Continuing Challenges in American Democracy

The United States has always had problems with racism, xenophobia, and violence.  These problems are sometime worse and sometimes not as bad.  The present period is, in this sense, by no means the worst period in American history.  That said, every regime, democracy included, is vulnerable to some degree and there are threats to American democracy that should be taken seriously.

I believe that there is no society in the world that does not have racism, xenophobia, and religious hatred to some degree.  However, political leaders such as Trump can and do attempt to exploit such prejudices in order to advance their careers.  The complicity of many leading Republicans when they cooperate in Trump’s efforts is absolutely shameful.

It is argued that American history is a witness to deep-rooted racism against Blacks and other minorities. Apparently, the political system has failed to tackle these issues that can turn into threats against national security and values. One aspect of this very complex problem is the tension between equality and social reconstruction.  For example, affirmative action practices in the United States tend, in some cases, to advantage well-to-do minorities over poor whites in the competition for jobs and education.  This is a problem.

When Abraham Lincoln talked about democracy, he mentioned government of the people, by the people, for the people. But it should be noticed that democracy is always an ideal and no society will ever realize that ideal.  However, we can measure a society by the degree to which its preconditions, such as freedom of speech and the openness of political competition, are realized in practice.  From that perspective, the United States might rank higher than most other nations but is far from the best of them.

The most serious problem with American democracy is the absence of political judgment among large sections of the public.  That lack of judgment can, in part, be traced to poor education but poor political leadership is also partially responsible.  My biggest worry is that the leaders of both political parties are exploiting prejudices for political advantage without acknowledging or considering the consequences of their actions.  That problem is more serious in the Republican party. Furthermore, some Western democracies are suffering from the same problems that are afflicting the United States.

Recently, The New York Times cited a new analysis that “The United States and its allies accounted for a significantly outsize share of global democratic backsliding in the last decade,” and said that Western core elements like election fairness or judicial independence have weakened. I think the New York Times is referring to Donald Trump and his Republican Party allies.  From that perspective, the Times is correct because Trump continues to be a serious threat to democracy. 

There is and should be no single leader of world democracy because all nations have flaws of one kind or another.  They should all be more intent on improving the quality of their own regimes than pretending that they can provide an unflawed example for the rest of the world.  However, there are some very bad regimes in the world and they should be condemned regardless of whether or not democracy is a plausible possibility in their case.

A poll shows that more than 60 percent of Americans believe there is something wrong with US democracy and are calling for democratic political reforms. Indeed, there are many polls indicating American dissatisfaction with the current state of American democracy.  Most of them also indicate that there is no consensus on a solution because the respondents identify completely contradictory problems. 


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