The soaring levels of polarization and distrust in America have heightened the threat to our democracy. This is a time for all citizens to recommit to the fundamental principles of democratic governance.
The best way to restore trust in our democracy is to work together locally. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration will convene governmental, civil society, and private sector partners for a year of consultation, coordination, and action (“Year of Action”) to advance democracy, culminating in a Summit for Democracy next spring.
This Summit and the broader Year of Action will build on the Administration’s steadfast work to strengthen democracy domestically, abroad, and around the world. It will bring people from across party lines to share ideas and solutions to bolster the health of our democracies and help us all become more resilient in face of new challenges to democratic systems worldwide.
One of the most important things the Summit and the Year of Action will seek to do is to make democracy in America and in the hemisphere more relevant to the lives of ordinary Americans. Our democracy is more than a system for choosing political leaders; it’s an enduring, shared commitment to ensuring that the rights and responsibilities of citizens are met by government institutions in which they have confidence.
For too long, the American public has looked at its democracy through a lens that prioritizes national messages and issues, rather than local change that makes real differences in the lives of ordinary citizens. Those changes have created discontent and a sense of disconnection from family, community, and country. They have made Americans feel they don’t belong, and that their civic participation has become irrelevant to the quality of their lives.
In response to these growing concerns, some organizations and philanthropists are investing substantial resources into voting measures that will, they hope, save democracy. However, these efforts are not enough. Democratic decline has accelerated in the last five years because of two acute threats: the emergence of an antidemocratic faction of elected Republican politicians supported by safe seats and polarization; and a deep partisan chasm on the left that has led to a politics of alienation and competitive victimhood.
Efforts to revitalize democracy must focus on both of these problems. The first is to reduce the influence of an antidemocratic faction of elected Republicans by reuniting moderate Republicans with prodemocracy leaders. The second is to address the underlying causes of alienation and partisan polarization in America by reducing feelings of marginalization among marginalized communities and addressing the structural and economic barriers that keep them from being part of the democratic process.
To reclaim the American dream for all Americans, the right to live in a democratic society must be embodied in concrete, measurable progress toward addressing real and pressing social needs in communities where people live. For example, core democracy organizations need to recognize that poor and minority voters cannot rally around abstractions like democracy if they don’t see solid progress on the needs that matter most to them.