The Future of Democracy is in Peril. A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. According to Lord Alexander Fraser Tytler, a Scottish Historian, the average age of the world’s democracies is around 200 years.
The Great American Democratic Experience is Born
On June 21, 1788, nine out of the thirteen existing states ratified the United States Constitution. Ratification officially established the country’s independence and a new form of government. Based on the date of the constitution, which is still in place, the United States is the oldest democracy in the world at 235 years old and counting to date.
The United States maintains a federal democratic government with a constitutional, representative democracy. Power is vested in self-government “of, by, and for the people” under this system of government. As proclaimed in President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, democracy limits the authority of the majority by legal and institutional means. The rights of individuals and minorities are respected, our elected officials repeatedly usher in contentious, unpopular decisions. As a result, the integrity, credibility, and legitimacy of those involved in policy decision-making, safeguarding the public interest, and restoring confidence in the policy-making process are being questioned.
Era of Democratic Anxiety
While the United States is the only country with a continuous democracy more than 200 years old, lack of public support for democracy, rising economic inequality, culturally biased and discriminatory reactions to societal changes, and a resurgence of intolerant, authoritarian, white-ethnic identity politics may prove to be the undoing of democracy in the United States.
“American politician and civil rights activist John Lewis said, “A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few.” American Baptist minister and activist Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In his 1978 University of Virginia commencement speech, Former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, said, “Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”
The present politically divisive atmosphere in the US has skewed resources and policies away from the common good. In today’s reality, political agendas focus on perpetuating inequality, undermining democracy, and denying human rights. Consequently, a significant degradation in the level of confidence the US citizenry has in its present-day political decision-makers.
Political integrity means exercising political power consistently in the public interest and independent from private interests Moreover, it entails not using power to maintain the officeholder’s wealth and position. Integrity is a crucial determinant of trust.
Time Will Tell
A democracy is not a permanent form of government, and all democracies will eventually fail. It’s only a matter of when. Already eclipsing the average age of the world’s democracies, how much longer can our democratic system of government endure? Will it break down and cease to work in our lifetime?
Time, which is not on our side, will tell!
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