Sundin column: The decline of democracy in the U.S.
As I See It
Democracy is in decline around the world, and unfortunately, also in the United States. For the past two years The Economist has classed the U.S. as a “flawed democracy,” caused by a public distrust in U.S. institutions. It has placed the U.S. as 21st among the world’s 76 democracies and stated that it is “at risk of sliding further into authoritarianism.” It put the blame on loss of respect for Congress, the financial disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us, the conduct of the current president, and a poorly informed and undiscerning electorate.
People have lost faith in Congress, which has not been so divided since the decades before the Civil War. Compromise, by which our Constitution was created and Congress has functioned for much of its history, has become a dirty word. As a result Congress has become nonfunctional. Party loyalty is now more important than loyalty to our country and its citizens, even shutting down the government to make a political point. The Parties have also attempted to alter election results by resorting to gerrymandering election districts and introducing onerous voting requirements to disenfranchise large numbers of voters.
Lobbyists (many of them former Congressmen), whose primary function is currying favors with money provided by the special interests they represent, now outnumber the members of Congress by more than 20:1. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people and have the same right to give huge donations to the campaigns of those Congressmen who will do their bidding. Money plays a dominant role in whom legislation benefits.
Since 1970 the ratio of compensation of executives to the earnings of workers has grown from 20:1 to over 300:1; most of that growth has taken place in the last 20 years. Most companies no longer feel any obligation to share their financial success with their workers. Most executives believe that their sole responsibility is to the stockholders and themselves and not to the employees. In ancient Greece, Aristotle warned that democracy cannot survive in a society divided into wealthy and poor classes.
President Trump’s racially charged rhetoric, which is undoing decades of progress in race relations, is not without precedent. Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power by finding a scapegoat for the public’s unrest on whom to focus their anger – the Jews. Trump has used the same tactic to gain a loyal following, falsely maligning Hispanics. Playing to the crowd, he claims our country is being invaded by a wave of criminal Hispanics, which is totally false. Illegal immigration has declined, and the crime rate among them is lower than among U.S. citizens. Trump plays on the public’s frustration and perception that they are being “left out,” but his actions favor the wealthy, of course including himself.
President Trump’s disregard for the rule of law and for the truth is a major defect in his fitness for the office. A New York Times editorial reads, “He is a … repudiation of everything the U.S. has stood for since 1945, including democracy, the rule of law and human rights.” For him, the truth is whatever pops into his head or serves his ego. A prime example is his false claim of the “incredible success of FEMA in Puerto Rico when it was hit by Hurricane Maria and the few lives lost. The truth is that nearly 3,000 people have died and many parts of the island are still without power and water a year later. The unwritten message here is Puerto-Rican lives don’t matter (they are mostly Hispanic).
What concerns me even more than Donald Trump is the gullibility of the American electorate. He has set an example legitimizing bigotry that is spreading like a disease, directed at Democrats, minorities and especially the Press. An informed electorate is essential to the success of a democracy, which requires a Free Press whose mission is to challenge authority and hold it accountable, and to report that to the public. When the public is consumed by false conspiracy theories and gets its news exclusively from biased sources like Fox News, and the Internet, swallowing whole without fact-checking even the most preposterous lies, it is totally misinformed and prone to being taken over by a demagogue.
The Russians are also in on the act, attempting to destroy democracy throughout the world and especially in the U.S.
Wake up, America, before it is too late. Don’t let anyone take our wonderful democracy away from us.
“As I See It” appears on the first Thursday of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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