III. Real drawbacks of American democracy
(I) The polarization of American democracy
Since the 1970s, obvious polarization has been taking place in American politics. Political polarization means that: First, external differences become increasingly pronounced. The policy preferences of different political forces pull in opposite directions. Second, the internal homogeneity gradually intensifies. Different political forces defend the values they pursue, and it isn’t easy to show reconciliation with one another. For nearly half a century, economic globalization has caused the constant transfer of American manufacturing overseas, and wealth is concentrated among a few people due to the rapidly growing virtual economy. The gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is widening, and the contradiction between the lower classes and the upper-class elites has become increasingly entrenched. Multiculturalism is upheld in the U.S., where racial conflicts are intensifying. These differences are manifested in the deepening opposition between political elites. Specifically, in recent years, the Democratic Party has tended to be more liberal, while the Republican Party has become increasingly conservative. The middle ground between the two parties gradually vanishes. Internally, the two parties have become more united and homogenized. As the two parties gradually pull in opposite directions in terms of concepts and perception, American society is losing its cohesive force.
Due to factors such as ruling pressure, conflict of values, and internal party pressure, it is often the case that American Democratic and Republican members of Congress cannot enter into rational discussions with other parties, but instead put the interests of the party above those of the people. Members of Congress of the two parties counteract each other’s efforts now and again. The U.S. Congress, which was regarded as a forum for discussing public opinions, has degenerated into an arena where the two parties fight against each other. The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, as a representative of the left-wing Democrats, promoted the process of impeachment against Donald Trump twice. In fact, many people find the impeachment of Trump ridiculous party politics, however high-sounding the Democrats’ grounds seem.
Political polarization has aggravated the conflict and antagonism between different powers, causing disputes between Congress and the White House and between the ruling party and the opposition. As a result, it undermines the running of the American political system. To reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on re-election, Trump tried to downplay the threat of the pandemic to people’s lives and forcibly promoted the resumption of work and production. However, while criticizing the Trump administration for its ineffective fight against the pandemic, most Democrats encouraged to force people in some states to wear masks. This game of tit for tat politicizes the simple anti-epidemic measure of mask-wearing. State governments ran by different parties tend to adopt an anti-pandemic policy with “distinct characteristics” based on their own party stand. Given the lack of full coordination at the federal level, the state governments are often at odds with one another in terms of anti-pandemic policies, making it hard to check the rapid spread of the pandemic. Due to the political polarization coupled with the system of checks and balances, “scattered U.S.” lacks the capacity to effectively deal with the pandemic. This undermines the basic rights of ordinary people and also worsens the already hard-pressed global efforts to fight the pandemic.
The antagonism between the two parties and political polarization give rise to the “pendulum democracy” and the “pancake tossing” for domestic and foreign policies in the U.S. After being installed as president, Trump revoked and even abolished many policies and acts adopted by the Obama administration. He announced withdrawal from international organizations such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and many international conventions such as the Paris Agreement. On the economic front, Trump operated U.S.-centered unilateralism, acted against the prevailing trend of economic globalization, and launched trade wars with trading partners such as China. In contrast, after taking office, Biden declared that the U.S. would pursue multilateralism, rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council, and suspend withdrawal from the World Health Organization, in an effort to repair diplomatic relations with Western allies. The “pendulum democracy” indicates that the U.S. makes capricious domestic and foreign policies, and the national finances are being depleted at the great expense of ordinary people. Under the “pendulum democracy,” the domestic and foreign policies of the U.S. are “turned over like a pancake.” The ruling party always settles scores over its predecessor’s political legacy or vetoes the policies made by its political opponents. As a result, the U.S. lacks a clear and consistent policy orientation, and the people, therefore, cannot make stable and long-term expectations of action, and many countries and international organizations are full of misgivings when dealing with the U.S.
Based on the party interests, the two parties in the U.S. veto each other’s policies, and as a result, American democracy falls into the trap of a “veto-type system.” Someone pointed out that the political polarization in the U.S. means the emergence of “two Americas” with the Democratic and Republican parties serving as the dividing line and the red and blue states as the geographic boundaries.
(II) Double standards of American democracy
The U.S. flaunts the values such as human rights, freedom, and democracy and creates an image of a democracy defender, but the image of the U.S. as a defender of democracy is hypocritical in the extreme. If the so-called democratic movement compromises the interests of the U.S., the U.S. will act in opposition to democracy without hesitation. The double standards under American democracy are clearly manifested in its treatment of street politics and the freedom of the press.
