The US flawed democracy is getting worse

Despite the belief of many Americans – and endless US propaganda – the US has never been a full democracy.

Putting aside the obvious fact that until the 1960s African Americans were disenfranchised, and murdered for campaigning for civil rights, America did make some progress from the 1960s onwards.

Yet according to The Economist’s Democracy Index 2023 it is still a flawed democracy ranked 29th in the world – with a lower ranking than Chile, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and just pipping Israel, Portugal, Slovenia, Botswana, Italy and Cabo Verdi.

It is 15 places below Australia, which is one of 23 countries ranked as a full democracy, and which has risen one place since the last report when Scott Morrison was Prime Minister.

The Index assesses five categories – electoral process and pluralism, function of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.

The report says: “Following the upsurge of political activity after 2010 in the wake of the global financial crisis, the global average score for political participation has declined only once – in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The 2023 decline was driven by reversals in every region except North America where levels of political engagement remained the highest in the world in a rarely celebrated positive feature of US democracy.”

This sounds impressive but seems a tad odd in the light of what’s happening on the ground in the US. At the very least you have to wonder how the culture can be doing well when you consider the nature of the Trump campaign and much else going on in the country from gerrymandering to voter suppression and culture wars.

Indeed, when we look at the quality and nature of US political participation we probably need a more fine-grained analysis of the type, style, nature and intent of US participation about what US political engagement actually involves.

For instance, The Guardian (21/20) reported that Chris Rufo, a right wing culture-war celebrity and close Ron DeSantis ally, has maintained a close relationship with IM-1776, a ‘dissident right’ magazine that regularly showers praise on dictators and authoritarians, puffs racist ideologues, and attacks liberal democracy.

“The outlet’s editors and writers – many of them so-called ‘anons’ working under pseudonyms – have variously advocated for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act; celebrated figures such as the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and the proto-fascist Italian nationalist Gabriele D’Annunzio; and advanced conspiracy theories about the Covid pandemic, and what they term the ‘regime’, a leftist power structure that they imagine unites the state, large corporations, universities and the media,”  The Guardian said.

It is also clear that there are a significant number of Americans who think their country should be a theocracy. The latest example of this, in a bridge to far for even Donald Trump, was the Alabama’s Supreme Court ruling that embryos are “extrauterine children”.

The decision has caused enormous uncertainty for IVF doctors and patients and could have widespread implications for anybody who is seeking or provides in vitro fertilization (IVF).

It is also significant that those who feel strongest about the foetus and the embryo – such as Alabama – are often the States with the worst maternal health rates in the country.

The Alabama chief justice, Tom Parker, gave a clear example of the theocratic foundation of his thinking when he said: “The people of Alabama have declared the public policy of this state to be that unborn human life is sacred. We believe that each human being, from the moment of conception, is made in the image of God, created by Him to reflect His likeness … [they] have required us to treat every human being in accordance with the fear of a holy God who made them in his image.”

On the same day the decision came down, Payton Armstrong of media watchdog Media Matters for America, reported Parker did an interview on the program of a self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ and Q-Anon conspiracy theorist. Parker said: “God created government” and called it “heartbreaking”…..that  “we have let it go into the possession of others.”

To top it all off Parker also referred to the Seven Mountain Mandate theory which asserts that Christians must take over the ‘seven mountains’ of US life: religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business and government.

Parker said: “we’ve abandoned those Seven Mountains and they’ve been occupied by the other side” and that “God is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now.”.

Admittedly this was all too much even for many Republicans and even Trump distanced himself from it. Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to find many other examples of US political insanity or oddness.

Significantly though, the Democrats did surprisingly well in the last mid-terms – largely because of the Supreme Court’s decision to get rid of the right to abortion – with the subsequent State-based attempts to punish women who travel interstate to reach abortion services.

Probably Trump and some Republicans response to Parker’s comments – and the post Roe v Wade political fallout – had more to do with stemming any further losses than any matter of principle.

Of course, one wonders about what Trump’s attitude to abortion is.  No doubt he is firmly opposed for political reasons but it sems improbable that none of his many partners – given his activities consensual and non-consensual in the area -have not had a problem. But then if they did – would be too mean to pay up?

…and while we get agitated by much that happens in Australian politics, we can take solace in being among the 24 countries – 14.4% of the total – which are full democracies. There are 50 flawed democracies, 34 hybrid regimes and 59 authoritarian regimes.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t need to be constantly on guard.