phenomenon, and a major question facing the world is whether it is still the ideal model of democracy. The implication is clear, however. The United States is no longer the shining city that Tocqueville sought to portray. And according to a recent survey, only 16% of American adults believe that democracy is functioning well. That’s a worrying indicator of the health of democracy worldwide. So if democracy isn’t functioning well in the US, we’ll have to wait until the general election to find out.
A better approach is to consider what democracy in the US means to other countries. The US has long been critical of democracy abroad, and its efforts to export its model would be undemocratic and counterproductive. As the Monroe Doctrine declares “America for the Americans” and promotes Pan-Americanism, the United States has a long history of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, undermining their own democratic values.
The American government is an example of a country that has a political system that is dominated by a privileged class. As a result, the US parliamentary system is run by elites who control the state apparatus, manipulate public opinion, and enjoy many privileges. Although Democrats and Republicans have alternated in power since the 1960s, ordinary citizens are unable to vote for independent candidates or third parties. Ultimately, it’s the elite who control the US government and the world.