American Democracy in Peril?

Capitol-Hill
ASAD MIRZA

Asad Mirza

It seems a paradox. But one of the oldest democracies of the world, the US which has the habit of preaching the world about democracy and democratic traditions, including to the largest functioning democracy of the world i.e. India, it itself is facing a democratic crisis. A debate is currently on in the US whether the American democracy is floundering or it faces challenges or will it be turned into a despotic government in the next 20-25 years.

Capitol riots’ anniversary

On January 6, the first anniversary of the rioting at Capitol Hill, President Joe Biden implored Americans to defend their institutions and reject the political violence that engulfed Congress exactly one year ago.

Standing in the Statuary Hall overrun by pro-Trump rioters during the Capitol riots, Biden declared that the former president bore “singular responsibility” for the insurrection attempt.

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy, our Constitution,” Biden said of Trump, without naming him. Trump, he added, is “not just a former President. He’s a defeated former President, defeated by a margin of over seven million of your votes in a full and free and fair election”.

In his remarks, Biden defended the integrity of the 2020 election and directly refuted the long-running effort by Trump and his allies to sow doubt about the vote. The president also countered Republicans who have urged Democrats to move past the insurrection and focus on the future.

On his part Trump repeated his claim that the election was “rigged” and responded with a twisty statement that blasted Biden for having “used my name today to try to further divide America” and went after the president’s approach to inflation, Afghanistan and immigration.

But one of the former president’s fiercest foes took a notably different tack. After attending a moment of silence in the House, Dick Cheney offered sharp words for his party.

“It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,” the former vice president told reporters, when asked about how Republican leaders were handling the Capitol attack.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview with CNN said, “(democrac) isn’t dying, but it needs attention”.

But while the emotional aftershocks in the Capitol remained a key focus, Biden and many Democrats also sought to demonstrate the stark contrast between their party and the Republicans, most of whose members remain deeply loyal to Trump.

American perceptions

Meanwhile, several surveys conducted after January 1, 2022, by some newspapers in collaboration with different universities across the US, predicted a bad case future scenario for the US democracy.

A USA Today-Suffolk University poll found that Americans by overwhelming margins see the nation’s democracy as in peril, more than eight in 10 Republicans, Democrats and independents say they are worried about the future of America’s democracy.

An NPR-Ipsos poll, found most respondents saying that American democracy, and America itself, is in crisis and at risk of failing. Overall, 64 per cent agree that American democracy is in crisis and at risk of failing. Even more, 70 per cent feel the same about America itself.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll said that the percentage of Americans who say violent action against the government is justified at times stands at 34 per cent, which is considerably higher than in past polls by The Post or other major news organisations dating back more than two decades.

In the fall of 2002, a year after the attacks of September 11, 2001, 90 per cent of adults expressed pride in the workings of American democracy. Twelve years later, it had fallen to 74 per cent and, in the fall of 2017, it had dropped again to 63 per cent.

Also, a Canadian political science professor has warned that the US could be under a right-wing dictatorship by 2030, urging his country to protect itself against the “collapse of American democracy”. As in all fascist movements, contemporary forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump.

“We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine,” Thomas Homer-Dixon, founding director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, wrote in the Globe and Mail.

Homer-Dixon’s message was blunt: “By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.”

Homer-Dixon said he even saw a scenario in which a new Trump administration, having effectively nullified internal opposition, deliberately damaged its northern neighbour i.e. Canada.

All this leads one to believe that all is not hunky-dory with the American society or democracy per se, and before the American leadership continues to preach the others, it should set its own house in order, though it might be asking for too much.

Biden has repeatedly made a case that the like-minded allies and US need to show the world that democracies are a far better vehicle for societies than autocracies. It is a central tenet of Biden’s foreign policy outlook. But his first year in office has been a period that he says has been marked by a “backward slide” for democracy around the globe.

What most political analysts fear is that a constant barrage of lies is being fed to the American citizens. A proof of this is that from amongst those who participated in the Capitol riots, a year ago, 69 have been nominated for gubernatorial posts, 55 for the Senate, 13 for different states’ Attorney General slots and 10 as House candidates. The scenario emerging after their possible win does not bode well for the American democracy, as then these people will be in power and able to harm it much more, so to defeat them the Democrats need to up their game. 

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