Strengths and Weaknesses of American Democracy
The American democracy is based on a government by the people, which means the power is vested in the people themselves. The people elect representatives who conduct their power in a free electoral system. The Declaration of Independence, which says that all men are created equal, was written on the premise of a democracy. In the book Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville talks about admiring the American governing system for their sovereignty and the division of powers. Tocqueville believed that the foundation of American democracy began in its earliest days with the Puritan founding. According to Tocqueville, the Puritans established America’s natural state of equality. They were generally all equals in education and class, and as they formed their new settlements, it was naturally devoid of the long-standing divisions of heredity and nobility that were common in Europe. Tocqueville believed that the Puritans first established the principles of individual sovereignty in the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which laid the roots for the principles that would lead to the American Revolution. These same principles led to the outcome of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Although Tocqueville praises the Constitution, he believes that it succeeds because of the natural mindset of the American people. While Tocqueville praises American democracy, he also criticized some of its institutions. When talking about women influencing the society, Tocqueville states that in no other country has there been as much care taken to create two distinct lines of action for the two sexes. They stay always separate, but always in pace with one another. Tocqueville believes that the collapse of aristocracy has led to a natural decrease in the patriarchal rule where fathers arranged daughters’ marriages. While this gives single women additional freedom, it strengthens the ties of the marriage and reduces the independence of married women. The American Democracy’s biggest achievement is the division of powers. Division of powers is a model that divides the government into separate branches, each of which has separate and independent powers. By having multiple branches of government, this system helps to ensure that no one branch is more powerful than another. For America, the system divides the government into three branches: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. The United States federal government and fifty states divide their governments into these three branches. In the federal government, the United States Constitution establishes the Legislative Branch, which consists of Congress. Congress, in addition to other enumerated responsibilities, is responsible for creating laws.
As a general rule, the nondelegation doctrine prohibits the Legislative Branch from delegating its lawmaking responsibilities. Congress can, however, provide agencies with regulatory guidelines if it provides them with an “intelligible principle” to base their regulations on. Then the United States Constitution establishes the Executive Branch, which consists of the President. The President approves and carries out the laws created by the Legislative Branch. Then there is the Judicial Branch, which consists of the United States Supreme Court. The Judicial Branch interprets the laws passed by the Legislative Branch. When Tocqueville talks about the judiciary, he remarks on the unique powers and importance of the Supreme Court of the United States. He acutely points out that the court’s power is immense, but “it is the power of opinion.” The court’s ability to establish the law is contingent on the people’s willingness to obey it. Federal judges, therefore, “must know how to discern the spirit of the times,”(Tocqueville, 142) to ensure continued respect and obedience to the sovereignty of the Union. Separation of Powers in the United States is associated with the Checks and Balances system. The Checks and Balances system provides each branch of government with individual powers to check the other branches and prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful.
For example, Congress has the power to create laws, the President has the power to veto them, and the Supreme Court may declare laws unconstitutional. Congress consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives, and can override a Presidential veto with a 2/3 vote in both houses. The Checks and Balances System also provides the branches with some power to appoint or remove members from the other branches. Congress can impeach and convict the president for high crimes, like treason. The House of Representatives has the power to bring impeachment charges against the President; the Senate has the power to convict and remove the President from office. In addition, Supreme Court candidates are appointed by the President and are confirmed by the Senate. Judges can be removed from office by impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction in the Senate. In this way, the system provides a measure, in addition to invalidating laws, for each branch to check the others. One of the biggest strengths of democracy is the changes in policy for the requirement of the citizens and the protection of their interests. In a traditional democracy, no government has a monopoly in decision making but in the American democracy, the ruling majority in the government usually gains enough power to change policies according to their ideas. One of the few cases where the government’s will to change a policy was when John McCain voted against the repeal of Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is a law enacted to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance.
