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U.S. falls to 'flawed democracy' in latest Democracy Index

U.S. falls to 'flawed democracy' in latest Democracy Index
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Greenpeace activists displaying a banner reading 'Resist' from a construction crane near the White House in January.

Don’t take this as another attack on President Trump, but 2016 was a bad year for democracy in the world and a setback for the quality of democracy, even in the United States.

That’s according to the latest update of the “Democracy Index” put out by the “Intelligence Unit” operated by the UK-based Economist Group, which publishes The Economist magazine and other publications. The Economist Intelligence Unit has been measuring changes in the quantity and quality of the global quotient of democracy over recent years.

In their latest report, these democracy raters stated that:

Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a "full democracy", down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy."

If you’re willing to look at things in a bigger picture for a moment (which I highly recommend, in case you want to take a break from focusing on the last few months), the 20th century saw a huge growth in the spread of democracy, in surges after each of the world wars, and then again with the breakup of the Soviet bloc. Africa, Asia and Latin America all made big progress in the 20th century, and that was before the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) started measuring, rating and tracking democracy. That effort began only in 2006, with updates every couple of years, and the latest update hot off the presses.

And most of the movement has been toward more democracy in the early 21st century as well, until the setback in 2016 (as the EIU scores it). 2016 was the first year that the EIU rated the United States as enjoying anything less than “full democracy.” As they explained their scoring system, you need 8 or higher to rank among the “full democracies,” and the latest ranking for the U.S. dropped us from 8.05 in 2015 to 7.98 in 2016. So, you see, it isn’t that big of a change, but one that had been coming for several years and just enough to drop the U.S. from the “full democracy” ranks.

A healthy democracy requires a high level of popular confidence in the institutions of government and politics. It seems that the U.S. decline had mostly to do with a continuing decline in the U.S. electorate’s confidence in their government, their system and their elected officials, a decline that was in place before Trump stole the show. In fact, the EIU seems to be arguing that Trump didn’t cause the decline, but capitalized on it. The authors wrote:

Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties has fallen to extremely low levels in the US. This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr. Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr. Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation.

The US has been teetering on the brink of becoming a "flawed democracy" for several years, and even if there had been no presidential election in 2016, its score would have slipped below 8.00. A similar trend of declining popular confidence in political elites and institutions has been evident in Europe over the past decade and helps to explain the outcome of the UK Brexit referendum in June 2016 as well as the growing ascendancy of populist movements across Europe.

Popular confidence in government and political parties is a vital component of the concept of democracy embodied by the Democracy Index model. Growing popular disaffection with the key institutions of representative democracy has been a factor in the democratic regression of recent years and in the rise of insurgent, populist, anti-mainstream parties and politicians in Europe and North America.

The U.S. ranked 21st among world democracies, the way the EIU scores it, just below Japan and tied with Italy. The six healthiest democracies, in order, were Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark and our dear neighbor Canada.

I’ll try not to belabor the point. The Economist Intelligence Unit is not the one and only judge of the comparative health of democracies, over time and across countries.

Their workup includes a nice graphic (on page 14 if you decide to click through to the full report) that shows the percentage of Americans who express a high level of trust in the government to do the right thing most of the time.

In the late 1950 and early 1960s it was over 80 percent. It has fallen fairly steadily for half a century and now stands around 19 percent. That’s obviously not all about Trump, not even close. But it’s a pretty big problem and it’s helpful in explaining, notwithstanding the vagaries of our ridiculous Electoral College system, why Trump slept in the White House last night.

Or scroll down to page 44 if you can stand to see a table that compares the U.S. and Canada across the five ratings that determine whether a nation is rated as a “full democracy.” Canada kicked our butts on every number, which is why they ranked sixth on the overall list of democracies, and we ranked 21st. It’s a very long, thorough and, I thought, smart report. But if you can make it to that U.S. Canada comparison, you are almost home free.

I have feared for several years now, long before the rise of Trump, that our system is breaking down. I hope I’m wrong. It wouldn’t take much of a reversal in these trends for our dear nation to re-enter the ranks of the “full democracies.”

