Guest Opinion: Democracy in crisis: Where is the United States headed?-Xinhua

Guest Opinion: Democracy in crisis: Where is the United States headed?

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-02-02 23:10:15

This photo taken on Aug. 4, 2022 shows the White House and a stop sign in Washington, D.C., the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

Certainly, the American political system is confronting a critical juncture. The current degree of government paralysis appears to surpass even the challenges faced prior to the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.

by Denis Simon

Let us face it, the American political system is in crisis mode. The level of government paralysis has reached a level that may be even worse than what existed prior to the U.S. civil war in the 1860s.

Along with the sharp divisions within government, the American public is also extremely divided and polarized. Things have gotten so bad that many American families agreed that political issues should not be discussed at last year's Thanksgiving dinner table because of fears of arguments breaking out among relatives.

Civil, reasoned discourse has disappeared even among our major news providers. The situation has been exacerbated by social media and the fact that even among the educated population in the United States, it is difficult to distinguish truth from lies.

The very fact that a sizable percentage of the American population continues to believe that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 U.S. Presidential election indicates that if something is repeated enough times and in multiple venues, it will become reality for those who lack critical thinking skills.

How did we get here? Where is the United States headed? And most importantly, is American democracy about to collapse, due to the ongoing politicization of everything in our lives?

To begin with, it was hard for many Americans to believe that Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential race, but it did happen. For the next four years, we lived in an atmosphere of political chaos and turmoil. There was hardly any consistency in the domestic policies and programs as well as diplomatic initiatives launched during the Trump Administration. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse.

As a sitting president, Trump pursued an agenda dominated by political polarization. Certainly, his stated desire to "make America great again" was welcomed among many Americans no matter whether they were Democrats or Republicans. But, no one could have imagined how divisive his statements were.

This photo taken on Jan. 20, 2023 shows the White House in Washington, D.C., the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

He rallied a group of supporters, which attracted many marginal and fringe elements among the American populace. He gave support -- implicit and explicit  -- to the extreme actions of these people; this culminated in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Encouraged by Trump and his allies such as former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, violent protesters rummaged through the offices of many Congressional leaders, injuring and even killing several security guards and police officers.

America still has not recovered from the event, even though a significant number of those involved were arrested and sentenced to prison. We are unable to move on, largely because we are unable to agree upon an accurate picture of what happened that day and why it happened. If you are among those who still believe Trump was cheated out of his second presidential term, everything that occurred that day would be viewed as part of a larger conspiracy to prevent him from returning to the White House. Until we can reach some type of national consensus about the true situation surrounding Jan. 6, we will be unable, as a nation, to move forward in a unified fashion.

Unfortunately, the situation has gotten even worse, driven by the acerbic words and deeds of Trump and his supporters. Very few Republican leaders seem willing to challenge the allegation that Trump was cheated out of the election. Very few of his supporters seem willing to raise questions over his conduct and his stance on various issues.

What is even more remarkable is that despite being indicted on over 90 counts of alleged illegal activities, Trump's presidential candidacy for 2024 has received a groundswell of support, even among those challengers who ran against him during the recent primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This photo taken on Jan. 3, 2023 shows the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

Primaries in the U.S. electoral system traditionally serve as a mechanism in which candidates engage in debates and public interactions, so that their views can be presented. What started out as a field for 14 challengers to compete for the presidential nomination ended up as a two-person race between Trump and Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and United Nations (UN) Ambassador during the Trump administration.

Trump's margins of victory in both primaries were substantial. Though ironically, he has refused to show up on the stage to debate with any of the candidates, including Haley. With few candidates gaining traction among primary voters in either state, it seems quite likely that Trump will be the Republican choice to run for president.

This situation seemed highly unlikely a few months ago, as the number of indictments continued to grow. However, in an ironic twist, Trump's standing among his political base has only become stronger and stronger. That leads us to the unfortunate reality that the 2024 presidential race will once again be a contest between Joe Biden and Trump, two elderly white men who both lack widespread support among the broader American population.

The big burning question is why these two men, with all of their frailties and shortcomings, are the best candidates that the American political system can produce? Despite the fact that the U.S. economy and business environment have actually been improving under the Biden administration, "Biden-economics" has not caught on with most Americans.

Biden's popularity among the American populace remains in the 30 percent bracket. With the worsening Russia-Ukraine conflict, the growing turmoil in the Middle East, and continued tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan and other issues, Biden is facing a very difficult international situation with no clear roadmap to stability in sight.

The Trump campaign has primarily spent the last several months advertising his strong persona and leveraging his image as "the wronged party" unfairly persecuted by the Biden Administration. Perhaps as the presidential campaign really heats up, the real issues will be discussed and debated. That said, it also is quite clear that America's allies and even some adversaries are frightened at the prospect of a second Trump presidency. No one wants to return to the uncertainty and disorder that the former Trump Administration created.

As things now stand, a face-off between Biden and Trump is entirely possible, and Trump once again may become the U.S. president, which is disconcerting and even frightening to many people. More broadly, it speaks to the currently dysfunctional nature of the U.S. political system -- the three branches of government have become highly politicized. In Congress, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives are willing to sacrifice the national interest to ensure that few legislative actions would be taken to address prevailing problems like illegal immigration.

At present, Congressional funding is being withheld for Ukraine and Israel as part of the political shenanigans of the Republican Party. The situation in the Senate is only slightly better for the Democrats. But with just a slim majority, many actions cannot be taken without Republican support. The existing state of paralysis is potentially destructive to the country, leading to even more divisions and disagreements.

A protester stands with a sign outside E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House, in Washington D.C., the United States, Aug. 3, 2023. Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday pleaded not guilty to federal charges against him for plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, U.S. media reported. (Photo by Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua)

Right now, the U.S. democracy is under serious threat. Trump has threatened retribution against all those parties that have criticized him or tried to hold him accountable for his alleged misdeeds. And, we cannot forget that he believes that the president has total immunity, which in his view, provides him with "carte blanche" to do whatever he wants if he gets re-elected.

The essential feature of a successful democracy is an informed and aware population. And the hallmark of an effective democratic political system is the ability to compromise in the national interest. If social media continues to cause further polarization and regular media remain more engaged in entertainment than providing honest and accurate news coverage, it will become increasingly difficult for the American people to find common ground and separate myth from reality.

Under those circumstances, the disconcerting conclusion is that we should be prepared for the return of a likely tyrannical Trump presidency or even worse. That's why many Americans should not sleep peacefully tonight because just as what happened in 2016, it could happen again.

Editor's note: Denis Simon is a distinguished fellow at the Institute of China America Studies in Washington D.C., the former executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University (2015-2020) and former senior adviser for China affairs to the president of Duke University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Xinhua News Agency.


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