It does this by offering consumers discounts, known as tax credits, on government-sponsored health insurance plans and by expanding the Medicaid assistance program to include more people who don’t have it in their budgets to pay for health care. Democracy also leads to their citizens becoming more educated about the political state of their country as they get involved in the clashes between the rivaling political parties and are forced to choose the political party whose policies complement their thinking. As democracy is based on representation of the people, they feel obliged to choose the leaders whose policies they believe would benefit them and their nation in the long run. It enables people to stand up for what they believe and gives them a chance to express their unique perspectives and opinions in a safe environment. Success can be achieved together because the differences people have can be celebrated instead of being feared. This gives people the best chance to work towards policies, procedures, and legislation that can benefit as many households as possible. When there are elected and fixed representatives, a more responsible government is formed. Thus, democracy can be efficient, firm and stable. Its administration is ruled and conducted with a sense of dedication, and people under this system discuss matters and problems thoroughly to come up with sensible decisions.
A government with power over the people can dictate how populations live their lives. In the American democracy, the governmental power is decentralized because it lies in the hands of each voter. If an elected official isn’t doing their job, then they can be voted out of office during the next election. People within the democracy are given the opportunity to be whatever they wish to be. By allowing people to pursue their passions, the GDP of a nation is usually higher. Economic opportunities have more stability. Households have an opportunity to form in whatever way suits their needs the best. Democracy is a system which betters and adjusts itself according to the changing times to suit the circumstances as the people become more aware of politics and tend to change what they believe is wrong. This political system can promote changes in the government without having to resort to any form of violence. Since this system is based upon the public will, there will be little to no chance of public revolt. Elected representatives conduct state affairs with public support, and if they do not work efficiently or do not meet the public’s expectations, they will possibly not be reelected during the next elections. Democracy governments function with consensus between the government and the people they serve, thus the question of revolution would not arise.
A huge disadvantage of American democracy is that it takes a very long time to implement policies and decisions made by the government as it takes many levels of clearance to implement. However, this disadvantage does have an advantage, as many levels of clearance leads to refinement and modifications in the policies being implemented in favor of the greater good of the people. Another big disadvantage of American Democracy is the conflict between the Federal and State governments. In his account, Tocqueville states that the main purpose of the federal government’s powers is necessary to control and keep in check the powers of the state government. He says that “the governments of the different states were considered free in their sphere” (Tocqueville, 109) but he said it was necessary to prevent the individual state governments from abusing their powers and threatening the security of the Union, and this could only be done through intervention in state affairs by the federal government in very rare cases. Tocqueville openly supports the federal government as he thinks they will help in enhancing the unity of the nation, as central laws are much clearer, and therefore leading to less confusion. In my personal opinion, I disagree with Tocqueville’s opinion about centralization as I believe that the state laws are better suited to the people of that particular state as America is a vast country and the central laws might not be suited to everyone belonging to different regions of the country. Tocqueville observes that the United States was not only a republic but a confederation, and therefore the authority was more centralized in some aspects compared to the European monarchies.
He clearly and critically analyses the state governments and the demerits of giving absolute power to the state but fails to give the merits of that system. I agree with what Tocqueville said about the Federal government’s role in being an important body which can take action when it feels the constitution is being threatened by the actions of a particular state. There should be a balance between the federal and state powers as a powerful federal government without a powerful state government would be a radical idea, and a powerful state government without a powerful federal government would work against the notion of unity. Tocqueville correctly spoke about the power of the federal government that it “certified an existing fact, that of a recognized power that had to be managed and not assaulted” (Tocqueville, 113). In the American democracy, it is possible to cast a vote without having any knowledge about what the vote is for. For this governmental structure to be effective, it is necessary for every voting individual to be well-versed on the subject matter being voted upon. Without that knowledge, an unnecessary or potentially harmful piece of legislation could be passed. Democracy also leads to a large amount of money spent on just elections. Every vote that is taken has a monetary cost associated with it. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, $544 million in lost productivity occurs during a US Presidential election on Election Day. Since 2000, every election cycle in the US has cost more than $1 billion. At the local level, it is not unusual for mayor, city council, and school council elections to exceed $100,000 in costs. Democracy opens an opportunity for corrupt officials. Elected politicians have access to budgets for government projects.
