In the Perspective section of the Albany Times Union on October 11, I read an article, “Democracy left behind.” The subtitle was “Antiquated political system needs modern solutions.” The piece was written by Douglas J. Amy, professor emeritus of politics at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
He says that “other Western countries do democracy better” than the United States in several ways. The US is “the country democracy left behind.” In fact, Douglas Amy runs a website called Second-Rate Democracy. He defines seventeen ways America is “less democratic.” Fortunately, he also notes the ways the country can do better.
“Most Americans have a sense that our political system is broken, but few realize that democracy is working much better in most other Western countries. Or that these other developed democracies have rejected many of the basic institutional characteristics that define the U.S political system.”
Consider the following
“Besides Denmark, no other advanced democracy follows the U.S. example and appoints Supreme Court justices for life – all now have mandatory term limits or age limits for justices.
“None use an Electoral College that allows a minority of voters to choose its chief executive.
“Most use different voting systems that make gerrymandering impossible and create more representative multi-party legislatures.
“None have anything like our misrepresentative Senate that gives the 40 million voters in the 22 smallest states forty-four seats, while giving 40 million Californians two seats.
“Nearly all have rejected our conflict-prone separation-of-powers model of government and have chosen instead a more cooperative parliamentary system that avoids the legislative gridlock that plagues our government.
“And all rely much more on public money, not private money from rich organizations and individuals, to fund their election campaigns.”
“Americans like to brag that we have the oldest constitution and the oldest political system. But that’s like bragging that your phone has the oldest operating system. Democracy has moved on and improved, but we have not.”
To be fair
There have been some tentative efforts to fix some of these problems. Ranked voting has been used in some jurisdictions in nearly half the states.
The National Popular Vote plan would “guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It has been enacted into law in 16 jurisdictions with 196 electoral votes.” Opponents have argued that it is unconstitutional.
But most of the points Douglas Amy has brought up have been identified as corrupting without any sustained way to rectify them. These include too much power of lobbyists, too much private money in campaigns, and the evil of gerrymandering. He points to some online resources.
In a Facebook post, Professor Amy notes: “Freedom House does an annual study to determine which countries do best at protecting political rights and civil liberties. In their 2020 report, the U.S. is ranked 52nd – right ahead of Slovakia”.
No matter who wins today, there is a systemic problem in the United States. And it’s beyond the power of either political party to enact a quick fix.