So when was American Democracy NOT in decline?

After the events at the Capitol the other day, I’ve heard a lot of commentary about how this was an assault on Democracy, and more importantly, how American Democracy has been on the decline, and this might be how it ends.

I got to wondering- when WAS it not in decline? At what point was it robust, representative and free? \

I’d argue that it’s never been perfect or in decline, and has always been flawed in one way or another- low voter turnout has perpetually been an issue, corruption of various sorts were the norm in the first couple of centuries, as was disenfranchisement of various groiups, and the existence of alternative news is a modern problem it faces. None of that makes it “in decline”, just flawed and facing challenges.

What do you think?

I think US democracy has been in decline since the Vietnam War, but that actually started before the end of official segregation (which, needless to say, improved democracy).

We saw the Southern Strategy, lying about trickle down economics, Newt Gingrich, the Iraq War, “Birthergate”, “Benghazi”, Donald Trump, pretending COVID-19 is the flu and that (not) wearing a mask is a political statement, a president-controlled mob trying to hand the presidency to the outgoing president, and the long-term lack of knowledge among voters (not just political knowledge, but nonsense such as thinking vaccines are harmful).

I doubt there’s a specific inflection point, and indeed, at times things seemed to go up temporarily, often while other things were going down.

Is that actually true though? Would you say that 1955 was a high water mark or something?

I suppose it depends on how you are defining “American Democracy” and decline. To me American Democracy is a system of government answerable to the American people through an election process. It advances the more people who are allowed to have a meaningful say, and declines when it reduces the the people who have a say, or distorts the amount each people have a say. We have never really had a one person one vote system at the federal level. Some people’s votes mean a lot more than others due to the Constitution (electoral college) and the political system that has evolved (swing states, first past the post, etc.).
While it has never been perfect, I would argue it goes up and down. Reconstruction allowed democracy to thrive for a couple of decades, until Northern whites grew tired of it resulting in the Compromise of 1877. This lead to destruction of all progress of Blacks in the South, including the only successful coup d’etat in American history to restore white rule to Wilmington, NC. I would call this a decline in democracy.
There was a slow steady improvement starting in the 50s and accelerating in the 60s, but the backlash to that begin immediately, and took real hold in the 80s and has continued till today.
IMHO the decline will be hard to reverse with the current conservative packed judiciary and timid very slightly left of middle Democratic party.

I’d actually put 2006-2008 as a pretty optimistic time for American democracy. Probably the most so in my lifetime.

Maybe 1992, but I was both too young and too indoctrinated in right wing propaganda to appreciate it.

Exactly. And we can get more robust democracy in some respects simultaneously with decline in other respects, as over the past few years where, for example, acknowledgement of rights of gay and transgender people was strengthened while responsible and transparent administration of governance in general was weakened.

When Kennedy was assassinated was the start of the downward spiral. They still will not tell us what actually happened there even though we all know that Russia, Cuba and organized crime was in on it. In a healthy democracy the truth is supposed to come out even if it hurts. It was the start of the “let’s lie to the people because we know what’s best for them” attitude started.

I think it is easy to be very down based on everything that occurred recently (and I’m not American but I’m right there with you. I am furious at what happened on the 6th). But there was a time when political violence was commonplace. Not just in the USA but in many fledgling democracies. And the USA, like other countries, outgrew this. They put mechanisms and laws in place to support the peaceful transition of power. That’s what makes the recent attempted coup so bad, and why it needs to be punished as such. I think one reason took place was because of the tepid response to the Michigan militia groups attempted insurrection against and assassination of the governor. That is the way past this, and I think that American democracy can become stronger again, but it is going to take some effort. Passing additional laws, not voting Republican until they are firmly in favor of democracy, etc.

I don’t think it was ever perfect. voter suppression and stolen elections were a lot worse a century ago than they are now.

I think what triggers our modern troubles with democracy is that due to political realignment, the vast majority of racists and people who score high on authoritarianism are Republicans now. these groups used to be divided or non political in history (Christian fundamentalists only got involved on politics a few decades ago and despite them saying it was abortion, it was racial integration that motivated them to become political). in the jim crow Era the south was overwhelmingly Democrat but a northern racist may be a republican. now most racists and authoritarians are republican now, and make up 40%+ of the party.

basically the ~15-20% Americans most prone to fascism used to be in both parties, or be apolitical. now they’ve all joined under the gop and are more politically active.

Also democracy is under assault all over the world sadly. Europe and Latin American are seeing both left and right wing authoritarians come to power with populist messages

It’s a good question and makes us consider our own hyperbole. We tend to overemphasize recent events and glorify the past.

A lot has gone wrong recently but a lot has gone right. A candidate got 70+ million votes who would have loved to pull a coup but he was stopped by rank and file people (if you can call SoS rank and file) doing their jobs.

We want to look at these recent events and shore up any weak spots. That doesn’t mean democracy is in decline.

I’m not sure if it is democracy is well in decline the US has been very divided country for very long time. I think this has to do with the fact the US is very different when it comes to culture, religion, lifestyle and norms of the west coast and north east than the say the Midwest and south.

People seem to think the US is one country and that not really the case. I think the problem is comparing it to say the UK, Canada and Europe and they have a very different history that allowed for more country unity.

The US never had country unity and they had civil war in the past.

And both parties where more similar in the past. But the conservatives moved more to the right in the US and the liberal party trying to be more centrist party despite the liberal people moved more to the left.

Our federalist system, a compromise from the beginning, has always been a clunky mess, far better at obstructionism than governance. Modern, better representative systems have surpassed ours and our decline is a long gradual one, almost unnoticeable unless one looks at fellow western democracies where governments move forward for the betterment of their people.

Worse, there’s virtually no realistic and comfortable way to change this increasingly ill-adapted structure of government.

Any government that involves a large number of people is going to be a clunky mess, especially if they are disparate. What nations do you think are better governed than the US?

I think Canada and a bunch of the western European parliamentary countries have better governance.

I’m not so sure that’s a consequence of their systems though. Canadians have a reputation for politeness, rule-following, etc… all of which plays a serious role in having good governance. If a populace has those things, they’re both more willing to participate, AND more willing to be governed (so to speak).

And I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Europeans have less of an independent/individualistic streak than Americans do; they seem a bit more accustomed to being governed. Stuff that would provoke anger/or cause people to disregard the law in the US just gets a shrug, and “Qu’est-ce que tu vas faire?” or “Wat ga je doen?” and people go along with it.

I think in a lot of ways that’s our best trait and our worst as a people. It causes a sort of low-level ferment and agitation for change that’s not always the case elsewhere, but it also causes us to be particularly unruly when compared to other countries.

No, I don’t think we all know this.

Its more whether people are tribal that is the issue rather than the size. Japan has 130 million people and seems to get along while much smaller nations like Iraq are ripped apart by tribalism.

the US has massive tribal divisions along racial, religious, geographic and ideological lines. Its not so much our size as it is these divisions that is the problem. A nation of 5 million with large tribal divisions is going to be one that is dysfunctional and prone to civil war just as one with 300 million will be.