The United States is not a straight A student when it comes to democracy, still less a role model for the world. The country has long struggled to implement and sustain the principles of a government of the people, by the people and for the people articulated in the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, abolitionist movement, civil rights movement and affirmative action.
Despite these accomplishments, the US is currently suffering from a serious democratic crisis, characterized by the erosion of popular confidence in the country’s government. The problem stems from the polarization of American society and its lost faith in the system’s ability to deliver a better life. It also has a lot to do with the way power is exercised and distributed within our political institutions.
Political polarization in America has made it increasingly difficult for citizens to understand what is happening inside their own government and what the consequences of various decisions might be for them and their families. This has undermined the effectiveness of our political system and reduced the space for cooperation and compromise in policy making.
The most significant cause of the decline in democracy in america is that the two dominant political parties have drifted apart significantly and have eliminated many areas of common ground. Consequently, it has become increasingly difficult for them to govern.
In addition to the political wrangling in the media that has undermined the gatekeeper function and allowed the spread of false information, the decline of democracy is further complicated by the growing economic inequality. As the wealth of the rich has grown and the poor have been left behind, the US has moved away from its founding ideals as a country for all.
A third reason why the decline in democracy is so serious is that the needs of many Americans are not being met by our government. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of a health care system that is expensive for everyone but affordable only for the richest and most white people. Poor and minority voters keep being asked to vote to save democracy, but they are not going to do it if the system keeps failing to meet their most basic needs.
The US must focus on improving its own democracy before trying to export it to the rest of the world. This is not only in the interests of the American people but also of the global community, which will be much better off if no one country attempts to impose its standards for democracy on other countries or uses democracy as a pretext for intervention, subversion and wars. The world faces major challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, and it will be able to overcome them only if nations work together. To do so, they need to address the most pressing issues of the day—like health care, education, housing and income equality—not fight each other over them. This will be easier to do if the US takes on more international responsibilities and stops trying to dominate the world by using its version of democracy as a tool for suppression.