Democracy in the United States [...] what type of democracy is the U.S. What are the most democratic and least democratic features of American national government? Do you believe that the U.S. presently embodies the core values of a democracy or do you believe that the U.S. has yet to attain the essence of democratic ideals? Democracy is one of the most sought after forms of government, and some form of democracy reaches far back into history, as far back as early Greece. American democracy is a model for the world.
First, to discuss democracy it is better to define democracy. "Democracy" comes from the Greek work "demos" which means "the common people," and "kratia" which means, "power" (O'Neil 149). Thus, democracy means the power actually lives in the people. However, this is too simply a definition of the word. Author O'Neil maintains the word means "political power exercised either directly or indirectly through participation, competition, and liberty" (O'Neil 149). Thus, the United States is certainly a democracy.
The United States is a constitutional democracy, based on a Constitution and a Bill of Rights created when American was fighting Britain for independence. In fact, experts call the United States the world's oldest constitutional democracy (Mueller 3). It is also called an indirect democracy, because the people participate in most forms of government through their elected representatives. Our modern democracy is far different than early democracies in Greece, where the public actually met, debated, and then voted on political issues and affairs that influenced everyone. These were direct democracies. Clearly, the people wanted to rule themselves, but their ideas of democracy are really far removed from our modern form. Another political expert notes, " Based on their understanding of human nature and knowledge of political history, the Founding Fathers of the United States designed a system that, in some respects, as in its federalist structure, was quite innovative" (Mueller 42). However, some of the ideals in the Constitution are actually quite optimistic, and difficult to put into practice in modern times.
Today, it would be impossible for everyone in the country to meet, debate, and vote on issues, but today, our form of democracy uses single-member districts to make sure someone represents every voter. Single-member districts are present in many democracies, and the recent U.S. primary elections are a good example of these districts. Here, several people run to be the only representative of a group or "district" in the community, state, or country. In a primary election, the number of people is narrowed down to two, most often from differing parties, and then, they compete to get enough votes to win the single office and represent the people. This is relevant from the smallest town up to the nation itself, which only elects one President, but is broken down into smaller districts in Congress, State Government, etc. The advantage of this system is that each district has its own representative, and the people know who represents them. The disadvantage is that only one party is represented, and so theoretically, all those members of the other party not elected are not fully represented.
The most democratic features of American national government are elections and representation, which represent the very core of democracy. The people participate and are represented in small groups by their district (Congressional) representatives. The very freedoms that Americans enjoy are a result of our democracy. We can still speak out for what we believe in without fear of reprisal (in most cases). We are free to vote, to read the newspaper, to watch television, to work on a computer, and to own our own homes and cars. Many of the freedoms we take for granted do not exist in many other countries of the world, and we owe these freedoms to our own form of democracy. People in America are still able to rise from poverty and illiteracy to become business owners, statesmen, and politicians. We can still contact our local or national representatives with concerns or problems and expect an answer and some results. We can still create grassroots movements to change what we do not like, and create laws that better reflect our modern way of life. There are many ways that our democracy represents the best of a Constitutional and indirect democracy.
Unfortunately, there are also many features of the American national government that do not represent democracy at all. As the U.S. has grown, so have her problems and her difficulties. Today, crime is rampant in most parts of the country. The educational system is not preparing young people for life and college. Expert Mueller continues, "Between 1975 and 1980, remedial mathematics courses in public 4-year colleges increased by 72% and now constitute one-quarter of all mathematics courses taught in those institutions" (Mueller 5). The problem continues today, and math courses have been joined by courses in English. Poverty is also rampant in the country, and there is an ever-widening gap between the very rich and the very poor in the United States. All of these point to a government that is more powerful than anything the founding fathers might have foreseen when they created the Constitution.
In addition to the social problems the government is unable to control, there are many governmental problems that do not represent democracy. The government is running at a huge deficit, which is ultimately bad for the country, and for the population who will eventually have to repay the deficit. In addition, most federal bills today contain "pork barrel" initiatives that only benefit small areas of the country, but are funded by the entire country. These pork barrel additions are common, and just as commonly ignored by the legislators passing the bills. This is a tremendous waste of taxpayer's money, and this procedure certainly does not fulfill the democratic ideals of the Constitution and the nation. There is also far more legislation today than was ever thought possible, and sometimes it seems as if Washington D.C. is drowning under a sea of bills, paper, and ink. The government has actually grown so large that it is essentially unmanageable, and so, it no longer represents the people, it is its own entity, creating more bureaucracy to sustain itself.
I believe the U.S. embodied democratic ideals when the country was first created, but those ideals have changed over the course of history, and the country too has changed. Today, the core values of democracy are still present in our society, which has a deep regard for the freedoms we enjoy and the Constitution we respect. The core values of freedom from tyranny and self-government are still quite present in our country. The people still have a say in politics, no matter how minor. However, I believe many of the ideals of early democracy are no longer present in our country.
While our politicians do represent us theoretically, in reality, most politicians represent themselves, and the large corporations who donate money to their campaigns. The concerns of the constituents often take a back door to political and personal concerns. As political analyst Mueller notes, "a politician's primary goal is to get elected, and once elected to get reelected" (Mueller 13). This unfortunately is one of the wrong turns democracy has taken. Democracy is supposed to stand for government by the people, but today, government is by the politicians, and few politicians really represent the people anymore. Most politicians are wealthy, and they usually leave office wealthier than when they entered it. (The Clintons are an excellent example of this, and they even admit it.) Some people can still get elected with meager budgets and lots of idealism, but today, most politicians rely on wealth to help them gain their posts. Much of this wealth in politics has begun to sour voters. Another analyst notes, "Perhaps, for example, the long litany of political tragedies and scandals since the 1960s (assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, Irangate, etc.) has triggered an understandable disgust for politics and government among Americans" (Putnam 240). This seems to be the case, with fewer voters turning out for elections, and fewer viewers watching political conventions and debates. Sadly, democracy is a far cry from the founding fathers ideals of democracy, and it is turning off voters and people around the country.
The government has become so large that it feeds on itself, and it is unmanageable. That may be another reason people are disenchanted with voting and politics. It often seems that the government does what the government wants, rather than what the people want, and pork barrel legislation is one example of this. People can see through these silly legislations that only benefit a small sector of the population, and they have become tired of them. While there are still some idealistic leaders who attempt to avoid these types of legislation, it seems the pork barrels are here to stay, and get bigger every year. People feel they have no control over things like this, and they become…