习近平会见德国总理朔尔茨
习近平会见德国总理朔尔茨
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The crisis of US democracy from within

Source: CGTN | 2024-03-22
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The crisis of US democracy from within

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the United States, March 21, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

By Chen Xi

The democratic system can be likened to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, not only because of its symbolic significance of bearing heavy loads for long voyages, but also because the design principles of this system are similar to how a nuclear reactor operates. Both serve to awaken the intrinsic energy of individuals (the people and atoms), generating self-propelling chain reactions.

A poorly maintained reactor poses a huge risk, just like an institutional system that has been neglected for years. American-style democracy, akin to a supercarrier, sailing into the waters of the 21st century, may still appear grand, but the looming crisis in its reactor operation is undeniable – the issues stem from within.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights drafted in 1776 stated, "that government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration." The same year, the Declaration of Independence also asserted that the foundational principles and any form of government must secure the safety and happiness of the people.

In the eyes of the generation of the American Revolutionary War, systems were meant to address problems and serve the people. The reputation and acceptance gained by the American system in the past partially stem from its demonstrated capacity for self-correction. Despite enduring lingering issues, it ultimately abolished slavery in principle; despite tardiness, it eventually granted women the right to vote; despite initial reluctance, it wholeheartedly engaged in the fight against fascism; despite self-interest, it participated in the establishment of the United Nations, and so forth.

The U.S. has become the most powerful country in the world today not solely through hard power but largely because its systems have historically been able to address issues, prioritize goodwill over malice, and rectify shortcomings.

The initial logic behind the design of the American democratic system was built around the operation of capitalist interests. This design requires high social costs and political sincerity to operate and maintain. Once this safeguard is lost, it becomes a seemingly sacred but actually hollow label. It's like tortoise shells placed in ancient temples, dusted off every four years, placed on the altar...and then swiftly forgotten after the ceremony ends.

According to the surveys conducted by China Media Group CGTN and Renmin University of China through the New Era International Communication Research Institute, 72.5 percent of global respondents believe that politicians tend to prioritize the will of the people only during elections but often forget about it afterward.

The American political "house of cards" has developed a complete set of rules. After ordinary voters play their card, the will of the people is forgotten by politicians once the result of the election is settled. It is indeed a form of alienation. The full participation and supervision of the people are prerequisites for successful governance. Losing these prerequisites will inevitably lead to a deficit in governance, with entrenched maladministration and an inability to justify values.

In terms of power structure, the outstanding democratic system of the U.S. has created a political elite class and vested interest groups floating above the heads of the people, which is a tragic irony of the American dream and its struggle.

Take the issue of gun violence as an example. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to self-protection, which has become the ultimate talisman for conservatives. However, the real issue, one that truly touches on the right to life of every individual, is: Is there a way to protect citizens without the gun violence problem? The answer is affirmative. There are many countries in the world that have achieved this effect, such as China, Japan, Switzerland, and so on.

There must be a solution that can address the issue of gun violence in the U.S. But, at present, it seems that the solution has not yet been found. The paradox of allowing people to kill each other or be killed by the police in the name of protecting the public creates a dilemma. Apart from governance failure, there is no other explanation. Unwillingness or inability to solve the problem ultimately amounts to incapacity.

In fact, among 39,315 respondents from 32 countries who participated in the surveys, a staggering 85.6 percent expressed dissatisfaction with gun violence in the U.S. Other dissatisfactions include: 74.5 percent expressing dissatisfaction with American democracy's favoritism toward the wealthy, 85 percent stating exacerbation of racial divisions and impact on judicial independence due to the partisan divide, 77.5 percent indicating a widening wealth gap in the country, 74.3 percent noting exacerbation of drug abuse, and 77.1 percent acknowledging systemic racial discrimination. It must be said that this list of issues is quite spectacular, with each item causing significant concern.

The surveys also queried people's opinions on U.S. foreign policy, but this falls outside the scope of this article. In short, many of America's actions on the international stage actually contradict its own values, eroding the goodwill it has accumulated, and amplifying the negative impressions of America's international record. Between the lofty ideals the U.S. professes and the hegemonic interests it pursues, there lies a gap that epitomizes the widely mocked "double standards."

Diplomacy is an extension of domestic policy. If America's actions on the international stage appear arrogant, unethical and unsightly, it is because the maladies of its domestic affairs – lack of kindness, unity, coordination, and fairness – have been unmistakably revealed, just as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier cannot continue to sail once its reactor leaks.

Chen Xi is a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN.

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