The U.S. is no longer very democratic in terms of the way the rest of the world sees us. That same view is true for many Americans also.
The “Democracy Matrix,” a project of the University of Wurzburg in Germany, has Denmark as the best working democracy followed by Norway, Finland, and Sweden. The U.S. is ranked 36th as a deficient democracy. While this ranking considers other factors besides the fairness of the election process, it is a peek on how we are viewed by our friends and allies.
The U.S. based Freedom House gives the U.S. a score of 32 out of 40 for political rights. They cite the following as reasons for concern:
“However, in recent years its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in rising political polarization and extremism, partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, harmful policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.”
They further go on to write:
“The transfer of power from the administration of President Donald Trump to that of President Joseph Biden in January was seriously threatened by a series of antidemocratic actions intended to thwart it. Although Trump’s claims of fraud in the November 2020 presidential election had been consistently rejected by electoral officials from both parties and by the courts, he and some of his political allies in the administration, in Congress, and at the state and local levels sought to misuse various authorities and procedural tools to overturn the election results. They also attempted to apply pressure by mobilizing Trump’s supporters, and on January 6, the final step in the confirmation of the results by Congress was violently disrupted when a mob marched from a rally outside the White House and broke into the US Capitol building. Congress reconvened hours later and completed its count of the Electoral College ballots, and Biden’s inauguration proceeded without incident on January 20. However, Trump’s false assertions about large-scale fraud continued to pervade Republican Party discourse throughout the year, leading to intraparty tensions and the threat of political marginalization for Republicans who vocally rejected the claims.”
The January 6th Committee shows how far we have come from a united voice to what is and is not acceptable democratic behavior. Conspiracy theories are the predominant ideology of the Republican Party. It is no longer large deficits and big government that they decry but rather that mysteriously millions of votes were changed, discarded, or destroyed. It could have been done by Hugo Chavez, an Italian security company, the Chinese, or Dominion voting machines.
In addition, there is a belief by some conspiracy adherents that Democrats are pedophiles and drink children’s blood. That was a common belief of the Middle Ages when Jews were accused by Christians of those actions. Before the Christians accused the Jews, the Romans accused the early Christians of the same “Blood Libel.”
When those who disagree with the outcome of an election believe that a state legislature can nullify the votes of their citizens, then we have clearly entered un-democratic territory. We see this craziness every day with farfetched legal theories. For example, Bannon claiming he can’t testify before Congress because of executive privilege even though he didn’t work at the White House at that point and former President Trump no longer has executive privilege to bestow.
Using the same metrics that the C.I.A. uses to predict a country’s democracy is in decline and a civil war likely, the U.S. has already gone through the first two stages of insurgency according to Barbara F. Walters who sits on the agency’s task force regarding this. Walters believes that we have already passed through the “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict” phases. The last phase, which is “open insurgency,” could have begun with the sacking of the Capitol by Trump supporters.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance based in Stockholm lists the U.S. as a “backsliding democracy” in their 2021 report. They go on to claim that the country is falling victim to authoritarian tendencies.
Another hallmark of a dying democracy is when the opposition refuses to work with the governing party to achieve compromise and effective governance. The opposition doesn’t oppose for reasons stated in their platform positions or on principle but rather to make sure that the governing party can’t achieve any success for the governed.
We saw this when Senate Leader McConnell refused to hold hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee almost a year before the 2016 election. He stated that an election was imminent. Yet when Trump nominated Coney-Barrett a few weeks before the 2020 election, he allowed it to go forward. In the former case it was “too close” to an election and in the latter, “more than acceptable” because his party was in power. A duality of rules and morality is fatal to a working democracy.
What comes next? Will it be a war like the one in the 1860s? It will probably not be something where states secede, and two nations are formed. It is much more likely to be one of insurgencies. January 6th was a good example of a political insurgent group trying to block a democratic process.
Rivals would claim they are the rightful leaders because of election denial. Or governors in opposition to a federal policy and laws could refuse to carry out enforcement within their jurisdictions. In any event, we are going to go through a prolonged era of political and social upheaval.
How bad it is will depend on the numbers of adherents to any one cause. If we continue to be an evenly divided country, then it could be some time before the disunion ends. I fear that the beginning has happened, and we haven’t even realized it.