Democracy in the USA

Democracy in the USA

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The American model of democracy was created in the specific historical and cultural conditions. The attempts to copy the framework in other countries were not successful. The reason for failures bases on the fact that the federal government combined the states that had long existed in the colonies with high degree of autonomy. The aspect was reflected in the American system, features of which include ideological flexibility without a rigid discipline of the party and politics. Also, the system focused on the local needs. The current paper discusses the peculiarities of democracy in the United States by using several fundamental documents.

At first, it is important to give a clear definition of democracy. Dahl in the book On Democracy define the word as following “Democracy is a political system, which is based on collective decision-making method with an equal influence on the outcome of the trial or on its essential stages. Although this method is applicable to all public entities, to date, its most important application is the state, as it has great power.”

In fact, democracy is the right of people of a certain country to rule the state as they consider the best. If any form of government becomes destructive for the American people, the citizens have the right to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government. The new rule shall be based on the principles of organization of power, which seems most favorable for their safety and happiness.

When in 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States, he was deeply impressed by the balance between personal freedom and religion, private property and equality, individualism and social life, strong power and decentralization. Tocqueville declared the United States a democracy. However, the modern standards challenge the definition, as the country was the one, where slavery was practiced, indigenous people were driven into reservations, and women were denied the right to vote. The ideologues of the American political system were afraid of the concentration of state power. Therefore, according to the US Constitution, the American political system is based on the principle of separation of powers. Thus, the supreme legislative body (Congress) and the highest executive position (the US President) are elected. Since 1951, the president periods of stay in power have been limited by two four-year terms. However, “the Twenty-second Amendment (1951) limits an elected president to two terms in office, a total of eight years. However, under some circumstances it is possible for an individual to serve more than eight years.”

The court has a high degree of independence from the other branches of government, although the ideological preferences of judges sometimes affect the actions taken. Significant power is left to the states, which have their own constitutions. The local legislatures, governors, and, in most states, the judges are also elected. Regional and local governments have a strong power and are able to resist the federal government. In particular, the majority of law enforcement issues, education, family law, and land use are solved by states on the regional level. At the local level, the elected positions may relate not only to the representative bodies of the deputies, the mayor and the magistrate, but also to the prosecutor, sheriff, auditor, head of the tax service, the members of the education, and others. Therefore, from half a million of elected officials in the United States, less than 8500 are employed in the federal and regional level, and the remaining government members work in local government.

Some states hold referendums to address the range of issues that include taxes, policies to combat discrimination, the rights of immigrants, and a review of elected officials. Critics of direct democracy argue that referendums can support inconsistent policies, reduce the value of the institutions of representative democracy, and weaken the political parties. “For American democracy is characteristic distrust, not only to government but also to the people. Its feature is the existence of institutions, constrainingthe power of the majority and the relatively weakly dependent on it.” Thus, the institutions include the US Supreme Court and the US Senate. Non-governmental organizations and private businesses, free and diverse media play a significant role in democracy making.  Initially, popular sovereignty caused the strong fears; as a result, the United States intended to limit the ideologues suffrage by property qualifications. As Benjamin Franklin explained, people, who do not own land, constitute migrant population and are weakly connected with the welfare of state. Therefore, they should not have the privilege to vote. John Adams believed that if the government is controlled by the majority of the population, they first cancel debts, then impose higher taxes on the rich, and finally divide equally the rest of resources.

The right to vote was extended to all white males only by the end of 1850. The rest of the adult US citizens were granted the voting right only after 100 years. Currently, the electoral lists are drawn up by the voluntary registration of citizens, so undocumented citizens cannot vote. In addition, some regions still do not have their own representatives in Congress: the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam.                                            

Historically, elections were direct and held by the majority system through open voting. The exception was the election of the President of the United States, which were indirect. Currently, the standard is considered to be a secret ballot; and it is dominated by the use of the majority system. Despite the nature of the indirect elections of the US President, the history noted a few cases, when some delegates of the Electoral College (unscrupulous electors) voted against the will of the voters or abstained from voting. Presidential elections are accompanied by the highest voter turnout because the outcome has an effect on the pursued domestic and foreign policies.

