Sunday, May 27, 2018

America's Flawed Democracy

I teach a class called “American Legal Institutions” at a Thai university, and we often generate some discussion of democracy in general. I explain that the right to vote is important, but it’s not the most important thing. That would be your democratic institutions, everything from schools and local police up to courts, laws, civil liberties, and the branches of government. For younger democracies, I stress two aspects of democracy:

1.   No democracy ever appeared fully formed and perfect in every way. Countries set out on the path of wanting a democracy and then they must figure it out as they go. They must continually fine-tune their democracy to work better and provide more security for its citizens. This process may take a while; and
2.   Having achieved a good, working democracy, a country needs to be constantly vigilant in safeguarding the progress that they have made. Democracies often slip away or disappear suddenly. All democracies must be constantly on guard against the erosion of their hard-won achievements.

An outfit called the Economist Intelligence Unit keeps a Democracy Index that ranks 167 of the world’s countries on the strength or absence of their democracies.* The most recent one is from 2017. I read about it in some click-bait from Fortune Magazine that I came across on social media, and I went over to check with Professor Google about the whole thing. There’s a lot there, including the entire list with numerical rankings.

The nations are grouped into only four categories, as follows:

1.   Full Democracy;
2.   Flawed Democracy;
3.   Hybrid Regime; and
4.   Authoritarian Regime.

That keeps it simple. If you asked 100 Americans on the street, at least 99 of them would say that America was a full democracy, but that, unfortunately, is no longer true. The click bait was “America has been demoted to the status of flawed democracy.” 

The “Full Democracy” section included nineteen countries, including the usual suspects and a couple of surprises. Malta is, I suppose, a European country so that’s not so surprising, but Uruguay is in there too, the only South American country to get that honor. Mauritius is in there as well. I’ll admit that I hadn’t know much about Mauritius, but checking a bit one discovers that it is a fine place, deserving of its “Full Democracy” status.

Let that sink in for a moment. Uruguay, Malta, Mauritius, South Korea, and sixteen other countries, scored higher in democracy than the United States. 

The United States came in at number twenty-one, close to the top of the Flawed Democracies. There are some European countries in there as well, including France and Italy. Also in the Flawed Democracy category were the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. I live in South East Asia so I always check for my ASEAN neighbors.  

The criteria for numerical assessment were as follows:

1.   Electoral Process and Pluralism;
2.   Functioning Government;
3.   Political Participation;
4.   Political Culture; and
5.   Civil Liberties.

There’s another good “man in the street” question for Americans, “of all of the world’s countries, where does America stand in terms of civil liberties?” Those are our cherished freedoms! They are the reason that we fought two wars with the British in the first place! They are enshrined in our precious Constitution! Must be at the top, right?

Well, no. Not only did all of the nineteen Full Democracies score higher than the United States, but seventeen of the Flawed Democracies also scored higher. Only four countries scored a perfect ten, being New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. America scored a measly eight point two (8.2). Thirty-six countries all together outscored the United States in Civil Liberties.

This information was not compiled by the much reviled mainstream media, nor was it the result of suspect research at some liberal think-tank. The Economist Magazine is a British publication that is firmly conservative in its outlook. Fortune Magazine is an American publication that stands well to the right of center. Neither of these magazines has a liberal bone in its body.

And this was the 2017 list! It is a safe bet that America’s Civil Liberties score will be lower on the next list. How could it be otherwise? The courts are busy chipping away at our rights and the police have become overly fond of body-slamming jay-walkers, choking people for asking, “why am I being arrested?” and shooting black Americans at the slightest pretext, or often for no apparent reason at all. They’ve grown so fond of shooting the black people that they’re shooting the white folk now too. (The blacks, of course, get the worst of it. For them, being deaf is now a capital crime subject to immediate extrajudicial process.)

The list is long, so America has a long way to slip before it joins the “Hybrid Regimes” near the bottom. We are a nation of go-getters though, so I have a hunch that we’ll make it. The way that things are going, I’m confident that we can tank our numbers in all five categories within five years, definitely by 2025.

U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!! The Shining City on the Hill! It was a nice place there for a while, but all dreams fade away before breakfast.

*North Korea was the anchor man in this class ranking.

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