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Comments (35)

What has to remain in mind is

What has to remain in mind is that there is no natural constituency for the core issues of the Republican party--lower taxes on the wealthy and fewer regulations that protect the public.

So in addition to stirring the various social issues pots. there has been a concerted effort on the part of Republicans to inflate the stories of government inefficiency--how many time have you heard the old saw about "waste, fraud and abuse"--perhaps 10,000 times since the Reagan administration ?

How many years has the "mountain from a mole-hill" approach to voter fraud been the stock of Republican attacks ? And the net effect is voter-suppression of voters that do not buy into the Republican sob-story.

Capitalism operates in both democratic nations and repressive nations. But there is greater profit to be had when there are lower taxes and regulations. So the bias of the Republican media machine is naturally moving the nation to be less and less a vibrant democracy. After all, there are costs for that.

They use low criteria

if they've credited our country with being a full democracy up to now.
How can a country be a full democracy with any poverty at all, with women earning at least 20% less than men, the percentage increasing for each group that is not white, with mostly corporate-owned news media, with our Congress and state legislatures still not looking like their constituencies, with income inequality increasing, with a military supported by 60% of our budget, sent all over the world to "keep order" -- Pax Americana -- with institutionalized misogyny and racism, and cops killing poor, minority and mentally ill people with impunity?
The "Democracy Index" is meaningless.
Trump's appalling win in the electoral college is a manifestation of this continuing rejection of decency and normal communal growth by the people with money power.
Meanwhile the people without that kind of power -- most of us -- carry democracy with us into the streets, into every part of our communal and individual lives. That is lasting power, and it will move increasingly into our legislative, judicial and executive branches at every level. People with democratic and progressive principles who have never before been politically active are becoming politically active now. That's a sign that we've reached a turning point in our practice of democracy. Stagnation, disruption, do-nothingism and contempt for the people they serve by our representatives will give way as it must.


About your comment that women make 20% less, isn't it widely accepted by now that is because they choose careers that pay less? Rather than the "victim" stance that the man is sticking it to them? Would a land where the government decides precisely what each of us should make, or we all make the same be more democratic? I think not...

Widely accepted by whom?

There are some properly controlled studies (matching variables like education and experience) that show that all other things being equal, women still earn less, although not always as much as 20% less.


The implication is that 20% for same work which by multiple independent sources has been debunked. Search online, you will find sources.

No its not

There is good data that women's salaries start out lower and stay lower, regardless of whether they leave to start a family or not. It's an old chestnut that the gender pay gap is due to women dropping out of the labor market due to childbirth.


That they start out 20% lower. Studies suggest 4-5 and no one is quite sure why.

Many of us are quite sure why, Mr Smith.

Thanks to others who replied to Mr Smith's comment.
Many of us women are sure that the reason women's salaries and wages are stuck at 80% or less of what men earn is because of institutionalized misogyny, which works exactly the same as institutionalized racism and institutionalized anti-religionism. (When I attended University of Chicago in 1963 I heard talk about the quota U of C placed on Jewish student applicants.)
To recognize this is not "victimism". That is a profoundly ignorant and hateful term, which I became too familiar with after suffering battering by my first husband. "Suffering" is the correct word, and the attitude that we should quickly "forgive and get on with our lives and not be a victim" added to our many problems. As if we had chosen what someone else did to us.
My daughter overheard her employers at one place she worked deciding to pay a new hire less "because her husband earns a good salary". Lily Ledbetter was told after many years working for a company (probably by a payroll worker) that she was earning less than men who had been hired long after she was.
We live in the real world of women. You don't. What you can and ought to do is pay attention and believe us when we report from that world to this one.

This study makes one ponder

This study makes one ponder what it is that creates or undermines public confidence in the institutions and processes of democratic government? One element would be, honest (non-corrupt) government accomplishing things that benefit the general public. The second significant element is the rhetoric that is blasted to and among the public about our elected officials, institutions, and the processes of democracy. Pushing Capitalism is not to push Democracy.

