Early this month a group of America’s top political scientists gathered at Yale University to answer to discuss whether or not American democracy in decline and should we be worried? The near unanimous conclusion was: American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts — socially, culturally, and economically.
Breakdowns in social cohesion, the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion are the symptoms these students of politics offered as support for their conclusions.
While none of the scholars claim we’re near collapse they did say we need to work hard to solve America’s many problems soon. America’s institutions are where democracy has proven most resilient according to the researchers. For now, our system of checks and balances is working: the courts are checking the executive branch, the press remains free, and Congress is generally fulfilling its role as an equal branch.
According to Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, democracies don’t merely collapse, as that “implies a process devoid of will.” Democracies die because of deliberate decisions made by human beings.
Most often, the people in power become disconnected from their fellow citizens, seeing themselves as a class unto themselves. They develop promote and pass policies that benefit themselves and their benefactors to the detriment of the rest of society. Over time the citizenry becomes angry and divided tearing society apart.
In the past when this has occurred in the United States we’ve managed to elect leaders who pulled us back from the brink using what you might call class compromise. Teddy Roosevelt became known for trust busting, breaking up monopolies that enriched the few at the cost of the many. His nephew Franklin Delano Roosevelt later was considered a traitor to his class as the wealthy patrician instituted policies and rules that cut into the profits of his wealthy peers in order to recover from the economic collapse caused by financial speculation.
Democracy takes a lot of work much like a marriage; both parties must make an effort to be fair and faithful. I’m not talking about the government or the political parties; I’m referring to the electorate, the citizens. When things were going reasonably well many in this country felt comfortable disengaging from our government forgot the importance of participation and engagement. Today the United States is among the industrialized nations with the lowest average voter turnout. In 2016 Texas was 46th lowest turnout in the nation at 55%. Some parts of Seguin were in the 30% range.
Civic engagement is critical to maintaining our democracy and it starts with little things like knowing who your city councilmember is and how to contact them. We should all remember that local and state government are actually more influential to most people’s daily lives than the president or congress because they make the rules we live by every day.
Political theorists refer to the “social compact,” an implicit agreement among members of society to participate in a system that benefits everyone. Such an agreement only succeeds when we the people demand that our leaders act in our interests and not those of the wealthy donor class.
We must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions; sometimes it just takes phone calls from enough constituents to get their attention. In other cases it’s at the ballot box. Neither of those things will happen with a disengaged electorate which doesn’t even bother to stay informed about what their elected officials are doing.
Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: The politics of being above politics - x This is when military officers present themselves as above politics - but using that itself as a political stance, to be beyond criticism /2 — Tom Nich...
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