I read in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index 2016” (1) this morning that the United States is now a “flawed democracy”. Of course, we knew that. It’s been that way for a while. But this is a new (January) formal ranking from a respected source. On page 4, the Index says that the country has dropped to its new ranking because :
“Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US.” (page 4)
Then, in trying to understand this discontent the Index notes:
That, “The parallels between the June 2016 Brexit vote and the outcome of the November 8th US election are manifold. In both cases, the electorate defied the political establishment.” (page 12)
And that, “Donald Trump’s victory was stunning because it was achieved in the face of the unremitting hostility of the entire political establishment.” (page 12)
I’ll grant that confidence in the US government is low, maybe historically in some modern sense, although I would say that it was certainly lower during the Civil War Period. The reasons why this might be so are another matter, but certainly relate to a constant stream of propaganda from nearly evangelical radio and TV personalities and from what we might now call alternative news outlets or entertainment channels masquerading as news outlets.
I’ll grant that there are some similarities between the Brexit vote and the US presidential election, chiefly that both outcomes were incomprehensible disasters, but there was certainly a massive output of propaganda and “alternate facts” during the campaigns.
The Economist missed the boat on the third point. I’ll not grant that Trump won the US Presidential election. He absolutely did not. He lost it by 62,985,106 to 65,853,625. (2) That is, 2,868,159 US citizen’s votes were simply, publicly, and legally not counted, tossed out. At least in the Brexit vote, the people’s votes added up to the numbers required to create the head-spinningly silly result. In the US, our medieval Electoral College, even further hamstrung by individual state rules prohibiting electors use of the power of reason granted them in the Constitution, over-ruled the people and handed the Presidency to the clear loser of the popular vote. In what kind of a democracy is this permitted to happen? A flawed one.
So, while The Economist called the end result right, it missed what I think is the key point of justification completely. If your vote does not count, you do not have a democracy – regardless of what a country’s constitution says. To my mind, one’s confidence in the government comes way down the list in ranking democracies.