Since the beginnings of the anti-Clinton moves by the right wing of the Republican party, in the early 1990s, the Republicans have made absolute opposition--rather than compromised-based governing--the dominant mode. That's when Americans began to hear of "government shut-downs," as in November 1995, when Newt Gingrich's Congressional majority demanded that Bill Clinton accept all their demands without change. He didn't (as he shouldn't have), and we had shut-down. That's happened again and again, as we go from GOP oaths never to raise a tax to brinksmanship on raising the debt ceiling or mandatory X-percent across-the-board cutbacks in government funding. No compromise and no Congressional action: the GOP in the Obama presidency followed Tea Party rules and opposed everything he did, after they won Congressional majority in 2010. Stalemate and Do-Nothing Congress.

Then you add all the violent, anti-government talk shows on radio and TV and internet, which includes attacks on any regulations and on our court system, and the proliferation of "fake news" on the right that demolishes faith in factual information, and of course people stop trusting democratic institutions.

I've long been bothered by the horrendous negativity of the Right's rhetoric--nothing goes well according to them--and what it does to people's sense of being in a country where things can be created. Of course, no one seems to want to connect the economic and tax systems, to realize that raw, unregulated capitalism caused the 2008 Great Recession that ruined so many common citizens' finances and took their jobs that had not quite yet fallen to globalization. An inexorable movement that is hitting people all around the world.

But in the USA, we have a man at the top now who shouts "Only I can fix it!" That's a dictator talking, and somehow Americans think that's fine?

Add global warming's effects: drought, huge and unusual storms and flooding, rising sea levels, and extinctions of plant and animal life. Those effects will make democracy ever harder to achieve or maintain, as people leave new deserts and flooded lands to seek some kind of life in those countries that still have potable water and some agriculture.

The Economist needs new stats people

Love data and I had time, so here goes. The Economist article referenced in the above article ranked the United States 21st on their democracy index, a ranking of ‘flawed.’ Let’s look into that.

First, the populations of the top 19 countries on the list add up to less than 5% of the world’s population. Tack the United States (and Japan) onto the end of that, and, population-wise, we are in the top ten percent of all countries when it comes do democracy. Thumbs up.

Second, here I list the ten most populous countries in the world along with their assigned ‘democracy’ ranking… China:136, India:32, United States:21, Indonesia:48, Brazil:51, Pakistan:111, Nigeria:109, Bangladesh:84, Russia:134, Japan:20. These countries represent 57% of the world population and we tie Japan for the top spot. Yaay! More thumbs up.

Third, who is the data person who put together this piece for the Economist. One does not take random data with a top score of ten and systematically declare scores below 8 as ‘flawed democracies,’ scores below 6 as ‘hybrid,’ and below 4 as ‘authoritarian.’ By counting by twos to demark definitions of democracy shows the people making this stuff up either have terrible math backgrounds or cannot relate raw numbers to reality. Thumbs down. (I want to say fake news, but I won’t)

The United States, the racism, the homophobia, the polarization, is often compared to a perfect utopia, to which we truly fall short. We have been a ‘flawed democracy’ for some 240 years now. But, compared to the rest of the world, we continue to shine, as shown in the article.


That was some very appreciated excellent perspective.

Based on the other comments, maybe we can call it the "free stuff" index... :-) Apparently if the government collects a lot of money and distributes to everyone regardless of risk, effort, choices, etc. That seems to be what the index creators deem to be a functioning Democracy. In other words to score high your government needs to be a "Social Democracy".

Now if the people decide that to maintain a society where government collects less, citizens keep more, charity is valued and people need to take personal responsibility for their choices, actions, behaviors, etc... Then those countries score low.

It seems something is flawed in the measure since I am pretty sure Democracy is about voting and rule, not wealth measures and equality.

Regarding "free stuff"As I

Regarding "free stuff"

As I said before, there is no natural constituency for making the wealthy even wealthier (usually at the expense of others) and making it easier for those who endanger the public to work without restraint.

So, yes, there is probably a very close correlation between what you call "free stuff" and a strong democracy that reflects the will of the people.

It's a feature, not a bug, of the system.

See this OECD study of social spending--the US is 25th of the OECD countries--somewhat correlated with democracy rating.

It's almost axiomatic, the only way the rich can get richer and business can resume unimpeded in the heedless rush for more profit is to make a society less democratic.

Sorry if that offends you, but that's the way it works when you give the hoi polloi the vote.

