While it is far from clear who will win the next US election, it is increasingly obvious who will lose – the American people. But there are other losers as well.
Firstly, let us look at just how the American people lose.
One of the things that the last eight years have shown us is that America has become a deeply divided society. Democrats and Republicans have drawn their lines in the sand. Hillary Clinton is absolutely right - this election is not about choosing between two people or two parties, it is choosing between two fundamentally different value systems and beliefs about what America stands for. At the risk of drawing the ire of my American friends, I would venture to say America’s politics is becoming radicalised - the moderates on both sides seem to be in the minority and the scope for compromise and mature political debate leading to consensus has eroded.
The past four years of gridlock in the US Congress and the Republicans refusing to even acknowledge President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court are stark and embarrassing reminders that the system simply no longer works. Democrats fail to get bills passed, Republicans threaten to overturn everything the Democrats have done in the past eight years, examples being Obamacare and the Iran Nuclear Deal. In an essay on “What’s gone wrong with democracy” the Economist magazine notes, “The United States has become a byword for gridlock, so obsessed with partisan point-scoring that it has come to the verge of defaulting on its debts twice in the past two years. Its democracy is also corrupted by gerrymandering... And money talks louder than ever in American politics. Thousands of lobbyists (more than 20 for every member of Congress) add to the length and complexity of legislation, the better to smuggle in special privileges. All this creates the impression that American democracy is for sale and that the rich have more power than the poor.”
For sure, many Americans are disgusted with this politics. And many would like to see change.
But this is not only in America. In many places across the world, democracy is going through trying times. In Africa, Latin America and many established democracies in Europe, flaws in the political system are so obvious that voter turnout is consistently low and apathy and disillusion with politics is rising. Brexit was a strong message that not only the British but the European parliamentarians are out of touch with the people. Here on the African continent, recent events in South Africa (remember the ANC’s performance in local elections?) and Gabon – all supposed democracies – continue to make us all wonder: “is this the best that democracy has to offer?”
Getting back to the US. This is a developed country with a high per capita income. When government doesn’t work, people don’t hurt as much as they do in developing countries. But even the US must be worried, because sooner or later small cracks will begin to widen, and if the government cannot work because of gridlock and division, then the services provided to the American citizens will slowly deteriorate. And this is a poor time for America not to get its act together. Russia and China are making moves. Conflicts are simmering all over the Middle East and in Africa. The world needs the US as a credible superpower.
But first, America must be fixed.
To fix America, Americans may need to go back to basics. The great philosophers on Democracy all acknowledged that there are some basic requirements for democracy to work. I want to focus on one – education. Aristotle was perhaps the first to speak about how a large, well-educated middle class forms the cornerstone of a stable democracy. But education is not just about literacy and numeracy; it is a proxy for two things currently missing in American politics: reasonableness and tolerance. Artistole refers to the middle class as, “those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation (and) find it “easiest to obey the rule of reason.” To make democracy work, there must be reason and reasonableness. There must be a willingness to compromise. Democracy requires mature debate and discussion. As I saw in my own country in 1979-80, when the divisions are deep, and parties are utterly unwilling to even talk to each other and search for common ground, things descend into chaos, the scope for violence increases, and people suffer. Similarly, there must be a spirit of tolerance - for different views, religions, classes, sexual orientation, etc… Even if we see the world differently or hold different values, we must respect the rights of others to be who they are and to hold their views.
America is currently failing on all these attributes, and miserably. And it is not just the American people who stand to lose, it is also a global community that has long looked towards the US as a beacon of hope, and a model of good governance, tolerance, and reasonableness.
Credibility is at stake when the world is now asking America to take a look at its own democracy which is under threat.
The writer is owner and operator of Forrest Jackson Relocation Services. She’s based in RwandaFollow https://twitter.com/NatsCR