Majoritarian electoral system has stimulated the creation of two opposing coalitions. At the turn of the XIX century, the followers of Thomas Jefferson defended the interests of farmers and laid emphasis on the separation of powers, particularly in the legislature. The opposition included the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton. The political power reflected the interests of the urban bourgeoisie, supported a strong judiciary, and preferred vigorous government. Eventually, two large parties emerged on the basis of both coalitions. New political and socio-economic problems occurred, and the composition of the leading coalition parties and their electoral base started changing. In the middle of 1850s, a split in the US society took place, which was caused by the question of slavery in the western territories of the country. A third party began gaining political preference; the Republican ousted the Whig Party. However, the conflict was not resolved by the democratic means, and in 1861, the Civil War broke out. The war led not only to the abolition of slavery, but also to the formal prohibition of discrimination in the provision of the electoral law. The Civil War also contributed to the rethinking of the concept of democracy. In his Gettysburg speech, President Abraham Lincoln said that one of the sources of the freedom of the American nation is a "government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Since 1860 the Democratic and Republican parties dominated the American politics. Each party has the support of a wide range of political movements today. The President of the United States was elected from the candidates of the Democrats or the Republicans. At the local and regional levels, one of the parties was able to hold the advantage over a long period of time. Moreover, the dominant party could encounter competition inside the political power, as the various groups made up the coalition. At the turn of the XX century, the community began to grow excited about the concentration of power in the hands of the large private corpporations. American progressive movement set its goal to strengthen supervision over the observance of laws and the control over the exercised by the state policy. As a result of the reforms, women gained the right to vote, the US Senate began to be formed through direct elections, the party was required to hold primaries, referendums were widely practiced, manageability of local authorities and their accountability to elected officials increased. The movement also gave rise to the tradition of the American intolerance to corrupt officials, managers of private corporations, trade union leaders and any other apolitical powers.

The press and media play an active role in exposing the political abuses. A number of agencies involved in auditing and investigating the actions of the authorities are not subjected to political influence. However, in recent years, lobbying of the elected officials and sponsoring their election campaigns had the negative impact on the perception of the government.

The first British settlers (puritans) arrived in the New World aboard the Mayflower for the sake of freedom of religion. Today, the country is a home to adherents of all religious movements; moreover, church attendance remains relatively high. At the same time, the Constitution prohibits the state to give preference to a particular faith and to subsidize the church. The religious community plays an active role in policy making related to the issues of gay marriage, abortion, human rights and immigration. However, every religion is treated equal by the Constitution without the privileges. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

One of the debated issues is the identification of the voter during the elections. On the one hand, the Republicans believe that the participants in the voting must show photo identification in order to reduce the risk of fraud. On the other hand, the Democrats argue that the risk is minimal. The reality is that the requirements deprive the citizens without the identity cards (usually racial minorities) of the right to vote. The right to participate in political decision-making is reflected in many international documents. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21) states that every person has the right to participate in the government of his country. The citizens can exercise the duty directly or through freely chosen representatives. Moreover, everyone has the right of equal access to public service, and the will of the people shall be the basis of the government authority. Therefore, the freedom of voting shall be ensured by universal and equal suffrage.

The concept of the American political system is laid in a school where students study the Constitution and work of ideologists of the country. The education explains the principles of the system: the government should be replaceable and accountable to citizens, all citizens are equal before the law, the state should remain neutral in relation to religion, and free competition of ideas in the country is a requirement. According to the surveys conducted in 2006-2007, 89% of Americans hold positive views on the democracy. However, 30% expressed support for the system, led by a strong leader, who can afford to ignore the parliament and the elections.

The democracy in USA has a long history. Democracy supports the plurality of views, and the repressions of dissidents are condemned. The liberal approach forces the authorities to listen to the views of different sectors of the society and consider various political influences. The institutions of control over the activities of the state play a significant role in the political life of the country. The United States is primarily a general electoral system, by which citizens are able to adjust the authorities. People have the opportunity to change the President if they feel the need. Thus, in the modern world, democracy seems to be the best political system of XXI century.

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