I Disagree

I agree with this... "there is no natural constituency for making the wealthy even wealthier (usually at the expense of others) and making it easier for those who endanger the public to work without restraint."

However I disagree that this what the GOP and Conservatives are for. I think that is why the Democratic party is stymied right now. They have beliefs that are incorrect and preventing them from connecting with many Americans.

One only has to look at the

One only has to look at the primary thrust of the Cabinet appointees and the direction of substantive policies being put forth by the all-Republican government.

Make the wealthy wealthier, and remove restraints on business.

No clearer example than removing the "onerous" requirement that retirement advisors have their client's interest as the primary goal. Or having an EPA chief that primarily coordinates with the fossil fuel industry as opposed to citizens.

On and on.

All the other stuff is to keep the rubes amused.

Time Will Tell

As you know I have many concerns regarding Trump etal, however putting successful people in his cabinet is not necessarily one of them. It may give us better results than a bunch of professors and professional politicians / bureaucrats. And they really do not need bribe money... They are already wealthy.

So let's see what gets passed. We are all aware that goods jobs have been leaving for a long time. Maybe they can succeed where the Obama administration failed.


I fail to see the relevance of population size to the degree to which a country can be characterized as governed by democratic practices.
And data by definition can not be random (as in drawn from a random number table). It is numbers assigned to quantities by some rule.
So you might claim that the variables on which the democracy measure is based are not relevant to some real world observation system of yours, but you have not made that case.

One might question that use of the term 'flawed' -- I'd personally favor 'imperfect', implying some degree of approximation to some objectively stated ideal. Since everything in the real world is imperfect, I would question creating a dichotomy between flawed and 'full' democracies, which do not exist in the real world (as pointed out above). Rather, try to measure the degree of imperfection of different governmental systems based on some agreed upon underlying variables which define a democratic system.


Good summary ,however, from this perspective we are better than that! Kicking the weak, disadvantaged and vulnerable to the curb in favor of tax breaks, for the uber rich, it sure isn't what we should expect from America, especially the richest and most powerful country on the planet. Suspect that shine is getting e duller by the day.

Sorry just can't get past this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

You can massage the data, but...

...The question is really how well a statistically significant number of people (any of these nation states) are governed, not how large the nation states happen to be. If a system of governance works well in a "small" nation state with millions of citizens, there is no reason to assume that the institutions and processes that deliver good government are not scalable. I guess I'd have to go with the authors on this one.

To clarify and classify...

Bottom line:
According to the Economist article, the United States is among the top ten-percent of the world’s population when measured as a democracy, no massaging. Yaay!!!
(I can’t figure out how this is a bad thing or that the data can be looked at any other way.)

My previous use of the word ‘random,’ has been read differently than meant, so I shall re-clarify.
In the Economist article, the nations of the world were ‘measured’ in five categories:
1. Electoral process
2. Functioning of government
3. Political participation
4. Political culture
5. Civil liberties
Four of these five categories are unmeasurable… subject to political, religious, etc, beliefs.

Once ‘measured,’ the authors normalized each of the five categories, equally weighted each, divided the scores into fifths, named each fifth, and, most egregious, declared their random choice of demarcation has some sort of significance. Their methods and results are unscientific and flawed. Thumbs down. (Still not saying alternative facts, though…)

A few things

-What does population have to do with democracy? Is there a democracy per unit bonus? Or are you making the argument that we have to spread more democracy around to more people, so of course we can't do it as well as those little countries? Please explain.

-What is your point about random data? Like it or not, the mathiness of the definition of "democracy" might be just a tiny bit less mathy than you had hoped. That does not mean that the data is random. It just means that you don't understand the criteria. It also doesn't mean that the criteria is flawed. It's important to remember, however, that theories don't destroy data, but rather the other way around. If the data doesn't fit your theory, you need to either rethink your theory or understand the data better.

