By: Ryan Kirby, Columnist
It seems impossible to imagine the United States as anything other than the leader of the free world and an example of democracy for countries around the globe. The United States and its citizens have always prided themselves on being a new experiment in representative democracy. This image only becomes reality for as long as Americans make it so.
Democratic backsliding is a term in political science where democracies experience a “subtle, gradual deterioration of democratic institutions and practices.” It may be difficult to consider the U.S. as a victim of democratic backsliding, but the warning signs are there. Republicans have mounted a massive campaign to convince voters there is widespread voter fraud going on in the United States. From 2000-2014, over one billion votes were cast with only 44 cases of voter fraud. Countless Republicans made accusations of voter fraud during the 2018 recounts and as lawful ballots were counted across the country in an effort to discredit any election where Democrats won.
Another key facet of democracy is the peaceful transition of power. When Democrats have won control of a statewide office, such as the governor’s race in North Carolina and Wisconsin in 2016 and 2018 respectively, Republicans used their last breath of power to weaken the leadership. Republicans in Wisconsin lost the governorship and the attorney general, and they have chosen to propose dangerous laws in their lame-duck session meant to take power away from the newly elected Democrats in order to concentrate power in the heavily gerrymandered Republican state legislature. The same tactic occurs across the country, including when Republicans lost the governor’s race in North Carolina and chose to strip the new Democratic governor of power.
Democracies rely on norms, and when actors within a democracy violate those norms there must be repercussions. President Donald Trump’s administration has been riddled with countless stories of corrupt behavior, ranging from blatant nepotism to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s various scandals and even credible allegations of Russian collusion. In most cases, almost any single example of corruption from the Trump administration would be enough to severely weaken their presidency.
Despite the mass examples of corruption from the Trump administration, there are seemingly no checks on his presidency. Republicans enjoyed two years of single party governance. Rather than serving as an independent branch of government to preserve and protect America’s institutions, they allowed Trump to have free reign. It is impossible to argue that checks and balances are stronger today than they were two years ago.
Each of these examples alone could be rationalized as some temporary side effect of new technologies, but taking multiple examples into account presents a case of concern for the future of American democracy. It’s very easy to ignore this problem as it occurs slowly and dangerous appears normal. Think to yourself; how many times has the term “constitutional crisis” come up in the news? It has come up much more frequently than in recent memory.
Trump’s attacks on the judicial system threaten to undermine and weaken their independence. The results of elections are questioned. When elections are won, the losing side chooses to change the rules of the game rather than gracefully accept their defeat. Congress is fundamentally weakened in its role as a coequal branch of government, and the media is also weakened as a check on government.
My goal isn’t to present a message of doom and gloom, but rather a reminder of how fragile democracy can be. Americans must be active participants in their system of governance, for ignorance is not always bliss. As some politicians try to weaken the institutions meant to provide a check on their power, it becomes the role of the people to challenge their power. America is in the early stages of democratic backsliding, but it doesn’t have to continue down a dark path. People must make their voices heard through petitions, protests and voting. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and in the internet era where unlimited information is at our fingertips, there are countless ways to get involved.
As a graduating senior I want to thank the Towerlight for the opportunity to have my voice heard as a representative of the liberal perspective in the weekly Roll Call column. I hope my columns have both inspired and informed. I look forward to hearing about the great discussions between the College Democrats and College Republicans and reading the interesting perspectives in subsequent Roll Call Articles. I wish everyone the best of luck on final exams and happy holidays!