Democracy was already backsiding in many countries before the pandemic, and the United States is no exception. However, the pandemic brought forth already existing problems from its polarizing responses to the COVID-19 due to the weakening of the rule of law that has been misplaced in this time of a public health crisis.
This past month, the Supreme Court of the United States blocked President Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate in a 6-3 decision. The ruling in question declined the necessity of large businesses (companies with over 100 workers) needing to require a mask while working.
Many Americans are shocked at the ruling considering it was made during the climax of the Omicron Variant: the newest and most contagious variant until date. Concerns of the government response during a certified public health crisis have been heavily weighted on the shoulders of many Americans.
As this Supreme Court decision is passed, it becomes a noteworthy decision regarding the authoritarian nature of the judicial branch. It rebuffs the decisions advocated from Dr. Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President of the United States, as well as the overall executive branch. Both of whom have previously mostly acted in unison regarding public health crises in the past 50 years.
How Is the Ruling Significant to American democracy?
The vital legal disposition this ruling has to American democracy is the potential to cause major deregulation over the checks of power between the three branches. In this case, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority decided against vaccine mandates which goes against all of Biden’s executive orders and Congress’s power of allowing him to do so.
This event has confirmed the instability between the rigidness of the checks in power of the government, and has ultimately led to polarizing ends of each branch’s stance on general regulation.
Previously, with general public health concerns, the power of making regulations remains in those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: an agency acting with Congress and the States. And although there have been conflicting political party conflicts in each branch of government, rare is the time where politics have entered the health arena.
How did the Pandemic Bring this Instability to Light?
The judicial use of usurping power is not the first and only sign of democratic erosion brought by the pandemic. The increase of political tensions over the pandemic and the lack of government response due to party affiliation, has been apparent over the past two years: and has deep roots on the state level.
In my hometown of New Jersey, the quick administration of the vaccines and the swift lockdown of the entire state and country only exemplified current counter-party hatred.
Protests pro and against vaccine and mask mandates have met on the same day, with pro-vaccine Democrats and Republicans against the vaccines yelling at each other in parades on the street, to glaring and spitting out spiteful words to their neighbors, to eventually resorting to violence.
According to Everytime Research, the political instability over health inaccessible resources from lockdown, and the right-wing party media coverage blaming Asians for the virus itself, increased gun violence over 25% since 2019.
The relationship between the increase of instability and the pandemic is the lack of checks on demagoguery in the media. Demagogues are political leaders who seek support by appealing to a group’s desires rather than rational arguments. For democrats, demagogues such as Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been largely influential towards the portion of Americans who identify as democratic.
However, on the flip side, Republicans such as former president Donald Trump and Fox News Anchor Tucker Carlson, have access to influence the opposite towards the more conservative portion of the American consensus.
What Does This Mean For the Future?
As the rise of demagoguery and political instability affect our government and the decisions it makes for or against the will of the people remains unchecked, so does the acceleration of the rate for democratic erosion.
Similar to how more heat makes a chocolate bar melt faster, the more party and political bias is applied in Supreme Court decisions, the faster we can see the deregulation of a stable government of a developed nation.
Although instability is a common occurrence for countries like Venezuela, Mongolia, and other developing nations where democratic erosion is apparent, it is more alarming to see a country with over hundreds of years of internal political stability.
In the past, the United States was commonly used as a benchmark of democratic standards, to be added to the list of countries facing democratic backsliding.
Party conflict has always been there, but the problems it historically faced has been exacerbated by the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States was slow to respond to mandating lockdowns, vaccine and mask requirements and other politically dividing measures that other developed countries such as New Zealand, Canada, and Sweden had displayed.
As a result, more Americans have contracted the virus, while others in these countries reaped the benefits of abiding by their government’s rule of law and branch unity.
How can the US take initiative to rectify the current trajectory of its democratic backsliding? Due to the nature of the pandemic, is this concern for backsliding long term or cyclical in nature? One thing is for certain, the United States must reevaluate its current state of democracy.