The US is no longer a shining example of democracy
The Short Version
Don’t blame the 45th president for this one. A long-term distrust in government, political parties, and elected representatives were among the primary reasons for the United States being demoted to a “flawed democracy” in the latest report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. This change from being a “full democracy” would have happened even without last year’s election. We’ve done this to ourselves.
Wait, Who Are These Guys?
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is the research and analysis arm of The Economist Group. Founded in 1946, they provide long-term and far-reaching deep research and analysis used by governments and major corporations with an eye toward recognizing both risks and opportunities to business and economic growth. While their research necessarily involves political matters, their primary perspective is economic and is generally considered non-partisan.
How Are We Defining Democracy?
The EIU defines a “full democracy” as one “underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy.” That means it has a lot of things that we’ve lost. Things such as respect for political freedoms and civil liberties, a diverse media that functions completely separate from government influence, a government that actually gets things done, an apolitical judiciary whose rulings are enforced, and adequate and effective checks and balances. Stop and think for a minute. We once had all that, but we’ve given it away.
A “flawed democracy,” on the other hand, just sort of go through the motions. They largely have free and fair elections, but may have some flaws here and there. There is a basic nod toward civil rights, but respect for government is low and participation in government is lacking. Again, try to take an objective look at what we’ve become. We fit this definition far too well.
What The Fuck Happened?
Our long-term distrust in government is largely what did us in. Looking at research going all the way back to the 1950s, things such as Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the Iraq War, the financial and housing crisis in 2008-2009, and government shutdowns have all contributed to how we feel about our government’s trustworthiness and ability to get things done. Our trust in government, according to data from Pew Research, is at the lowest point it has ever been.
Add to that the most severe income disparity of any developed nation. I mean, we’re not even close no matter how you slice it. Analysis from both Deutsch Bank and Goldman Sachs show just how incredibly wide the gap has become between the very rich and the very poor. As a country, we are failing at taking care of anyone except the super-elite. Frustration with this problem is largely the reason the 45th president was elected, but is unlikely to do anything to solve the base problem.
This results in a populism that is spreading across the globe. This quote from the report provides some important perspective:
“Populist parties and politicians are often not especially coherent and often do not have convincing answers to the problems they purport to address, but they nevertheless pose a challenge to the political mainstream because they are connecting with people who believe the established parties no longer speak for them.”
The EIU finds some encouragement in our low unemployment rate and some increase in basic wages. However, out attitudes toward civil rights and immigration and the president’s propensity to bypass the media continue to work against us.
We Are Not Alone
The United States wasn’t the only country to slip into the “flawed democracy” category. Japan, Italy, France, South Korea, Israel, Estonia, India, and Chile are right in there with us.
Yeah, we’re at the same level of democracy as Estonia. Stop and let that sink in for a minute.
The overall tone of the report is not especially encouraging. Concern is shown over what is seen as an exacerbated distrust in government as populist leaders prove unable to solve any of the problems that swept them into power.
You can download a copy of the full report here.