Democracy in America

democracy in america

Those who genuinely believe in democracy as a normative ideal should be alarmed by the way it is being hijacked for political purposes. The world faces serious challenges ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown to climate change and global poverty, and the United States should be shouldering its fair share of international responsibilities and providing more public goods to the rest of the world, rather than trying to sustain its hegemony by playing bloc politics with other countries and bullying them into accepting democracy under threat.

Yet the most pressing challenge of all is that democracy itself has come under attack from forces that undermine its very existence. In the US, money politics have permeated every part of the democratic process from election to legislation. Candidates are backed by large corporations and a small group of rich individuals, who control electoral funds. The result is that elected representatives owe their allegiance to their financial backers and are more interested in serving those interests than the people they claim to represent. This has made it impossible for democracy to function effectively and a lot of voters have come to realise that the devil is in the details.

The root cause of this malaise is that the US has forgotten its democratic responsibilities in favour of an ambition to lead the world. As a result, it treats its own citizens as if they are not entitled to freedom of expression and religion and it has resorted to the use of military force and shady tactics – including the manipulation of democracy as a weapon – to advance its global agenda. The result is that it has alienated itself from most of its allies. A 2021 survey by Pew showed that most US allies see America as a shattered ‘washed-up has-been’ and that 69% of respondents in New Zealand, 65% in Australia, 57% in Sweden and 50% in Canada believed that American democracy did not work well.

Tocqueville was right to recognise the unique qualities of American democracy and how it nudges people to broaden their horizons, tutors them in pluralism, and prompts them to take greater responsibility for what they do. He also understood that democracy breaks down life’s certainties and spreads a lived sense of the mutability of power relations. For this reason, it is not just democracy that has become corrupted but, more fundamentally, the spirit of democracy itself. It is time to reclaim this shattered treasure and rediscover the democratic soul of America. This can only begin with a recognition that the world needs to move beyond its polarised and partisan ways of thinking. Only then can the United States reclaim its position as a “shining city upon a hill”. It starts by making real commitments to the democratic principles of one person one vote and separation of powers. Only then can it help the global community to address its most urgent and interconnected challenges. This article first appeared on the Huffington Post in 2022.