How tragically ironic: As Americans bask in the afterglow of our Independence Day holiday, and some doughty patriots even begin to organize for the country’s 250th anniversary in 2026, democracy is in great duress in the U.S. and in many parts of the world.
The fragility of U.S. democracy is both immediate and long term. And around the world authoritarian regimes are installed in distressing governance models ranging from those of China and Myanmar (Burma) to Russia and Hungary.
In America, recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions undermining voting rights have generated new urgency to the need for citizens’ attention to democracy in America. The decisions come in the wake of state governments across the country advancing many voter suppression initiatives based on unsupported claims of fraud in the 2020 U.S election. And all that after four years of federal administration attacks on freedom of the press and truth itself. Despite great progress in the national economy and public health, largely due to Covid vaccinations, Americans are divided as never in recent memory.
Two new incisive analyses – one penetratingly specific, the other alarmingly generic – of the threat to America’s democracy follow:
The current issue of The Economist is detailed in its cover-page assessment:
“Across the country, the officials who administer elections in states where Republicans hold sway have been attacked for upholding the election results. Many are at risk of being replaced. These might seem like distant, bureaucratic changes. In fact, they raise the chances of a contested election that the courts cannot sort out. They weaken America’s voting system in ways that will outlast the hysteria over the 2020 results …
“My Party, Right or Wrong
“Republican Party elites are in a bind of their own making. Under pressure from Mr. Trump and his allies, state legislatures are making changes that will weaken American democracy. The solution is for leaders to uphold the norm that election administrators are above party …
“The silent non-Trump faction of the Republican Party may hope that all this will blow over and that those sounding the alarm about democracy are exaggerating … It would be safer for the constitution, and more in keeping with the flag-waving spirit of the Fourth of July, for the Republicans to speak out now before speaking out becomes even harder.”
A July 3rd New York Times lament on a great irony of U.S. democracy – its protection of free speech and diverse political philosophies:
“Plans for America’s 250th birthday in 2026 are getting underway. But can the spirit of 1776 survive the history wars of 2021? …
“How you see things, depends in part on where you stand. …
“The Fragility of Democracy … (a renowned historian has said) he always tries to connect back to the founders’ understanding of the republic as a living organism which, if not constantly defended by engaged citizens, will ‘dissolve’. ”
The longstanding existential challenge to democracy in the U.S. and around the world has also been admirably summarized – in stark terms – by David Stavages in his 2020 book,
“History suggests that modern democracy is an ongoing experiment, and, in many ways, we should not be surprised that it has worked at all. … we need to recognize that maintaining modern democracy involves two challenges … the risks of strong executive power and citizen distrust.”
Clearly, there is much work to be done – now, until 2026 (and way beyond) – if America’s 250th anniversary will truly be a celebration.