We can’t fix our democracy without understanding the roots of its problems

The House has just impeached Donald Trump for the second time following a violent insurrection by his supporters that endangered the lives of Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress. Trump got into the White House to begin with despite losing the popular vote in 2016, but went on to pack the federal courts with lifetime judges, including appointing one in three Supreme Court justices. The recent Republican Senate majority, which refused to rein in Trump’s abuses after his first impeachment, was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic minority.

You don’t have to look far or hard for evidence of the flaws in U.S. democracy. But in thinking about how to fix it, it’s helpful to have a framework for understanding what’s going on here—the roots of the problems and how deep they go. Political scientist Douglas Amy offers a start on that with Second Rate Democracy, a website laying out 17 ways the U.S. lags behind other major western countries on democracy.

In the introduction, Amy notes that:

  • Besides Denmark, no other advanced democracy follows the U.S. example and appoints Supreme Court justices for life – all now have mandatory term limits or age limits for justices.
  • None use an Electoral College that allows a minority of voters to choose its chief executive.
  • Most use different voting systems that make gerrymandering impossible and create more representative multi-party legislatures.
  • None have anything like our misrepresentative Senate that gives the 40 million voters in the 22 smallest states forty-four seats, while giving 40 million Californians two seats.
  • Nearly all have rejected our conflict-prone separation-of-powers model of government and have chosen instead a more cooperative parliamentary system that avoids the legislative gridlock that plagues our government.
  • And all rely much more on public money, not private money from rich organizations and individuals, to fund their election campaigns.

Amy offers a framework for assessing the health of democracies, from majority rule and fair representation to the rule of law, political equality, and public participation. To fix the problem, we need to understand the problem. This is one resource for doing so.