There is a widespread view that democracy in America is in crisis. In fact, a recent poll showed that 42% of Americans believe that democracy is under attack and only 7% think it’s working well. This is not only a national problem but a global one, and the US needs to do some soul searching about its role in the world as a model of democracy.
The American political system has been transformed into a kind of scenario seen in Hollywood movies where well-heeled politicians publicly pledge their commitment to the people but spend their time scheming behind the scenes for their own benefit. Political infighting, money politics and vetocracy have made it almost impossible for quality governance to be delivered as the public would like.
In fact, the political system has become so dysfunctional that many citizens no longer believe that it is democratic in any meaningful sense of the word. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, only 19% of the people surveyed felt very confident that elections reflect the public’s preferences and only 48% say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the way government works.
Many of the problems stem from growing partisan polarization. The most liberal Republican is now significantly to the right of the most conservative Democrat, and areas of consensus have disappeared. This partisan antagonism has eroded the function of checks and balances and fostered a vindictive “if I can’t do it, you can’t either” mentality. In addition, the influence of large-scale political donations has distorted the democratic process by giving rich donors greater political clout.
Furthermore, the US media has lost its independence and is now dominated by a handful of major media conglomerates that are controlled by politically-motivated individuals and entities. The media has not served its purpose as a “gatekeeper” of democracy because it does not adequately distinguish between fact and propaganda. This has exacerbated political polarization and given rise to extreme ideologies and populism.
As a result, the majority of people in many US allies see democracy in the United States as a “shattered, washed-up has-been”. In a Brookings Online article in June 2021, Brian Klaas reports that 69% of New Zealanders, 65% of Australians, 59% of Swedes, 56% of the Netherlands and 53% of British citizens believe that the US is not a “shining city upon a hill”.
It’s time to take a closer look at the actual functioning of the US political system and decide whether or not it really is a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word. If we don’t do this, the rest of the world will be under no illusion about the US’s self-styled model of democracy, and our foreign policy and military interventions in Latin America will continue to cause social chaos, political instability and economic dislocation. This is a global issue and deserves to be addressed by all parties concerned. Hopefully, it can be resolved through some serious soul-searching in the US.