The United States has, for centuries now, been the pillar of democracy in the world, but that does not make it immune to the erosion of democracy. Democratic erosion is the process by which democratic institutions, norms, and values slowly get picked away. This process is different in many countries, and it is often hard to see because the erosion of democracy happens under the guise of a fully functioning, healthy democracy. It uses the same institutions that have always been used for democratic means, but it uses them to subvert and peel away at the very foundations of what makes a democracy. I believe the United States does face these very problems, but because these things are difficult to detect, not many people seem to be worried about it.
Because of the United States’ central role in international politics, and its historical role as the “example democracy”, people, especially within the United States, tend to see it as unfathomable that something like democratic erosion could even take place here. On one hand there is some truth to be said for the resilience of our democracy, we have the oldest constitution, and have come out from worse threats to democracy stronger time and time again.
I am not arguing that the most recent crisis we face, that of Donald Trump and the seeming widespread corruption of much of the leadership of the Republican party, will spell the end. No, I believe we can and will recover, with time, but that in no way makes what is happening right now minimal or something to be ignored. If we truly want to recover, we must vote out the corrupt politicians that are ruining out democratic institutions and move forward by healing the deep polarization that defines our country right now.
I am not claiming to have a solution to the polarization, or any of the deep political wounds this country faces. The damage caused by the Trump administration, as well as some of his allies in Congress, is something that will have to be healed with time, the future is always uncertain.
Despite the various amounts of evidence (without the compliance of an of the Executive branch), witness testimony, and Trump’s own words, he was acquitted last week almost along party lines, with the exception of Senator Mitt Romney. The Trump administration wrongfully abused the power of the presidency and the United States for Trump’s own personal political benefit with his re-election. Meanwhile the Republicans in the Senate refused to allow witnesses or force the administration to turn over any vital documents pertaining to the impeachment trial.
The reason this is all important here is that this sets a dangerous precedent for any future President that is inclined to abuse their authority and power. A precedent that says that the President can basically do anything they want, and if Congress ever wants to assert their power as a coequal branch of government, then the President can simply ignore any action taken by them and continue to abuse their power. Now the only way this does not come to fruition is if the deep polarization in the United States heals to a great degree, and neither party feels any sort of personal loyalty to the man in charge, so much so that they would be willing to ignore any obvious abuses of power.
The foundations of a truly democratic society are based on things like free and fair elections, that those elections are competitive, free press, independent judiciary, inclusive electorate, among many other things. Trump has repeatedly attacked the press as an institution of lies that has worked against him from the start. Trump has undermined the process of free and fair elections by inviting foreign interference on multiple occasions. He was recently acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial because we was alleged to have pressured a foreign ally to open an investigation into one of his political rivals in order to help his chances in the coming election. He made aid to the country conditional on them announcing an investigation to help him. He then completely ignored any attempt at oversight by Congress, and his party in Congress let him do all of this. The whole point is that this paints a picture of democratic erosion in the US. By attacking the free press as an enemy of democracy, by inviting foreign interference into our election, by pressuring a foreign ally to help him in his own personal political career, and by completely ignoring a co-equal branch of government, he has fundamentally eroded a crucial part of our democracy. It sets precedent in the future that Presidents do not have to respect Congress as a co-equal branch of government, but also that there’s a very generous amount of leeway given to the President to do what they want, and if that involves soliciting foreign interference in our elections, or pressuring allies for personal gain then that is fine.
This corruption goes beyond the President too, just days ago, Senator Lindsey Graham spoke on TV about Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, having a direct line to the Department of Justice. Giuliani is someone who is also currently under investigation for his ties with Russian oligarchs and meetings he had and planned to have with Russians tied to the Kremlin, he represents the President personally, not as the President. So if this information from Senator Graham is to be taken as Truth, then that would mean that the same person who is under investigation for ties to money from Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin has a direct line to feed his own information straight to the Department of Justice. Does this sound like a conflict of interest potentially?
With all this new information coming to light seemingly all the time, it appears that deep and systemic corruption has taken root in the top of American political leadership, and yet the alarm is not being sounded by enough people to do anything about it. This is the exact definition of democratic erosion. Democratic institutions and offices are being used to personally benefit people and support conflicts of interest leading to sham investigations that fail to hold the highest leaders of our country accountable.
This is an interesting explanation of the Executive Branch’s role in eroding democracy in the United States. It seems the “guardrails of democracy” (Levitsky and Ziblatt) are not withstanding the pressure bestowed upon them by Trump. In this instance, Congress would be the failing “guardrails” as they are giving too much leeway to the president. It’s also really interesting that the U.S. is consistently viewed as the “example democracy.” I wonder if this reputation will continue?
Mr. Zirock, I completely agree with the argument you have presented above. I had a few questions upon my first few times reading this, and I would like to bring the following resources and background information to your knowledge just to reaffirm and further develop what you have said. Let’s take into consideration the commentary of Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in the following NPR Podcast, “How Democracies Die.” https://www.npr.org/2018/01/22/579670528/how-democracies-die-authors-say-trump-is-a-symptom-of-deeper-problems. I would like to point out the similarities that Ziblatt and Levitsky both address as well as the Nuffield Chair of Comparative Politics at Oxford University, Nancy Bermeo. The demise of a democracy as you stated is done in a covert and gradual way that is almost unnoticeable, I agree. But rather that simply stating it as such, I would like to incorporate Nancy Bermeo’s research and theory on the topic. Bermeo documents in her democratic backsliding post featured in the “Journal of Democracy.” Democratic Backsliding is a very diversified concept and can be seen in different forms which Bermeo breaks down into forms that have declined and forms that are continuous. In the podcast, Levitsky says, Trump utilizes the following methods. “The undermining of the credibility of our electoral process and of the free press, right? There are two.” The way President Trump goes about doing this is by slandering the media, he is defaming and harming the reputation of the media in a way hat he is seen as a savior, as someone who is going to come in and right their wrongs. This is what Bermeo could potentially consider a “Promissory Coup.” The following characteristics are a match. Trump is intervening subtly and defensively. Trump is trying to make promises to the people. Trump is painting himself as a savior, as well as misleading the American people by claiming this is a threat to democracy and that he is attempting to restore it. The 45th president of the United States of America, just like several other leaders who have eroded democracy is not paving the way for an improved democracy. There are several forms of democratic backsliding and I believe his is essential with your argument. Again, I completely agree with your argument. I suggest that you keep this article in mind for use in the future. Great work.