Democracy as a term and phenomenon originated in ancient Greece, where human civil and political rights were first raised. Democracy is the belief in a shared power governed by collective decision-making. The U.S. system of democracy is a product of its history and practice, shaped in unique ways. The state apparatus of America has been influenced by revolutionary wars, conflicts with First Nations, and the peculiarities of social interaction. It is impossible to judge unequivocally whether U.S. democracy is entirely equal. U.S. policies regarding international relations and social welfare are not wholly consistent with the principles of democracy.
Is U.S. Policy Democratic?
The development of democracy as a modern phenomenon is linked to revolutionary movements in Europe. Revolutionary movements in 18th-century France stimulated the nation in the Americas. The War of Independence was fought under slogans about the need to respect the rights of citizens. Loyalists opposed the development and held conservative views, while revolutionaries strove forward. After the war, the U.S. surged ahead, but it was inconsistent with democracy: power was contained in the hands of a narrow group, and collective decision-making was not widespread. In addition, U.S. politics did not meet criteria such as freedom of will and movement because slavery existed until the mid-19th century.
Nowadays, human freedom is the highest good, and slavery has been abolished. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that slavery has ceased altogether: people are now constrained by work, by the need to survive in the capitalist world, and by credit and debt (Repucci, 2021). Increasingly, U.S. political actions lead to social division and are accompanied by widening the wealth gap. Such steps lead to an overall anti-democratic state.
U.S. relations with other states have always been strained: disputes in the division of borders, wars with indigenous peoples, and cold wars. Democracy and the claim that, as an advanced state, it knows better have become pretexts for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. For example, Mexico’s borders remain relevant: the separation happened long ago, the military stands at posts around the clock, and the rules of entry are getting stricter (Haggray, 2021). Border guards’ actions are not always a democratic solution to problems: violence and forced deportation are common. It goes against the tenets of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence: both documents regulate the rights of U.S. citizens and relate to protection from external enemies. However, protection of the population does not equal constant violence and diminution of the rights of others – the latter point is regulated in the Bill of Rights.
It can be noted that the democracy of the U.S. is currently not fully realized because of actions in the international political arena and domestic governance. There is an index of democracy which reflects the degree of democracy associated with political institutions and freedoms (The Economist Intelligent Unit, 2021). Europe (France, England) keeps pace with the U.S.: the indices tend towards the highest mark. In Latin America, the democracy index is significantly lower, which can also be connected to the pressure of the United States on it.
The problem of democracy is not related to any particular state apparatus but several social currents. First, it is the media apparatus, which, together with the fourth branch of government, is becoming increasingly dependent and lobbying organizations. Second, the U.S. government’s anti-democratic structures include the army and the CIA, violating free speech and free will. Nevertheless, the Departments of Health and Human Services are among the democracy-promoting facilities which work to support the population.
Another viral structure to consider when talking about support or disruption of democracy is the digital sphere. The Internet and digital tools are potent methods and spreading and sharing information regarding the political situation in the country. Nowadays, everyone can share their opinion on a policy, election candidate, or governmental decision. When marginalized groups are met with oppression from governmental structures, non-profit organizations or regular citizens can offer help and sources to combat this behavior. The Internet also allows to set up of funding campaigns in support of favorable candidates or official policies.
Despite the positive impacts that social media and the digitalization of human life have brought to the U.S., there are several setbacks. Digital disinformation campaigns pose a serious threat to the existence of democracy as they promote fear and negative attitudes (Zachary, 2020). These factors lead to disregard for the political field altogether and absenteeism. Along with the problem of disinformation on the Internet, the issue of “deepfakes” has been brought to public attention. The technology behind this allows imposing one person’s image onto another, and together with voice alteration, if used maliciously, it can cause severe consequences. This issue is closely related to the problem of impersonation; for example, 120 impersonators of the top three U.S. generals have been found on Facebook. These impersonations concern not only the top of the military pyramid. There are people who pretend to be on-duty soldiers who scam compassionate citizens of money and, to build their credibility, can spin lies about military service.
Thus, the principles of ancient Greek democracy and 18th-century democracy are based on the collective power of the people and universal rights. The U.S. has remained ahead for a long time, but not all actions now meet democratic criteria. Social class divisions are still relevant in social welfare, and conflicts continue to arise in international relations. Social media and the Internet play an essential role in both the encouragement and corruption of the U.S. democracy. U.S. democracy indexes are high, but there are structures in the government that impede democracy.
Haggray, S. (2021). What’s next for the United States?: Part 4: Restoring Democracy in the United States and Abroad. Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
Repucci, S. (2021). From crisis to reform. Washington: Freedom House.
The Economist Intelligent Unit. (2021). Democracy index 2020. Is sickness and in health?.
Zachary, G. P. (2020). Digital manipulation and the future of electoral democracy in the US. IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society, 1(2), 104–112.