signs are all around us. Something is not right in America. The
country is a traumatic place for millions, triggering stress among
wide swaths of the public, as if the screws are being tightened ever
more excruciatingly. Democracy is eroding, as people are losing faith
in an open society and a country that is not working for them —
and a government that is not meeting their needs or serving their
from the American Psychological Association sounds the alarm, or more
accurately, reflects the sentiment that so many have known personally
or anecdotally. Nearly 60 percent of Americans say today is the
lowest point in U.S. history. Moreover, most respondents (63
percent) say the future of the country is their most significant
source of stress, while nearly six in 10 are stressed from America’s
concerns span all age groups and party affiliations. Other issues
causing people stress include health care, the economy, trust in
government, crime and hate crimes, wars, terrorist attacks,
unemployment and low wages, and the environment.
people are disenchanted with the current system. A Harvard study
from 2016 found a majority of millennials — 51 percent —
U.S. does maintain some of the trappings of democracy. However, the
nation is arguably a sham democracy, with important rights enshrined
in the First Amendment, but with election integrity ranked at the bottom
of Western democracies and a right to vote subjected to
gerrymandering, voter suppression, and massive disenfranchisement.
land of the free has become a punitive nation, where its policies do
not reflect efforts to build communities and improve the lives of
people, but rather measures that encourage deprivation and reflect a
desire to inflict gratuitous violence on the people. America is ruled
by an oligarchy in which a small, wealthy elite dictates policy.
Harvard Business School study
declared that the U.S. political system, designed not to serve the
public interest but to do the bidding of lobbyists and private
interests, “has become the major barrier to solving nearly
every important challenge our nation needs to address.”
U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
has allowed campaign finance to metastasize into unlimited influence
of money in elections. A legalized system of bribing politicians
means the nation is unable to address the worst poverty and most
glaring economic inequality in the developed world. This, as the
American middle class has died, and most Americans have regressed to Third World status,
as one MIT economist has concluded.
is why public consensus may favor or oppose a particular policy, yet
the legislation enacted in Washington, and in Harrisburg and other
state capitals, may not necessarily reflect the popular will.
Consider the massive, unpopular tax cuts recently enacted for the
wealthy and corporations, efforts to roll back consumer protections
and banking regulations, the evisceration of civil rights and
environmental protections, and resistance to addressing gun violence.
have a situation now where people who are in power impose a lot of
punishment on unfortunate people,” said former President Jimmy Carter.
“We have seven times as many people in prison now as we did
when I left the White House, for instance. We have got a much greater
disparity of income among Americans than we have ever had before.”
fact, eight people in the world — six of them are from America
— own as much money as half of the total population of the
world, 3.5 billion people,” Carter noted. “In America, we
have the same problem, maybe even in an exaggerated way. We have
marginalized the average person for the benefit of the wealthier
people in America.”
worse, some have sounded the alarm on the threat of tyranny
in America. Riding in on a wave of faux populism, hate,and
revanchism, the Trump administration has embraced greed, corruption,
and self-enrichment. Gaslighting the public and appealing to emotions
to give people a warped sense of their own best interests, Trump acts
in the long tradition of propaganda and deception employed
by authoritarian regimes. Former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates
calls what is taking place a “relentless attack on democratic
institutions and norms,” with an impact felt not only during
this presidency, but potentially for years to come.
is on the rise in parts of the world, and it is important that we not
allow fascism to go unnoticed, warns former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
who considers Trump the most anti-democratic leader
in U.S. history.
the absence of civic engagement and an informed populace, democracy
dies. The U.S. trails most of the developed world in voter turnout,
the public lacking in civic
of the Constitution, the workings of government, and the structure of
the three branches. Civic ignorance and a lack of critical thinking
skills allow fake news to prevail, and provide an opening for a
true democracy — a relatively recent phenomenon in America —
is dying, the prescription is a surge of engagement.
And that is what the country is experiencing — unprecedented activism
after years of increasing economic inequality and waning civic
participation. Inspired by the sad state of America, one
in five Americans
has participated in protests or attended rallies since 2016, and over
half have volunteered or supported a cause.
Protesting to restore democracy and their psychic well-being, people
are learning government is not a spectator sport. The armchair is the
deathbed of democracy.
This commentary was originally published by WHYY.org