American Democracy Essay
Democracy is a political arrangement that, at its most basic, demands that there be collective decision making and equality in the mechanisms of coalition building and deliberation (Christiano, p.1, 2008). The strictest definition would imply that decisions are made directly by the citizens and no electoral process is employed to select legislative representatives who would, in turn, make decisions for the citizens (Christiano, p. 2, 2008). Where representatives are elected to make decisions on behalf of the electorate, such a system is defined as a republic. Although a republic system is not entirely a pure democracy, it is built on democratic principles and normative theory would argue that this distinction is irrelevant as it can be accommodated into the very definition of democracy: practical democracy can involve the election of representatives or it can involve the direct decision-making powers of a citizen class (Christiano, pp.2-4, 2008). In fact, democracy, and its more practical offshoot republicanism, both demand that there be equal political opportunity and voice and a government responsive to the demands of its citizens.
Democracy is justifiable for three main reasons: it forces law and policy makers to consider the opinions, rights, and interest of virtually all interest groups within a society (strategic reason), it provides for enhanced decision making abilities as it is better able to direct decision making efforts more appropriately/correctly (epistemological reason), and it improves the collective character of citizens as they are aware that failure to think through new rules or elections could lead to catastrophic results (character improvement reason) (Christiano, pp. 2-3, 2008).
The system of democracy as practiced in America holds several principles in high regard, and as such, qualifies it to being referred to as a democracy. These are: the rule of law, inalienable human rights and freedoms, a separation of powers between the three arms of government, a representative system that makes laws and acts as a check and balancing point for the Execute, the Judiciary that polices over the general population and the legislative and executive branches, a responsive government, a multi-party system, civil society freedoms, citizen and political equality, and universal suffrage (Christiano, p. 4, 2008).
The American political system creates an opportunity where interest groups can compete for power. This party-based system is the basis of competition for legislative and executive mandate by the elite in the democracy system (only a few people are elected to represent voters and are thus known as the democracy elite). This system is manifest through periodic elections where voters (those who satisfy the criteria for voting, but each of whim has an equal right as the other) (Christiano, p. 9, 2008).
Elections are the means by which the citizenry assesses the democratic leadership: the voters may punish or reward the leadership depending on if they were responsive to their demands or if they were responsible in their leadership. Since elections occur only in cycles, the civil society and a free press are important components of the democratic system: they challenge malpractices and expose bad leadership.
The Judiciary polices over the other arms of the government: instances of where the Supreme Court ruled that a particular (Executive) policy or (Congressional) law was illegal are countless (Okpala, p. 2, 2009). Indeed, democracy is a rule by the law. As such, everybody and every institution are at the behest of the law and no one can act in contravention of it without a punitive measure. Despite this, penal punishment cannot be exacted without following due process: the accused has rights and these are protected through a fair trial process. Furthermore, every citizen has inalienable rights, many of which are revolutionary in the American context. There are social, economic, and political rights and demand that nobody should be discriminated against for any reason, be it race, religion, or any other standard of discrimination. Though the people are the supreme source of power, they are not allowed to reject the authority of the government. Additionally, every citizens should practice own rights and freedoms without unjustly interfering with that of others. These are the premises of democracy that are evident in the American democratic model (Okpala, p. 4, 2009).
The American party system has been dominated by two parties, namely, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (Intelligencesquaredus, p.1, 2011). Though these parties have dominated American politics in one way or the other for the past two centuries, there are third parties that have an influence over provincial voting patterns. These parties range from the hilarious United States Marijuana Party to the peripheral Communist Party of the United States. These parties, numbering in the tens, could play a watchdog role or raise awareness on a number of interest issues such as taxation and healthcare. Examples include the Constitution Party that has a presence in over 30 American states and the regional Alaskan Independence Party.
Despite their presence, they are generally minor and are dwarfed by the influence and resourcefulness of the two dominating forces in American politics. This two-party system ahs been the hallmark of American politics: going into the 19th century, the political arena was at the stranglehold of the Federalists and Republicans who, for all intents and purposes, were not so different in their political philosophy while the mid-19th century political crisis that eventually led to the American Civil War was due to the breakdown of the two party system of the Whigs and the American Party (that is, the Second Party System). The Whigs would eventually form the Democratic Party in opposition of the South’s clamor for an end to the onslaught on slavery. These distinctions, nevertheless, became only concrete in the post- World War I period when the Republicans managed to dominate national politics for the better part of a decade (1921-1933) (Intelligencesquaredus, p.1, 2011). Political positions solidified hardened even further during the Reagan era to yield the present dispensation.
