A democracy is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”. All throughout history, humanity has tried many different methods of governing the people, with democracy being one of them. Democracy was first mainly implemented by the Greeks, in the form of a direct democracy, in which the people have a direct say in the actions of the government.
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Later in history, the Greeks were shortly followed by the Romans, who implemented a form of indirect democracy, also known as a republic. This system revolves around the idea that the people elect government officials to make decisions on the citizens’ behalf. Moving onto the modern day, the United States of America is one of the world’s most well-known, prominent examples of democracy, or more specifically, a republic. The United States’ government is comprised of three different branches. However, given human nature, the idea of a democratic utopia is not achievable, and so while the form of government is equitable and fair, it can also place power into less trustworthy or able hands, leading democracy to be less just, and flawed. This results in a conglomeration of both equal and unjust components of democracy in today’s world.
First and foremost, the United States is built upon the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution essentially established the United States of America, outlining the basic laws and structures for government, as well as guaranteeing the citizens inalienable rights. It talks about branches of government and that the people are entitled to enjoy certain rights and privileges in the country as American citizens. The Bill of Rights states that each American has the right to exercise any religion, free speech, freedom of press, freedom and right to assemble, and to petition. The United States is a very unique form of democracy and government overall because of the fact that it allows its people to speak out against the government, demonstrating that democracy is more so equal than unjust. Around the world and all throughout history, there have been many dictatorships and authoritarian governments, such as Nazi Germany and today, North Korea. In North Korea, there is a written constitution, called the Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In this writing, it is stated that all people are guaranteed the right to freely express their opinions, they have the right to elect officials, and the right to a fair trial.
However, later in the constitution, it is contradicted with the statement: “firmly safeguard the political and ideological unity and solidarity of the people.” This is essentially saying that the people should not radically speak out or step out of place, and that they should agree with the political ideals of the government. In addition, North Korea operates more than twenty concentration camps, some housing more than 250,000 political prisoners. This shows that although there is a Constitution that “guarantees” freedoms to the people, the government does not actually follow its boundaries. The United States is fortunately, first off, a democracy, and secondly, it chooses to follow the laws and guidelines set forth in the Constitution. This is a demonstration that the United States and its democratic form of government are more just and equal when brought into the grand scheme of all forms of government that also have constitutions. Whenever there is a concern that a law is not constitutional, the US government maintains its integrity and chooses to bring the case to the Supreme Court to determine whether the law is constitutional or not. This is known as checks and balances.
The checks and balances system that comprises the republic that is the United States is a clear demonstration that democracy can, indeed, be equal and just. As mentioned beforehand, the United States is composed of three branches: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. The Executive Branch is primarily tasked with enforcing and executing the laws of the United States. The President has the power to appoint members of his cabinet, as well as nominate individuals to serve as justices in the Supreme Court of the United States. He or she is also given the role and title of Commander-in-Chief, meaning that the President is in charge of commanding all of the country’s armed forces and military. He or she also can veto bills passed by Congress, but his or her own veto can be overturned by a ? majority vote in Congress following the veto. The Legislative Branch is primarily tasked with creating new legislature that can become laws one day, should it pass through the checks and balances system of approval. It is also able to approve or reject nominees to the Supreme Court. Finally, the Judicial Branch is tasked with determining whether laws are constitutional, meaning whether they follow the guidelines of the Constitution. It is important to note that the Judicial branch is more independent from the other branches, in terms of being ‘checked’ by other parts of government, unlike the President or Congress. This is known as the idea of ‘judicial independence’. Yet, somehow, all branches are held accountable and held in check. (Britannica)
Throughout the history of the United States, this checks and balances system of this democracy generally has proven to work and to keep government officials and branches in check. One prime example of this working in the country is the Senate’s rejection of President Trump’s proposal to reorganize the United States Immigration System, as well as a way to allocate and gather more funding to begin & eventually complete construction of the border wall along the US-Mexico border.
Alexandra Wilts from The New York Times, writes:
“President Donald Trump’s plan to reshape the US immigration system and fund his border wall has been blocked by the Senate, ultimately leaving Congress with no clear path to protect young undocumented immigrants – so-called dreamers – from deportation. In a rebuke to the President, the Senate voted 39-60 against advancing a proposal backed by Mr Trump. Senators also turned away two other bipartisan proposals” (Wilts).
