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Democracy in the U.S. is in Peril, Decolonization is the Solution

Democracy at work

March on Washington in D.C., August 28th, 1963 (Photo: Unseen Histories/Unsplash)

Posted: September 3, 2021 at 7:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Some observers might have noticed that democracy in the U.S. is raising red flags in apparent ways after politically motivated violence interrupted the processes for the transfer of presidential power via an insurrection in January. Unsubstantiated claims convinced millions that an election was stolen, and people died in a subsequent effort to manifest political demands. That was all fairly contrary to the functions of a healthy democracy.

Of course, the attack was the result of growing dysfunction and not the first alarm. Consequently, there are many opinions on what problems are most responsible for the dire state of American freedom and justice. A majority of U.S. citizens could likely name a political issue or two they perceive to be most menacing.

Namely, there are direct threats to voting rights in the form of restrictions enacted in eighteen states. Also of concern is the increasing popularity of authoritarian-leaning leaders like former President Trump. Is a hyper-partisan federal government, too largely made up of performative antagonizers, the most corruptive factor? Do too many legislative representatives dishonor the duties of public service in favor of taking directions from large donors, or even their talent agents?

Some argue that democracy itself is at risk of falling apart against the constant friction. Organizers and activists assert that it is more unstable than is generally apparent.

Dysfunctions that have survived since the colonial era symbolize the dominance and success of one population — white males. Therefore, organizers in the 60s were fighting for and against many of the same things they do today. Unfortunately, progress stagnates in America, and that is despite having a “healthy” democracy.

Now, some experts believe American democracy as we know it is near collapse.

A deconsolidating democracy

Democratic consolidation is essentially the formation and maintenance of an effective democracy. Representative democracy in the U.S. now seems to be deconsolidating rapidly, meaning it is moving away from efficiency and towards an authoritarian flip. To make matters worse, certain self-interested parties are apparently helping it along.

In an article titled “The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect” published in the July 2016 Journal of Democracy, the authors argue that current young generations demand more meaningful action from leaders. This can lead to understandable disappointment when politicians break campaign promises or are generally too beholden to their parties or big-money donors.

Research shows young Americans tend to distrust the whole of democracy when they lose faith in key political figures. (On the other hand, older generations tend to support it despite any disfavor for politicians.) Consequently, voter turnout among young voters had been on a general decline before 2020, the election that had the highest participation of the 21st century.

In “The Democratic Disconnect,” the authors also note that part of the deconsolidation of democracy is the rise of authoritarian alternatives. Those regimes are intent on exploiting voter skepticism and succeed by promising to prioritize the rights of some by denying basic rights to others.

Historically, the closer minority groups come to equal rights, the more desperate parts of the dominating population grow to stop them. They openly long to see things go back to the old ways, usually suggestive of some thinly veiled racism.

This idea of greatness somehow stolen by progress is unfortunately how authoritarians are able to root into a democracy with fervent support.

Political apathy starts with politicians and promises

Perhaps young voters who do not vote for authoritarians are also simply less inclined to participate in a system they perceive to be unproductive at best, and irreparably corrupted at worst.

Presenting voting as the right and popular thing to do for freedom seems to be losing its efficiency, as younger generations are looking for more reciprocity for their efforts. After all, candidates ask for more than votes. They ask for volunteered time and of course donations to help with their campaigns. Voters seem to be demanding more in return for their participation.

Corrupt, vainglorious politicians and a biased democracy are the reason people disengage from voting, not apathy towards important issues. Therefore, these are presumably the best areas to directly focus on aggressive reform if democracy is to be revitalized.

Deliberate reconstruction focused on decolonization will give the U.S. its best chance to avoid deconsolidation of democracy.

Decolonizing democracy

Obviously, the U.S never decolonized by way of allowing Indigenous independence. Instead, colonial rule ended and a new government consisting of European settlers formed. Lamentably, colonialism guided the construction of systems and institutions that continue to give and withhold power.

As a result, Natives suffered cultural genocide, slavery, and forced assimilation. Slavers persisted in the trafficking of Africans to be sold into the same fate. America forced those groups to work involuntarily for centuries with little to no compensation or credit.

Now, the idea of exploring their suffering through Critical Race Theory education greatly upsets a vocal part of the nation. They fear talking about it will invoke feelings of guilt for white children.

Simultaneously, some of the archaic laws that encourage the terrorization of oppressed groups still exist. For example, Colorado finally revoked a proclamation last week that ordered citizens to kill and rob “hostile” Native Americans. It had remained on the books since 1864.

Federal law has never effectively overturned such state laws. Meanwhile, state officials claim they just never got around to examining them. That nothing was done to eradicate this order and others like it is not innocuous, but illustrates a deliberate devaluation of Native life and culture. The U.S. also continues to construct polluting pipelines within treaty boundaries and dismiss unknown numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Overcoming the conundrum

Oppressed groups need action from politicians, and politicians need votes from oppressed groups. However, newly elected leaders historically avoid following through for a variety of reasons. Most politicians seem to avoid even reaching out to many oppressed groups until the time comes to collect their votes. Or use their voices.

So, what reason do oppressed groups have to keep showing up to vote or encourage voting? Is maintaining the health of democracy their responsibility, even if their people are not kept healthy by democracy? Our leaders request the most understanding from excluded groups regarding the failings of democracy and give them the least in return.

However, the whole system could be doomed if it is simply set to go on in perpetuity. Democracy needs thoughtful action to right these wrongs. That is why decolonization is the best solution.

Decolonizing democracy does not mean offering voters white candidates who understand progressive jargon. It means committing to rooting out relics of colonialism and promoting a true representation of diversity. It means investing in candidates from oppressed groups and advocating for their wellness along with them, according to them.

Finally, it means setting aside fragilities about how historical truth evokes white guilt. No, we did not personally engage in the atrocities that occurred centuries ago. But we have the chance to re-evaluate history in newly presented frames to improve the present and the future. It will be a tragedy for the U.S. if we squander this opportunity.

The country’s leaders can make good on promises of inclusion and American freedom, and if we are lucky, improve the health of democracy. Or they can stand back and allow the rule of the government to be overtaken by authoritarians. Which path will they take?

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