From crisis to reform: a call to strengthen America’s battered democracy

Democratic reform Democracy Political leadership Public trust Public sector United States of America

The events of the past several months amounted to an acute crisis for democracy in the United States. An incumbent president attempted to overturn election results, a violent mob assaulted the Capitol as Congress met to formalise his defeat, and lawmakers failed to hold the outgoing leader accountable for his reckless actions, leaving him in place as the de facto chief of his party.

The country avoided the worst possible outcomes. Police, at great cost, protected members of Congress from harm. The election results were given fair hearing in the courts and ultimately confirmed, and there was a peaceful transfer of power. But the crisis did not arise suddenly from an otherwise healthy political environment. US democracy is in urgent need of repair.

The presidency of Donald Trump brought heightened attention to the institutions of democracy that he most often attacked, including the press, the judiciary, safeguards against corruption, and the constitutional authority of Congress. The vulnerabilities revealed by this political pressure must be addressed, but they are arguably symptoms and outgrowths of deeper ills that plagued US democracy long before Trump arrived on the scene. Through an examination of its time-series data, Freedom House identified three enduring problems that play an outsized role in undermining the health of the American political system: unequal treatment for people of colour, the improper influence of money in politics, and partisan polarisation and extremism.

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