United States in need of democratic self-reflection
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Earlier this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its annual Democracy Index, which indicates the state of democratic conditions in each country. As of the end of 2016, the United States had fallen below the threshold of “full democracy” and was downgraded to a “flawed democracy.” Several factors have dragged the country’s democracy rating down and those factors indicate a need for serious self-reflection if Americans want to restore proper democratic conditions in the U.S.
The EIU’s Democracy Index is dependent on five categories: electoral process, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. It might appear easy to blame this relatively low rating on the election of Donald Trump as president. The EIU even says that Trump “triggered a political earthquake” and that his “protectionist rhetoric is a risk.” It is essential, however, to analyze other factors that have inhibited our democratic system as well.
For example, political participation is the lowest it has been in the U.S. in 20 years. CNN reported that approximately 55 percent of eligible voters cast ballots this year. Voter turnout, one of the most common forms of political participation, is paramount in order for the electorate to declare who it want to lead the nation. When just over half turns out to vote, it is difficult to say that democracy is in action since about 45 percent of voters did not participate in the democratic process.
Not all voters, however, chose to neglect voting. Some were not able to. States have made it more difficult for certain citizens to vote. Voter ID laws in states like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin prevented voters from participating. A concerning factor regarding these laws is that they tend to target communities mostly populated by poor people of color. Even after courts have ruled these voter suppression laws unconstitutional, states still managed to find ways to make it difficult for these groups to vote. Not only do these laws reflect poor political participation but also infringement on civil liberties, another factor considered in the Democracy Index.
All of this aside, one of the biggest factors to the impact in the country’s Democracy Index score is the lack of trust in government, which is reflected in our current political culture. A great deal of the American public has lost faith in our political system and the politicians who govern. This lack of faith and trust is one factor that explains the popularity of non-mainstream candidates in the 2016 election cycle, including Trump. If we cannot trust our government or our leaders, then we make it more difficult for our leaders to lead effectively. These consequences contribute to the rise of leaders like Trump and other alt-right politicians who feed off of distrust in government.
This low score on the Democracy Index should be a wake up call for the American public. Even if some want to believe that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and that this score is a joke, they should want to prove the EIU and the rest of the world wrong. We need to be motivated to make changes to show the world that we are not a flawed democracy. In order to do so, we have to mobilize the electorate. We have to encourage people that there are benefits in getting involved in forms of political participation. It also crucial that people are able to vote and that there are no barriers to participate. And, of course, we have to ensure that people can trust the system and those who work within it. Only then can we rise above being a flawed democracy like the rest of the world now thinks we are.
This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Daniel is a junior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.