As noted in the passage from Wilts’ article, Donald Trump had proposed significant changes to the way immigration currently works in the United States and he also boldly asked for an outrageous $25 billion for the construction of the US-Mexico border wall, which was one of Trump’s most significant and prominent campaign promises in 2016. If this proposal had been approved by Congress, and put into effect, the visa lottery system would no longer be in action, preventing the legal entry of thousands of immigrants. In addition, hundreds of thousands of undocumented people would be devastatingly taken from their homes and families in the United States and deported back to their country of origin. In addition, around the same time that this proposal was brought to the Senate by President Trump, according to The New York Times, 59% of the American people disagreed and/or strongly disagreed with Trump’s proposals for immigration reform in the United States. This statistic, accompanied with the fact that the Senate swiftly and rightfully rejected Trump’s drastic and taxing immigration proposal, is a perfect demonstration of American democracy doing its work. As mentioned earlier, the purpose of a democracy, in this case, an indirect democracy or republic, is meant to truly represent the ideas and beliefs of the people. Since the United States is a republic, the elected government officials made a decision on the behalf of the American people that was a true representation of how the American people felt about Trump’s proposed immigration reform. In essence, this moment in recent US history perfectly displays the idea that a democracy is a true reflection of the people.
However, democracy is not perfect, and when placed into incorrect hands or when power is handled irresponsibly or in the wrong manner, then the true purpose of a democracy is not able to function and be executed to the fullest extent. The Electoral College is a process in which the President of the United States, and with that comes the Vice President, is elected indirectly by the People. The People vote indirectly, as the votes the citizens cast are counted within their corresponding state and then the candidate with the greater number of votes within that state wins the electoral votes from the state. There are instances in which one presidential candidate can win the popular vote but ultimately lose the Presidency to the candidate with more electoral votes, as some states contribute more electoral votes than others. As such, it has the potential to incorrectly reflect the beliefs of a majority of the American People, and there is a possibility that Electors could misrepresent the poll results produced within their state. In addition, there is the potential that the Electors can inaccurately, whether accidentally or intentionally, represent the poll results to the Electoral College. According to the Los Angeles Times, “They had been lobbied for weeks to abandon Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. But ultimately, only two members of the electoral college did so, while five members deserted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton”. These electors who voted in their own accordance are known as “faithless electors”, in which an elector does not vote for the candidate they are expected to, hence inaccurately representing the outcome of polls in their state. In essence, although the Electoral College generally represents the beliefs of the American people through the popular vote, there are instances in which the elected officials in the college do not faithfully execute their responsibility to vote on behalf of the American people, representing their votes. Thus, the Electoral College is ultimately a system in which politics and democracy can become a game of petty, unfair strategy, with candidates only appealing to certain large states that count for more electoral votes, despite the fact that there are a majority of states that count for less electoral votes, but do not agree with the candidate’s views. This is a part of United States democracy that is unfair and not a true representation of people.
On top of this, it is not always the fault of the electors in the college for which decisions made by the government do not express what the American people want. But first, the United States is not the only democratic form of government currently functioning in the modern world. There are countries such as Australia, Switzerland, and Brazil that are also forms of democracy, but the laws and method in which the government operates are slightly deviated from those of the United States. In the US, citizens have the option to vote, should they want to. Yet, voting in the United States is not mandatory, meaning that voters can choose to abstain and not partake in the voting or election processes whenever they want. However, this is not the case for the countries that were aforementioned. In Australia, Switzerland, and Brazil, citizens are required to participate in the democracy of the country, casting their votes for elections whenever held. This method is called compulsory voting, which is enforced by law. There, it can be concluded that the voter turnout is essentially to the highest percentage it can be, since all citizens are mandated to participate. However, in the United States, voter turnout is somewhat inconsistent and low, which presents a wide variety of issues.