-Even if you discount the report, the data, and the analysis off-hand as you have done, it's not hard to see that we're not so shiny as you claim. Democracy is a form of government that relies on representation of the people, either directly or indirectly. We have chosen an indirect democracy. Let's assume that an indirect democracy, as we have designed it, is equal to any other direct or indirect democracy. Then, let's look at whether it actually represents us. Using 3 very simple criteria, we can easily see that it doesn't. 1. Participation is low and getting lower ( 2. Elected representatives vote by the dollar, not the constituent ( 3. Elected officials conspire to make #1 and #2 worse by manipulating voter access and whether districts represent constituents (

Finally, let's not conflate economic theories, such as capitalism, with political theories, such as democracies as several have done in the comments, arguing both sides. They influence one another, but the flaws (or lack thereof) of one do not necessarily predict the health (or lack thereof) of the other.

Yes we have been flawed...

however our comeuppance is that we portray ourselves as the "shinning city on the hill!" Nobody's buying that anymore which I suspect makes our weaknesses even greater to the people who are not doing well. And now we are being sold the bill of goods about states taking care of their own issues after many have been gerrymandered in one direction. We hear of ridding the plague of regulation and we witness this disaster being put into place at all levels of government. The citizen is beginning to find out they will be even more "on their own" in the game of survival. So earlier I am reading about longetivity increasing almost everywhere in the world with the exception of well you guessed it. American exceptionalism is a crock. Some benefit from the American myth however more and more do not. Tell me if we really are of the independent spirit how can the billionaire in charge take one thin dime for the vast government expenses for he and his to live their elaborate lifestyle ? Seems incongruous to me.

Three points:1. A drop of

Three points:
1. A drop of 0.04 points is minuscule and doesn’t justify fears that our democracy is breaking down.
2. A border between full democracies and flawed ones is arbitrarily and, therefore, meaningless.
3. Please take notice of how homogeneous (not diverse) all the countries above us are…

I don't see '.04' anyplace in the post

Do you mean .07 ("dropped us from 8.05 in 2015 to 7.98 in 2016")?
The underlying question is whether this is an outlier, or whether it represents a trend, which over a decade or a century would be meaningful.
Your second point is a good one -- see my posting above.
As for your third point, it is true that the Scandinavian countries have fairly homogeneous populations (although they have been accepting more refugees than we have.
On the other hand, Canada and New Zealand are both diverse (see Maori's and Japanese in New Zealand. Have you ever been there? Or even walked the streets of Winnipeg or Vancouver?).


Sorry, it is 0.07 – still tiny. And yes, a trend is much more important than a few thousands of change; however, considering that categories are arbitrarily and so are measuring tools, it is also difficult to extract from Economist’s Index. To me, after living for so long in the Soviet Union, the main measure of freedom is if one can come up to the place where the leader of the country lives and openly declare that leader to be an incompetent liar and crook. (A joke in the Soviet Union was that an American and a Soviet citizen argue which country is freer. An American says that he may come next to the White House and shout that Nixon (it is a very old joke) is a crook to which his opponent replies that he may do exactly the same next to Kremlin.) Based on the last several months, we have plenty of freedom. And yes, I know that freedom and democracy are not exactly the same things but still don’t see that as a meaningful difference in our contemporary world. As for my third point, I was in Canada many times (Victoria, Ottawa, Quebec) and did walk the streets and it is not diverse by any means, which impression is, of course, supported by statistical data.

Not exactly

a representative sample of Canadian cities.
Victoria is a little piece of England anchored off of the end of Vancouver. Vancouver itself is a very cosmopolitan city -- much more so than the nearby Seattle.
Quebec (I assume that you mean the city, not the province) is the heart of Francophone Quebec. Montreal would be a much better comparison.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada. Depending upon where you walk, you're as likely to see foreign diplomats as Canadians.

Statistical data from the CIA World Factbook:
Ethnic groups:
Canadian 32.2%, English 19.8%, French 15.5%, Scottish 14.4%, Irish 13.8%, German 9.8%, Italian 4.5%, Chinese 4.5%, North American Indian 4.2%, other 50.9%
note: percentages add up to more than 100% because respondents were able to identify more than one ethnic origin (2011 est.)
English (official) 58.7%, French (official) 22%, Punjabi 1.4%, Italian 1.3%, Spanish 1.3%, German 1.3%, Cantonese 1.2%, Tagalog 1.2%, Arabic 1.1%, other 10.5% (2011 est.)

