There are tens of democracies around the world, some struggling, others stable and strong, but few can match the sweeping and profound revolution that took place in America over two centuries ago. The country’s founders created a constitutional republic that is the envy of the world, with an intricate system of checks and balances, universal suffrage, political parties, and a legal framework that protects individual rights. The Founders’ experiment has been the crucible for the most extraordinary and innovative political ideas that have ever been forged, and they were right to be confident that their Constitution would stand the test of time.
But today, the democratic foundations on which America was built are under attack. Many Americans are disillusioned with the nation’s politics and pessimistic about the future of democracy. This pessimism has been fueled by the increasing polarization of our society, with people who oppose one another being pushed further apart. This has been exacerbated by the rise of new media, which has made it easier to spread and amplify divisive ideas.
The pessimism also stems from a growing sense of disempowerment among the citizenry. The ability to vote for change has never been more difficult, with the emergence of third-party voting, deadlocking state legislatures, and increasing voter suppression. Moreover, people feel they are being ignored and undervalued by their elected representatives. They have become cynical of the political process and increasingly distrust the federal government.
Moreover, they are being bombarded by toxic cyber comments, are afraid for their children’s safety at school, and are threatened with protests in front of their homes if they voice heterodox ideas. For a prodemocracy movement to thrive, it must work across partisan, generational, and racial divisions while addressing lingering biases in the mainstream media, religious institutions, and cultural and social pillars where American’s seek meaning and moral absolutes.
It is crucial for the health of a democracy that the public’s faith in its governance remains high. A major contributor to the decline in trust in our democracy is money politics, which has corrupted election, legislation, and administration. It’s essential to increase taxes for the wealthiest, close loopholes that benefit large corporations, and take other steps that show plutocrats are paying their fair share and respecting democratic norms.
The economic structure of the country is a contributing factor as well, enhancing status anxiety and allowing cultural issues that are stand-ins for class to be weaponized for authoritarian ends. Further study is needed to determine what alterations to America’s economic system could help its democracy and how best to implement those changes. Ultimately, a revival of trust in democracy in America will require a combination of vigilance, collaboration, and investment to ensure it stands the test of time. Amid the current climate of anger, hate, and despair, it is up to us to reclaim the American dream and make democracy work again.