There’s no doubt that American democracy is under threat. In the past year alone, we’ve seen a sitting president attempt to subvert the results of a free and fair election, dozens of state legislatures pass voter suppression laws, and a violent insurrection at the Capitol incited by the president himself. All of this has led many Americans to believe that democracy is no longer viable in the United States.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to this crisis of faith in democracy. First and foremost is the increasing partisanship of our politics. Both Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly tribal in their views, and this has made it harder for them to find common ground on issues like voting rights, campaign finance reform, and gerrymandering. Additionally, the rise of social media has allowed people to self-select into echo chambers where they only encounter information that reinforces their preexisting beliefs. This has made it harder for people to see things from other perspectives and has eroded trust in political institutions.
Finally, there is the issue of money in politics. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, wealthy special interests now have an unprecedented level of influence over our political process. This has led to a situation where politicians are more beholden to their donors than they are to the voters who elected them.
All of these factors have contributed to a decline in faith in American democracy. According to a recent poll from Pew Research Center, only 45% of Americans believe that democracy is working well in the United States. This is a sharp decrease from just a few years ago, when 64% of Americans believed that democracy was working well.
The history of democracy in America
The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. The framers of the Constitution were deeply suspicious of direct democracy, and so they created a system of representative government instead. But over time, democracy has slowly taken root in America.
The first major step forward for democracy in America came with the adoption of the Constitution in 1788. This document established a federal system of government that divided power between the national government and the states. It also created a system of checks and balances that ensured no one branch of government could become too powerful. And perhaps most importantly, it guaranteed basic rights for all Americans, including the right to vote.
The next major advance for democracy came with the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791. These 10 amendments to the Constitution further expanded the rights of Americans, including the right to free speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms. They also codified the principle of one person, one vote.
Over the next century and a half, democracy continued to take root in America. In 1868, the 14th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing all citizens equal protection under the law regardless of race. In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote regardless of race. And in 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote regardless of gender.
Thanks to these constitutional amendments, democracy in America is now much more inclusive than it once was. But even though all American citizens now have the right to vote, that doesn’t mean that our democracy is perfect. In fact, there are a number of ways in which it still falls short.
For one thing, our democracy is still plagued by voter suppression. Despite the fact that voting is a constitutional right, millions of Americans are prevented from exercising this right every year due to restrictive ID laws, purges of voter rolls, and other forms of disenfranchisement.
Secondly, our democracy is unduly influenced by money. Thanks to the Citizens United decision, wealthy special interests can now spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. This has led to a situation where politicians are more beholden to their donors than they are to the voters who elected them.
Lastly, our democracy is still plagued by racial discrimination. Despite the fact that all citizens are supposed to be equal under the law, minorities continue to be disproportionately disadvantaged by a number of factors, including housing segregation, education inequality, and police brutality.
Possible solutions to revive American democracy
In order to revive American democracy, we need to take action on all of the factors that have led to its decline. We need to reduce partisanship by finding ways to work together across party lines. We need to increase transparency and accountability in our political system. And we need to get big money out of politics so that politicians are accountable to the voters, not their donors.
These solutions will require time, effort, and commitment from all of us. But if we want American democracy to survive, we don’t have any other choice.