An understanding of this history is important because only by knowing the weaknesses of this two-party system will one be better able to appreciate its inherent faults. American history is replete with instances of how this system broke down to yield either a violent confrontation (American Civil War) or a legislative assault. An example of the latter is the impasses generated by inability of the Republicans and Democrats to reach a conclusive deal on fiscal policies in the Obama administration (Intelligencesquaredus, p.2, 2011).
In effect, this two-party system has only made America ungovernable. Political compromises are becoming much more difficult to reach and with the resurgence of the Tea Party phenomenon, it is only responsible to assume that Right-wing Republicans may overshadow the conservatism of the Grand Old Party, in turn, making legislative negotiation impractical and ineffective. Clearly, the silent majority of conservative party members are muffled at every election cycle (Intelligencesquaredus, p.1, 2011). Additionally, this two-party system does not provide the electorate with sufficient alternatives, which leads to dampened voter sentiment and participation. This system is susceptible to manipulation by Big Business, meaning that public interest may be sidelined.
The American model is, in this sense, far from perfect. This system is hugely dependent on the ability of citizens to make informed decision during voting. This is not always the case in electoral systems like the American one (Okpala, p. 3, 2009). Voters are held hostage by special interests and emotions and make irrational electoral decisions. The electorate is usually won over by the most charismatic candidates, meaning that it is not the most qualified candidates that usually make it to office. In addition, those adept at winning election cycles end up dominating politics.
The mass media is especially culpable. It distorts the truth about certain candidates and policies, and drowns the electorate with biased, ‘expert’ information (Okpala, p. 5, 2009). Indeed, the electorate does not have the capacity nor resolve to govern a country. This is best exemplified by the present conundrum: the election cycles have failed to address the failure of public management and force leaders to make tough choices on such important issues as the financial crisis. The electorate the world over, whether in debt-stricken Greece or in America, lack the resolve to make tough decisions and usually pass the baton to the murky world of elite democratic leaders (Okpala, p. 11, 2009). Leaders brave enough to propose tough measures such as austerity and equitable taxing of the rich and wealthy find themselves unpopular.
Leaders are also incentivized to prop up populist polices to shore up their popularity. This is usually done by ramping up the entitlements spending. Entitlements, in turn, push the deficit burden and, despite this retrogressive development, the electorate still elects such leaders (back) into office.
The democratic system also creates persistent minorities. These are the class of the electorate that loses after every election cycle. A candid example is the Indigenous Americans that live amidst a highly urbanized and developed society (Okpala, p. 9, 2009). What this has done is that it has marginalized their interest and as a result, minorities have lower standards of quality of life, have greater inequalities of income, lower access to and success in education, and political marginalization. The end result is usually referred to as majority tyranny, but even in the absence of it, minority communities still experience largely insurmountable odds in accessing resources and influencing the course of policies and laws (Okpala, p. 8, 2009). In the U.S., however, majority tyranny is not a huge problem as affirmative actions polices, an indication that the minorities have been historically sidelined, are attempting to re-dress this issue.
Another challenge with democracy in America is the effect of legislative and judicial over-reach. A number of American states are now seeking to limit voting rights come the 2012 election cycle. Georgia, for example, is seeking a reduction in the time available for voting to a mere 21 days. South Carolina, on the other hand, is seeking to place restriction on voters by demanding that they produce identification documents during voting. These restrictions are unashamedly aimed at restricting the ability of a number of interest groups from voting (Okpala, p. 8, 2009). The proponents to these voting changes claim that it will crack down on the (assumedly) fraudulent voters, that is, African-Americans, college students, Hispanics, the disabled and urban dwellers. This makes it hard for these groups to vote as they generally do not either have access to driving licenses (the disabled and urban dwellers where they public transport) for instance or identification documents themselves (such as Hispanics).The democratic model is not the best political arrangement, but easily beats the other political system for its attempt to be inclusive and representative.
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