United States:
Ethnic groups:
white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean persons of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin including those of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, Spanish, and Central or South American origin living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic
English 79.2%, Spanish 12.9%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 3.3%, other 0.9% (2011 est.)
note: data represents the language spoken at home; the US has no official national language, but English has acquired official status in 31 of the 50 states; Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii.

So I'd say that Canada looks more diverse than the United States.

What is diversity

Just for the records, I actually drove through half of Canada (entering at Sault Ste Marie and leaving south of Quebec) so I did see it… Of course all “Canadian 32.2%, English 19.8%, French 15.5%, Scottish 14.4%, Irish 13.8%, German 9.8%, Italian 4.5%” are combined in a category of “white” in America and looks like they together comprise practically all Canadian population – not much of diversity, at least how it is interpreted in America. Minnesota, which has Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Germans, Poles, Irish, Belgians, etc. is not considered very diverse…


It’s amazing to read some posts – everything is always Republican’s fault…If only we can get rid of them and let Democrats force and drag (no, no, wrong words – gently push) us into the bright and perfect future. Why does it sound so familiar to me? Oh, I read it in my “Scientific Communism” textbook.


Equally amazing... Wouldn't we truly have a failed democracy if the half our population who are Right leaning had little influence regarding our government and society.

It seems the people doing the measuring would be happiest if half our population had no voice... That is ironic :-)


One should clearly understand what these folks term use as their fundamental definition of Democracy, and do they apply it fairly, One mans democracy can be another man's autocracy! Suspect we all have a different picture of "Democracy" in our head. To some getting their way no matter the moral cost or technique is all part of democracy, in this world there is something called honesty, principles and ethics. The forefathers warned us, and some folks see those red flags today. Be careful what you wish for.


I am a simple person who likes simple definitions. "democracy: a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives."

I am very interested to see how the Democratic party will change it's goals and message so that they focus on all Americans. From my more centered perspective, they have been ignoring the concerns of many Americans for a long time and it is showing.... It seems inaccurate to blame the system because one party took their eyes off the ball.

I remember reading comments here that the GOP was doomed because of changing demographics, like Race matters more than concepts and platforms... To me this is just a tug of war between big government / wealth transfer folks and the smaller government/ personal property rights folks. And I am sure that flag will keep moving Left and Right.

Anti small d as well as capital D

Nobody suggests half the population lose its voice. Not sure what you mean by "half" -- perhaps higher voter turnout would increase your "half" and if you really believe in the power of your ideas you should welcome tearing down the walls to voting in this country. More people to appreciate the ideas of the right, more votes on the right, right?

No, that is not the likely result. A healthy democracy demands high voter turnout as well as shared values such as belief in a free press. The functioning democratic nations in this study enjoy high voter turnouts -- AND support a version of social democracy. That's why so many on the right wing degrade the fruits of democracy every chance they get.

Oh Please

Most of the country has weak or no voter ID laws. If the typical Democratic voters did not show up, that is because the Democratic party is offering things that do not excite them. How are they going to change this?

Will they double down on raising taxes, growing government, passing more regulations, stoking racial tensions, making it more expensive to operate businesses in the USA, protecting questionable Public Union employees, etc, etc, etc. Or will they learn and improve? It will be interesting to see.

So if there is more evidence needed ...

today was the day. Major press sources shut out of a press interaction at the WH. How can that be justified in a land where fFirst Amendment rights extend to corporations ?

The foundation of a democracy

The foundation of a democracy is the "demos"--the people, considered as a mass of voting citizens who decide freely who will represent their interests in governing the whole polity. It is that voting right, with the necessary freedom of speech and press that informs that voting, that is the sole countervailing force to Big Money in our political and governmental system. Corporations don't vote. Yet.

Giving free speech to large corporations, in the Citizens United ruling at SCOTUS, was a huge blow to democratic values, where the people, not money, should decide our goveernment. When Trump vilifies the free press and falsely claims that everything he disagrees with or that criticizes him is somehow not factual or out of bounds, when his press secretary arbitrarily and without precedent excludes major US news organizations from an official White House press briefing, we have glaring and dangerous dictatorial moves--toward authoritarianism, one-man-rule--rather than the people ruling.