First, the U.S. operates double standards for street politics. For a long time, the advocates of American democracy have always assumed that American voters will exercise rational judgment when casting a vote and that the elected will comply with the election rules and accept the outcomes of the elections. However, those who uphold American democracy were dumbfounded by the farce that occurred in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. It turned out that their rational hypothesis about “orderly election” was turned upside down by reality. Refusing to concede defeat in the election, Trump claimed that the Democrats cheated in counting votes and exploited social media to incite people to launch street campaigns. Trump followers stormed the Congress with an utterly wretched mood, interrupting the Congress’ meeting to certify the election results. American democracy, which has seemed to be gentle and rational, emerged as violent street politics. Is the U.S. that supports street politics part of modern democracy? I am afraid it is difficult to give a definite answer.
From the Jasmine Revolution that broke out in Tunisia, the “Arab Spring” that swept the Middle East, to even the political crisis in Ukraine, it can be seen that American politicians are “highly concerned” about the democratization of later modern countries. In China’s Hong Kong, aided by external forces, separatists launched a slew of riots, including storming the Legislative Council, attacking the police and innocent people, and besieging the building of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). They blatantly challenged the bottom line of “one country, two systems” ... Some American politicians danced for joy for this and even called it “a beautiful sight to behold.” U.S. Congress specially introduced a bill to endorse the actions of the rioters in defiance of the dissatisfaction of the Chinese people and the strong representations lodged by the Chinese diplomatic authorities. The U.S. Congress even flagrantly invited the heads of disorderly elements in Hong Kong to the hearings on Hong Kong-related issues in an effort to defend the radical and barbarian street politics in Hong Kong. The words and deeds of American politicians regarding street politics overseas seem to indicate that the U.S. encourages street politics and is inclined to regard street politics as what democratic theory and practice entail.
However, ironically, the U.S. has forcefully put down the street politics movements that took place in the U.S. in recent years. Due to the impact of the financial crisis, the unprivileged American populace launched a strong outcry against social injustice and uneven distribution of wealth and initiated the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. In response, American politicians vilified the protesters as rabble, and the American police suppressed them by employing methods such as violent dispersal. George Floyd, an American black man, was violently killed by white police officers for using forged bills worth twenty dollars. The American people took the streets to condemn the social ills of racism. In response, American politicians “righteously” denounced it as a “riot.” When some members of the populace dissatisfied with Trump’s defeat occupied the Capitol, politicians such as Pelosi labeled it as a “violent campaign” and “rebellion” without hesitation.
In terms of street politics, the U.S. operates double standards: On the one hand, the U.S. connives with and exploits the opposition in other countries to launch campaigns of street politics and even violent protests. On the other hand, it forcibly suppresses the protests of its citizens at every turn. That the U.S. adopts diametrically opposite attitudes towards street politics at home and abroad abundantly illustrates the double standards of American democracy.
Second, the manipulation of the freedom of the press in the U.S. also exposes the double standards of American democracy. The media should report social events objectively and neutrally to promote politics in a healthy manner. However, under the guise of press freedom, the American media operates double standards to block information that is unfavorable to the U.S. selectively and deliberately mislead public opinion. Although the advocates of American democracy strive to stress the value of press freedom and parade the neutrality and objectivity of the American media, the American media adopts totally different approaches based on their preferences when covering issues of the same nature. For example, American media would give coverage for many days in a row in the case of the disappearance of white people while hardly giving due attention to the disappearance of the people of minority groups. When riots broke out in Hong Kong in 2019, the American media deliberately turned the camera to the police while turning a blind eye to the egregious acts of Hong Kong rioters of attacking the police and citizens in an attempt to deliberately create a negative image of the Hong Kong police “violently suppressing the democratic movement.” When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, the U.S. media deliberately labeled it the “Chinese virus” and provoked a deluge of hateful words and deeds against Chinese Americans. Disregarding the U.S. poor performance in anti-pandemic efforts, Bloomberg released the so-called “COVID Resilience Ranking”, in which the U.S. ranked top in the world in the anti-pandemic measures. Such double standards on press freedom run counter to the basic common sense and code of conduct for a modern democratic society. This shows that the American media, which is driven by political manipulation and interests, is far from being as neutral and objective as it proclaims.