First off, if there is not a normal or large voter turnout, then what can end up happening is that a certain group of people with a certain common belief can all vote, making up the majority of votes if there are not enough people to counteract them, causing a sense of bias or skewed results in the end, since only a certain group and certain idea is being represented and voted on. For example, if there was a vote on whether a republican candidate or democratic candidate should be the next representative, and only the republican’s supporters made it to the polls and cast their votes, then in the end, the Republican candidate would obviously win, even if there was a majority of the population that supported the democratic candidate. So, although every citizen in the United States has the right to vote and represent their beliefs and opinions, this system of democracy can be flawed and ultimately fail and not truly represent the majority of the population if not everyone chooses to cast their votes, indicating how democracy can, yet again, be equitable, but also simultaneously be unjust and unequal.
However, campaign finances are a factor for why the election process in the United States can be considered equitable. First, campaigns can accept funds from individuals, corporations (LLC), PACs, etc. According to The Washington Post, around $6.5 billion was spent on campaigning in the 2016 elections, presidential and congressional combined. Hillary Clinton also spent $1.4 billion on her own campaign, which was more than Donald Trump, who spent $957.6 million on his campaign. Currently, there is a debate over the legality of contributions to campaigns. There are some who believe that more campaign donations to a certain candidate can actually result in the person with more funding to win the election. The assertion is that money is used to make a path to victory, and that whoever has more money by the end of the campaign is bound to win. However, this is not truly the case. As witnessed in the 2016 presidential election, although Hillary Clinton spent more money on her campaign than Donald Trump, she was not the winner. This disproves the assertion that more money results in higher chances of winning the election, thus proving the idea that a democracy is an equitable and just form of government, since money is not a determining factor or influence in the outcome of elections.
Next, while there are many aspects of democracy that can be proven both equal and unjust on the national level, equality and injustice can also be highlighted on a smaller scale, such as cities and districts within states. This is called gerrymandering. Essentially, gerrymandering is the process in which voting districts are redrawn to benefit one party over another in elections, forcing the other side to “waste” votes. For example, district lines might be drawn to cluster opposing voters together in one district in order to concentrate their votes, so that they can only affect a certain number of seats, generally fewer. It could also mean grouping opposing voters into districts where the other party is dominant and has a strong influence and support, resulting in it being very difficult for opposing parties to win elections there. To achieve this, district are divided and lines are drawn quite irregularly to ensure voters from each party are either concentrated in specific areas or spread all throughout a large number of districts.
The main application and concern of gerrymandering is that it can be used in a partisan method, splitting up or confining opposing parties throughout districts and essentially ‘silencing’ opposition. More recently and prominently, Wisconsin has been the center of attention in terms of the inequality that gerrymandering has and creates. According to the Washington Post, “In Wisconsin, gerrymandering led to Republicans holding 60% of the state assembly seats, according to the Post, while the party received less than half of votes” (Donnelly). Here, it is noted that, because of gerrymandering, the dominance of a party can be maintained, even if the number of votes do not correspond with the actual outcome. This raised concerns that gerrymandering is denying people their right to vote. As a result, certain partisan gerrymandering tactics are currently under review by the Supreme Court of the United States, or a part of the Judicial Branch. Since there is no law that state gerrymandering tactics for partisan purposes are illegal, as or right now, it is ‘constitutional’ to do so. However, an overrule of these tactics by the Supreme Court could change this and cause the gerrymandering tactics implemented by Republicans in Wisconsin to be unlawful and highly restricted. This is primarily why gerrymandering is unfair and unjust, as it is also just a petty game of frivolous partisan struggle to maintain a party’s control of an area just for the sake of that party to hold seats in representation of that population. It also demonstrates how the different branches of government, such as the Judicial Branch, can exercise checks and balances to ensure that the democracy in the United States is as equal as it can be, given the inevitable factor that poor choices are made by government officials.
Democracy, which is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people, has had many different variations throughout history, and even in today’s modern society, with a prime example being the United States. All of the topics aforementioned are prime examples of how a democracy, the United States in particular, can both be equal and unjust simultaneously. However, given human nature, the idea of a democratic utopia is not achievable, and so while the form of government is equitable and fair, it can also place power into less trustworthy or able hands, leading democracy to be less just, and flawed. Although utopia may never be achieved, the different components of democracies in nations around the world work to create as fair and equal of a government system as possible.
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