By having this privilege, there is a possibility that some officials will be tempted to use the money for their personal interests. Moreover, politicians who have supporters and friends who make contributions for election campaigns might feel indebted to these people and might give these so-called cronies favors in the future. One of the disadvantages of American democracy is the freedom not to vote. With the right to choose an individual’s preference for a leader also is the right not to vote at all. This is a setback, according to critics, since voting is a privilege. As such, there might be people who will choose not to practice their right to vote for lack of motivation or awareness. Also, there might be some voters who will not take elections seriously since they think whoever they choose will not make an impact, since the majority always has an edge. When comparing the American democracy to other democracies of the world, we see that no democracy in the world is perfect. America is a two-party democracy, which leads to a lesser representation of the general public. When American citizens have to choose which ideology better represents their beliefs, they get only two options and they have to choose the lesser of two evils. In some democracies, such as in India, people have many parties to choose from which results in them voting for the party in which they feel would be actually the best for them and the country. In the Parliamentary form of government, like with Indian democracy, ministers, including the prime minister, are responsible to the parliament. The Parliament can question, scrutinize and examine their activities, and if required, it can pressurize the ministers to take back their unpopular decisions. However, in the presidential form of government, like with American democracy), the President and his allies are not responsible to Congress, the American version of the Parliament).
In fact, they need not be a member of the Congress,thus Congress can not question or scrutinize their decisions. The immense power that the state governments have in the United States can lead to conflicts between the Federal and the State governments, but in India, the state governments have sufficient power to run their states, but not enough to challenge the central government. Nevertheless, the American system outshines the Indian one. In terms of freedom of speech, as the Indian constitution provides freedom of speech and expression to the people. However, it is rarely practiced as the majority party overpowers them using their money and power. In the United States, the media is very powerful and no government can control it. The Executive in American democracy is the President, while in Indian democracy it is the Prime Minister. In American democracy, the Executive is both the head of Government and the head of state, but the Prime Minister in Indian democracy is the head of government only. In American democracy, the Executive is voted to office independently and directly while members of the Congress are voted separately. Thus, the President and members of Congress may not belong to the same party.
In contrast with the Indian democracy, the Prime Minister is chosen from among the members of the party that has secured the majority of seats in Parliament via a national ballot. Thus, the Prime Minister belongs to the party which controls the parliament. In my opinion, this gives the American system an edge as the Executive will not necessarily be the leader of the ruling party and the power of the government will not go in the hands of the ruling majority in its entirety. In American democracy, we find a people’s participation at almost every level — the ward, the city, the county, the state, and the union. They actively participate in making their democracy work by writing to senators and representatives, petitioning for support for or against policies, attending local meetings, inviting local legislators in local events, and more. In Indian democracy, it is a one-time affair where individual and local connections matter. Most voters do not expect much change in their daily life but look forward to obtaining individual benefits from the local politician. A big similarity between the Indian and American democracies is diverse demographics in the countries, but the difference in them is the way they tackle issues related to minorities. In India, the new government (which is ruled by a pro-Hindu political party) has been oppressing minorities, such as the Muslims, which has led to several violent clashes between the two communities. The new policies implemented by the Hindu majority, such as banning beef as Hindus are religiously restricted from eating cow meat, have led to the impression in the minorities’ minds that the government will do anything to promote their religion, even if it means that they have to violate the Indian Constitution which declares that India is a secular nation.
In the United States, laws are made to suit all minorities, and no steps are taken to oppress them, even though there has been a lot of discrimination against minorities such as Native Americans and the African American communities in the past. The government has taken up policies to ensure that such minorities are never discriminated against in the future. The government takes cases of discrimination very seriously and punishes whoever violates these laws. Even though the Indian government prevents discrimination on grounds of religion, there is hardly anything done to implement these laws in the real world; they are merely words on a paper. Other Asian countries, such as Pakistan, have adopted democracy as well. The Pakistani government, though not an ideal form of government in any sense, has been making efforts to achieve a good governance system. Powerful people, such as Nawaz Sharif, the ex-prime minister of Pakistan, have been arrested for corruption, which shows us the power of people in a democracy.
As time passes, countries are slowly adopting democracy as their form of government, as people see its benefits outweigh the negative factors immensely. Even though the democracy of the United States is not perfect, it is, in fact, arguably one of the finest forms of democracy that has ever existed. Even though it has many flaws, the system’s merits are far greater than the demerits. That is one of the reasons why the United States is one of the most powerful and financially successful nations of the world, and the standard of living of people is one of the best as well. I believe that if the people have faith in their democracy and if they actively participate in it, the system of governance will eventually become better and will get closer and closer to an ideal form of a perfect democracy. Franklin D. Roosevelt once reminded the American citizens to “…never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.