I mean, Trump has even tried to make up numbers of so-called illegal voters (those three- to five-million illegal voters like his own son-in-law who ostensibly ALL voted for Hillary) to pretend that the democratic majority of real people voted for him. We didn't.

But that power of the people's vote is being contested by Trump and his coterie in the White House. His Cabinet of centi-millionaires and billionaires are enhancing Steve Bannon's agenda priorities to diminish the well-being of the masses of people (removing the fiduciary duty requirement from brokers who cheat our seniors out of their retirement money now again, with impunity; eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, defunding the Centers for Disease Control and so many other rights and services, repealing millions of individuals' health care).

What the oligarchy is afraid of is that the people will rise up against oligarchical privilege. That's why the GOP--and it's only the GOP Congresspeople who are having this difficulty--is being faced with new crowds of emboldened voters who oppose repeal of Obamacare and lower taxes for the wealthy (the new tax law proposed grossly, obscenely, benefit the wealthy; take a look at the proposals!). Many GOP Congresspeople don't have the courage to face actual voters and defend how they are diminishing people's well-being to benefit a tiny group at the top of the economic pile.

If all those people stay engaged, they can vote these turkeys out. That's the fear. And that's why, for more than a decade now, the right's major efforts have been toward decreasing the number of people who vote if those people are young, non-white, urban, and poor. It's the vote that makes the democracy, then it's whether the system is being skewed. Our American democracy lately has been the object of skewing, from the Right.

Sadly, the USA very definitely deserves a lower "democracy rating," in the larger sense.

Distrust is the key component

From the report: "Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies."

I think it is lack of trust of each other that is also breaking down. Many Republicans, especially our current president, have fomented this distrust of the other, starting from the bottom,

'radical Islamic terrorists' and Isis,

then illegal immigrants from Mexico, who depress wages, steal jobs Americans want and deserve, bring drugs that destroy our communities and addict our young people, rape and pillage our communities,

then the welfare queens who sit on their butts all day eating chocolate bon bons waiting for their government handout to arrive in the mail while real, hardworking Americans go to work every day and work hard while the welfare queens and kings live lives of luxury.

then the government workers, whose pay comes from hard working taxpayers who deserve to be able to keep their money and spend it the way they decide but have to pay taxes that go to pay for the benefits and salaries of public workers. Public workers are inefficient and lazy. Just ask anyone.

somewhere down here are public union members, otherwise known as teachers, but it's so much easier to vilify union members than it is to vilify teachers.

At some point, we'll all end up in the 'other' group if we're not careful.

I wonder, though if this lack of trust of each other, within communities is due to one of the contributors the report mentions--more women in the workplace rather than weaving a network of community involvement/social networks that allowed a shared sense of purpose. We've lost that big time. Every one for themselves and no one else. It's so much easier to judge the lives of others we don't know than it is to go in search of the truth about what people are really struggling about.

I think we just don't seem to understand how many people seem to believe that the definition of freedom they embrace--freedom to not be forced to purchase health insurance, for instance--means they are giving up other freedoms for themselves and someone else--freedom to go to a doctor when you need to. But they don't seem to understand that there are tradeoffs to freedom and what we have done in this country is to convince ourselves that there are none.

After all, we live in America, land of the free!!

Kaiser Family Foundation Focus Group participant:

"We live in America. For them to come in and say, “You’re going to have your insurance, and if you don’t like it, we’re going to fine you.” I was like, “That ain’t right.” If you don’t want to have something, you shouldn’t have to have it."

What we need to figure out in this country is that freedom from socialism, from shared contribution, shared obligation, shared participation, shared responsibility, is not freedom. Freedom from considering the needs of others imposes a level of oppressive stress, worry, fear and expense that we have, in this country convinced ourselves is an acceptable tradeoff. It is not.

And because we have not figured this out when it comes to health care, we have the most complex, most expensive, least efficient health care system in the world of industrialized, advanced, democratic countries.

Freedom from socialism is oppressive, expensive and stressful. We don't trust each other enough to believe we all deserve freedom from worry and stress and prejudice and discrimination.