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Is the USA a Democracy? American Politics

Although the United States of America prides itself on being the first truly democratic country in the modern world, an opinion that the US is not a democracy has been gaining more and more traction in the recent years. There are concerns that the American democratic system does not work as advertised and instead gradually moves towards a more authoritarian regime. The goal of this essay is to prove this theory by presenting various non-democratic practices and inconsistencies of American politics.

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First of all, it is necessary to take a look at the evidence suggesting that America is slowly starting to move closer to authoritarianism. Ever since the beginning of the decade, there has been a growing disaffection with democracy in the United States, especially among the more progressive and left-leaning individuals. More and more people believe that voting cannot help in addressing economic and social crises that surround them, hence why they start protest movements like Occupy Wall St. (Chou 2014). Furthermore, according to Paul Smith, authoritarianism is born from two conditions: the bourgeoisie abandonment of politics and the eradication of the class system (Chou 2014). The first condition is manifested in the fact that political ideas of both the left and the right have become so extreme that there is no more workable middle ground, which means that the whole system is likely to go off completely into one of the extremes (Chou 2014). As for the second, while the distinction between classes is rather strong in the economic sense, efforts have been made to wipe out the class division from the world of politics, thus creating an illusion of classes not being relevant (Chou 2014). These conditions put America close to the position of the democratic Weimar Republic, which saw its demise in 1933, paving the way for the Nazi Party to take control over the country. Common citizens, elected leaders, corporate elites and powerful lobbyists can all be blamed for weakening America’s democracy. For example, corporate elites and lobbyists have grown used to exploiting democracy for their own aims. It is said that ‘the principle of “one man, one vote” has been replaced by the new math of special interests; thousands of lobbyists plus multimillions of dollars equal access and influence out of reach for ordinary citizens’ (Chou 2014). As for the citizens themselves, over the years they have become increasingly more inert, believing that simply voting every four years is enough and thus not being proactive in deciding the future of their own homeland (Chou 2014).

One common practice in the American politics that clearly goes against the supposed democratic nature of the country is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering refers to machinations aimed at gaining political advantage for one party or group over another, namely through manipulation of the district boundaries. This is done using advertising targeted at specific audiences, be it by ethnicity, sex, religion and soon, by redrawing the district lines and so on. The term “gerrymandering” is a portmanteau of the name of Elbridge Gerry, a governor who is known for inventing this practice, and the word salamander, the shape of which a reformed district in Boston area looked like. America, being an electoral democracy that uses small districts, is unfortunately very susceptible to gerrymandering. In fact, according to a 2014 study by Ferran Martinez i Coma and Ignacio Lago, it has the highest rate of gerrymandering in the world, followed by Malaysia and Romania. The main problem of gerrymandering is that it exploits the social capital, which goes against the principles of democracy. That is because elites use their power for their own ends while the interests of common people are ignored (Waymer and Heath 2016). Because of gerrymandering, equal voting power and fair representation are sacrificed in favor of furthering the political goals. Many different methods for combatting gerrymandering have been proposed throughout the years. One of the most prominent ones is creating neutral and objective organizations that will take the duty of redistricting away from legislatures. Such a system has already been implemented in countries like the United Kingdom or Australia. In the States, however, nearly every attempt at curbing gerrymandering meets strong opposition from groups whom gerrymandering benefits politically and financially.

Along with gerrymandering, voter caging is yet another practice that spits in the face of democracy’s principles while being legal across a number of the states. The idea of voter caging is that political parties challenge or outright purge the voting rights of people affiliated with other political parties by sending direct mail to those people. Addresses of those people from whom the mail is returned undelivered are compiled into lists. It is then argued that those people do not legally reside on addresses in these lists and therefore they are not allowed to vote.

Another point worth considering is that capitalism and democracy may not actually be completely compatible with each other. The logic of these two ideas is different: while the former guarantees that property and wealth will not be distributed equally, the other one provides equal civic and political rights for everyone. One promotes majority decision-making while the other requires a strictly hierarchical decision-making. Additionally, these two concepts are not exactly equal between each other. It is known that while democracy can exist only within the margins of capitalism, the reverse is not true, as capitalism can prosper both under democratic and authoritarian regimes (Merkel 2014). Ever since the 1980s, there is a continuing process of financialization of capitalism. Socioeconomic inequality enforced by this financialization brings political inequality. Political inequality, in turn, means that the democratic system is transforming into an oligarchy, where only the rich have any sort of political power, whereas the interests of other people are not represented in the government (Merkel 2014).

Now it is necessary to go back to the 18th century and see what the Founding Fathers of the United States intended the country to be. Namely, they proclaimed that the United States should be a republic, i.e. it is the elected officials who vote on laws and not the citizens themselves. In this sense, America cannot be considered a direct democracy but rather a Republic with democratic values. The reasoning behind the Founding Fathers’ intentions is that they were opposed to both despotism and the complete democracy, seeing as how a numerous amount of ancient countries and city-states that adhered to either one extreme has met their demise. Thus, the Founding Fathers needed to find a compromise, and they found by creating a mixed-republic with representative democracy.

In conclusion, all the arguments presented in this essay prove the assertion that the United States is not, at its core, a democratic state. By the most basic of definitions, it can be considered a constitutional federal republic with democratic principles. But what is more important is that these democratic principles which the US prides upon and uses to distinguish itself from the rest of the world are far from perfect and, indeed, are gradually growing weaker with each passing year. Political corruption, which includes gerrymandering, suppression of voting and campaign finance, and the people’s general disaffection are two very serious flaws that further America from its democratic ideals and bring it closer to a more authoritarian state of mind. And authoritarianism is most certainly not what the Founded Fathers intended for the future of their country.

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Works Cited

Chou, Mark. “The Coming Authoritarianism: The State of America’s Democracy.” Democracy Against Itself: Sustaining an Unsustainable Idea, 77-109. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. Web.

Martínez i Coma, Ferran, and Lago, Ignacio. “Gerrymandering in Comparative Perspective.” Party Politics, 2016

Merkel, Wolfgang. “Is Capitalism Compatible with Democracy?.” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Politikwissenschaft 8.2, 2014: 109-128.

Waymer, Damion, and Heath, Robert L. “Black Voter dilution, American Exceptionalism, and Racial Gerrymandering: The Paradox of the Positive in Political Public Relations.” Journal of Black Studies 47.7, 2016: 635-658.

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