Americans like to think of our country as a bastion of democracy. But for the first time, The Democracy Index has downgraded the United States from a full to a flawed democracy, citing citizens’ growing distrust of government, the media and elected officials. The index, which was released Wednesday and is produced by the economic firm the Economist Intelligence Unit in the United Kingdom, ranks the United States alongside other flawed democracies, like Japan, Italy, India, Botswana and Ghana. While the release of the index comes during the first week of the presidency of Donald Trump, the group stressed that the lower ranking for the U.S. was not prompted by the new administration. The lack of trust in the government and the political process is a long-term trend that predated the 2016 election, the report states, and Trump benefited from the trend.
If you believe “one man, one vote” is what separates American from despotic banana republics and other Third World dictatorships…well, I’ve got some bad news for you, Cupcake. Turns out that America isn’t nearly the shining beacon of the democratic tradition you’d deluded yourself into believing it is. In the Electoral College, not all votes carry the same weight.
Welcome to the house of mirrors that is American democracy.
Exhibit A is, of course, our recent Presidential election. In a true democracy, where “one man, one vote” is the rule, Hillary Clinton would be sitting behind the big desk in the Oval Office…and we wouldn’t be talking about banning Muslims. As we (once again) learned the hard way, “one man, one vote” isn’t what determines who becomes President. America is still saddled with the Electoral College, which means a candidate can lose the popular vote…and somehow manage to win the Presidency. In the case of Hillary Clinton, she can win the popular vote by almost 2.9 MILLION votes…and still end up having to watch Donald Trump put his tiny right hand on Chief Justice John Roberts’ Bible. If you believe that to be the definition of democracy, I’d wager you’re a Republican and a Trump supporter. #MAKEAMERICAGREATAGAIN, eh??
The index ranks countries on a scale from 1 to 10, based on 60 different indicators, including things like political participation, civil liberties and how well the government functions. Until now, the U.S. has been listed as a full democracy. But the country’s score dropped to 7.98, below the 8.00 threshold for being ranked as a full democracy.
Of the 167 surveyed, only 19 ranked as a full democracy, with Norway coming out on top with a score of 9.93 points. There are 57 countries ranked as flawed, 51 authoritarian countries, and 40 countries with hybrid forms of government that are somewhere between democratic and authoritarian.
That American democracy has displayed substantial and significant flaws over the years isn’t surprising. Democracy is seldom easy and pretty. When healthy and fully functional, democracy can be noisy, contentious, and cantankerous as different voices and perspectives play a political version of “King of the Hill.” We’ve long since passed that station on the way to corruption, venality, and outright electoral manipulation.
If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’, right?
Our biggest problem is that we haven’t learned from prior experience. This election’s anti-democratic result isn’t our first rodeo with the Electoral College. I will go to my grave convinced Republicans stole the 2000 Presidential election from Al Gore (Google “Brooks Brothers Riot”). The results (and body count) of the ensuing eight years speak for themselves. The idea that a Presidential election could be stolen by a committed group of thugs (with the approval- and cooperation- of the Supreme Court) was shocking. Unfortunately, the shock was not sufficient to spur action toward reform. Gore “won” by about a half-million votes, Clinton by just shy of 2.9 million…yet neither took the oath of office and became President. America paid dearly in blood and treasure for tolerating the theft of the 2000 election; what will the cost be this time around?
“One man, one vote?” Not quite…and being ranked alongside Japan, Italy, India, Botswana and Ghana when it comes to the state of our democracy isn’t something to be proud of.
This line of thought doesn’t even take into account the proliferation of fake news, manipulation of public opinion by Congressional Republicans (BENGHAZI!!!), Russian hacking, and Republican voter
suppression ID laws. Because these things have accrued to the benefit of Republicans, they have no incentive to pursue reforms…and so none will be proposed.
The idea that America is a flawed democracy doesn’t begin to address the seriousness of the threat our political system faces. These days, it’s a case of Amateur Hour- the inmates running the asylum. Donald Trump, easily the most anti-democratic President in our nation’s history, may over the next (eight??) years dismantle much of the remaining facade of “one man, one vote.”
It’s OK, though…it’s not like we were using our civil liberties anyway, right??
Nice Work, America.