Make America Great Again, When Democracy Is Regressing?

The Right Message, but the Wrong Direction

Donald Trump won the presidential election in November 2016 in part because of his ability to tap into the discontent expressed by many voters with the political and economic state of affairs in the country. His attempts, so far, to address the concerns of his voters have resulted in further polarization of US politics.

Partisan divides in the US have widened on a number of issues, including immigration, environmental policies, trade and economics. The growing divisions between (and within) those who identify as Republicans and Democrats help to explain in part why the Trump administration is finding it so hard to govern – with federal government shutdowns - despite controlling both houses of Congress. Further, many congressional districts have been redrawn in a way that gives one party a built-in advantage. Stronger emphasis on ideological purity and less appetite for compromise, has led to erosion of confidence in government and public institutions.

Democracy Index 2017

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide, covering almost the entire population of the world. The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism;;  political participation; and political culture and  civil liberties. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy”; “flawed democracy”; “hybrid regime”; and “authoritarian regime”. The 2017 Index focuses on freedom of expression, in particular.

Democracy Index 2017 records the worst decline in global democracy in years. The average global score fell from 5.52 in 2016 to 5.48 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a ‘full democracy’. Around one-third of the world’s population lives under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China. The main reasons for this global recession in democracy include:

  • Declining popular participation in elections and politics:  
  • Weaknesses in the functioning of government
  • Declining trust in institutions
  • Dwindling appeal of mainstream representative parties
  • Growing influence of unelected, unaccountable institutions and expert bodies
  • Widening gap between political elites and electorates
  • Attacks on free speech and media

The Nordics occupy the top three spots - Norway tops the Index global ranking, with Iceland and Sweden taking second and third place.

Democracy in the United States

The US fell below the threshold of a “full democracy” in 2016 and is now rated as a “flawed democracy”. The main cause of the US regression was a serious decline in public trust in US institutions. This year the country’s overall score remained the same, and the US remains in 21st place in the global rankings.  This year, the US scored low on social cohesion, mainly because of  bitter partisan politics and therefore performed comparatively poorly in the functioning of government category. Other risks to  American democracy are 

Income Inequality:

Income inequality is higher in the US than in most other advanced  countries and has worsened since the global economic and financial crisis of 2007-09. Income inequality will widen further in coming years following the major tax changes - favoring those with higher incomes - passed by Congress in late 2017. The repeal of Obamacare might further widen this income gap, with 13 million citizens over the next decade, losing the access to health insurance. Research has shown that increased income inequality leads to distrust in others and institutions.

Polarization of Media:

The US has free media, and its constitution provides strong legal protection for freedom of expression and free reporting. The polarisation of the media into outlets that pursue openly partisan agendas has undermined public trust. The media are one of the least trusted institutions in the US after Congress, according to polls. President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media are out of keeping with the long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. 

It is evident that walls, tariffs and immigration laws will not make America Great ! A responsible government, informed citizens that engage constructively in the electoral process and truthful media are the basic ingredients of the 'Make America Great' pie.