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The State of Democracy in the United States: 2022

mfa.gov.cn | Updated: 2023-03-20 11:01


I. Preamble

II. American democracy in chronic ills

1. American democracy in further decline

2. Political polarization intensified by partisan fights

3. Money politics surged

4. "Freedom of speech" in name only

5. The judicial system blind to public opinion

6. Americans increasingly disillusioned with American democracy

III.  The United States' imposition of "democracy" has caused chaos around the world

1. Foreign policy held hostage by political polarization

2. Inciting confrontation and conflict in the name of democracy

3. Doubling down on unilateral sanctions

4. Undermining democracy in international relations

5. Foisting a trumped-up narrative of "democracy versus authoritarianism"

IV. Conclusion

I. Preamble

In 2022, the vicious cycle of democratic pretensions, dysfunctional politics and a divided society continued in the United States. Problems such as money politics, identity politics, social rifts, and the gulf between the rich and poor worsened. The maladies afflicting American democracy deeply infected the cells of US politics and society, and further revealed US governance failure and institutional defects.

Despite mounting problems at home, the US continued to behave with a sense of superiority, point fingers at others, usurp the role of a "lecturer of democracy", and concoct and play up the false narrative of "democracy versus authoritarianism". To serve the interests of none other than itself, the US acted to split the world into two camps of what it defined as "democracies and non-democracies", and organized another edition of the so-called "Summit for Democracy" to check how various countries had performed on meeting US standards for democracy and to issue new orders. Be it high-sounding rhetoric or maneuvers driven by hidden agenda, none can hide the real designs of the US — to maintain its hegemony by playing bloc politics and using democracy as a tool for political ends.

This report collects a multitude of facts, media comments and expert opinions to present a complete and real picture of American democracy over the year. What they reveal is an American democracy in chaos at home and a trail of havoc and disasters left behind as the US peddled and imposed its democracy around the globe. It helps remove the facade of American democracy for more people worldwide.

II. American democracy in chronic ills

The US refuses to acknowledge the many problems and institutional crises confronting its democracy at home and stubbornly claims to be the template and beacon of democracy for the world. Such imperiousness perpetuates the ills of its democracy and causes dire consequences for other countries.

1. American democracy in further decline

The functioning of American democratic institutions may look as lively as a circus, with politicians of all stripes showing off themselves one after another. But however boisterous the show is, it cannot hide the lethargy in addressing the long-standing, grave problems. Le Monde points out that 2022 is a year of doubt for US democracy. A silent civil war has taken root in the US, and repairing damaged democracy requires a sense of nation and public interest, both of which are currently lacking. This is sad for a country that has long held itself up as a model. In 2022, the Swedish think tank International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance added the US to its "list of regressive democracies".

The Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Dec 4, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Two years after the Capitol riots on 6 January 2021, the US system of democracy still has difficulty in learning the lessons, as political violence continued to grow and deteriorate. The Washington Post and The New Yorker observe that American democracy is in a worse state than ever before, with the congressional riots fully exposing social rifts, political divisions and rampant misinformation. The two parties, although not unaware of the age-old ills of American democracy, have neither the resolve nor the courage to pursue changes, given the increasingly polarized political atmosphere, as well as their focus on party interests.

In 2022, the US Congress was brought into another paralysis, not by riots, but by partisan fights. The farce of failing to elect the 118th House speaker lasted four days and a decision was only reached after 15 rounds of voting. In the last round, divisions were such that Republicans and Democrats voted strictly along party lines. The New York Times warned that Congress could see repeated chaos like this over the next two years. Brad Bannon, president of a US political consultancy, put it bluntly, "The impasse in the US House of Representatives over the election of the Speaker is another demonstration of the decline in our political institutions."

This has aroused concerns among the general public. The Brookings Institution concludes in a 2022 report that the once proud American democracy is facing a systemic crisis and is accelerating its decline. The impact is spreading to all fronts in domestic politics, the economy and society, posing a mortal threat to the legitimacy and health of capitalism. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warns in a report that American democracy is at a dangerous inflection point, declining faster as the inherent ills of American capitalism worsen. Multiple challenges such as voting restrictions, election fraud, and loss of trust in government are accelerating the disintegration of American democracy. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, writes that America's dysfunctional politics raises fears that the 2024 presidential election would again provoke deadly violence in the country. A large number of hot button issues continued to provoke public anger and questions on the legitimacy of the US political establishment. Many worried about how long American democracy could continue to function.

2. Political polarization intensified by partisan fights

With radical factions rising in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the two were increasingly at odds in many aspects, such as voter base, ideology and identity. As a result, the traditional inter-party balance based on policy compromise became more difficult to sustain. The two parties saw each other not only as political opponents, but also as a threat to the country. The New York Review of Books points out that America is already "a binational state" with the Republicans and Democrats leading two sharply opposed national communities that effectively operate as confederations under a single federal government. The United States of America has become the disunited states. The discord between "the two Americas" was deepening day by day, and political polarization reached an unprecedented level.

Amid the escalating political battles, politicians put the interests of their political parties and factions above those of the country and acted in an unbridled way to attack and pin blames on each other. On 8 August 2022, law enforcement raided former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, and Trump accused the Justice Department of playing politics to stop his second presidential bid and of political persecution. The Republicans, on their part, were relentless on the discovery of classified documents in President Joe Biden's residence, launched investigations into the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan and demanded accountability. US state apparatus was reduced to a tool for political parties' self-interest.

Party politics increasingly followed race and identity lines. According to the Financial Times, Republicans are white, small town and rural while Democrats are now almost entirely urban and multi-ethnic. More than a third of Republicans and Democrats today believe violence is justified to achieve their political ends. When one party loses, its voters feel as though their America is being occupied by a foreign power. Political scientist Barbara Walter considers the US "a factionalized anocracy" — the halfway state between autocracy and democracy.

Political polarization was more of an obstacle to policy decision-making. GovTrack, an online non-governmental source of legislative information and statistics, reveals a steady fall in the number of laws successive US Congresses could enact — from 4,247 by the 93th to 98th Congresses down to 2,081 by the 111st to 116th. The drop was even more pronounced when one considers how many bills could become laws, from 6% in the 106th Congress to 1% in the 116th, a slide of 5 percentage points over two decades.

The tactics used in partisan fights were more scandalous. Professor Larry Diamond of Political Science and Sociology at Stanford University believes the norms of democracy, such as self-restraint in the exercise of power and rejection of violence, which should have been observed by the participating parties in elections, have begun disintegrating in the US. A growing number of politicians and elected officials in the US have been willing to bend or abandon democratic norms in the quest to achieve or retain power. And as common political ground vanishes, rising proportions of Americans in both camps express attitudes and perceptions that are blinking red for democratic peril. Democracy in the US is at serious risk of breaking down.

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