When the Myth of American Democracy Explodes

Listening to Carol Anderson talk about her book One Person, No Vote on the Ezra Klein Show podcast; about voter ID laws and other measures that actively prevent black people from voting; about gerrymandering and electoral college distortions that allow the party that loses the vote to win the election…

Watching Brett Kavanaugh testify to the US Senate Judiciary committee; where he refused to answer or evaded questions; where he perjured himself; and where his white male colleagues apologised to him for having his honour questioned…

… I found myself thinking that American democracy is on the decline. That it may even be irreparably damaged.

But then I thought again about what I had witnessed, and what people like Carol Anderson are complaining about. It is not that American democracy is dying, but that the absence of a proper democracy is and always has been entrenched.

Its not that Republicans are just now learning how to disenfranchise black voters. Its that they have always done so.

Its not that the election of Donald Trump means that men are now enabling other men to abuse women. Its that they have always done so.

His egregious abuses of power, and the failure of congressional Republicans to provide the necessary check and counter-balance, may actually be a weird kind of help to the democratic project. Its not that President Trump has broken everything, but that his over-reach and his cack-handedness has exposed that everything was already broken.

Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, what is changing is that more and more people are becoming aware of the deep flaws in American democracy.1

The political crisis may not be that there is less democracy, but that the absence of democracy is exposed and becomes common knowledge. Little has actually changed, save that more people are aware of the deep democratic deficit in the country that innovated that system of government.

But when everyone knows, and they realise they cannot change the system, what happens?


1. None of these problems are unique to America, of course. But as the richest, most powerful nation on the planet, and the one where notions of equality and democracy are revered, its right to have particular concern for the direction that country takes.

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