A recent poll indicates that most Americans don’t believe democracy works. And it’s a large majority. The survey, conducted by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that just 16% of those polled believe that democracy works at all. Nearly half — 45% — said democracy isn’t functioning properly at all, while 38% said it works somewhat well.
History, however, belies that dour assessment. In fact, we need only review events of the past few months to see the strength of the rule of the majority and the goal of free and fair elections, which are the core principles of a democracy.
President Donald Trump resisted the outcome of the November general election, in which Joe Biden drew more votes. Trump took steps that we have seen in other countries when authoritarian heads of state seek to retain power. But with two-thirds of Americans accepting the election results, neither the military, nor judges he had personally empaneled, nor his majority support in the Senate, overrode the will of the people.
Dictators normally set the stage for their retention of power by declaring public emergencies and calling for a suspension of the constitution. Trump made such declarations, but any effort to turn that into a longer tenure proved futile.
It might be assumed that those recent attacks on the democratic process might have skewed the results of this recent report, but similar polls taken before the election produced similar results.
To be sure, democracy isn’t perfect — no system is. Majority rule can be considered tyranny to those in the majority. That is where our nation’s founding pinciples of individual rights, and the rule of laws that support them, provide guidance along our path to progress.
The will of the people survived the challenge. The process wasn’t pretty and our nation took a beating, but democracy won out.
To be sure, there is no perfect system, and many Americans with for their elected officials to be strong — if they agree with those officials’ positions. We need only look around the map to see the troubles that beset populations living under authoritarian rulers.
America’s democracy recognizes that all people have strengths and weaknesses, and a position of authority doesn’t magically bestow great wisdom to anyone who has it. That is why we elect our officials from our own ranks. Indeed, our nation has seen presidents who were lawyers and actors, military leaders and peanut farmers. The pool of local officials has been even more diverse.
Certainly, all of them are fallible, and so are the voters who elect them. We’ve endured officials, at all levels, who made major mistakes; some even have been corrupt. Countless foreign regimes have shown us, however, that dictators can be just as fallible, and just as corrupt. The difference is that in a democracy it it easier to replace those officials with people we hope will do a better job.
That is why, as so many people have pointed out, people swarm to our borders every day hoping for a new life, seeking the benefits of our democracy. Few people are leaving this country looking for a better life elsewhere.
This calls to mind the quote from Winston Churchill:
“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”