You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America

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And despite tough talk from some principals and official Defense Department documents regarding Russia, the president seems determined to continue friendly relations and carve out solo quality time with Putin. Moreover, even if geostrategic competition with Russia and China does become a more dominant orientation of U. Such competition may intensify the lingering Cold War habit in which the United States becomes more forgiving of undemocratic allies for the sake of maintaining security partnerships.

Despite the lack of commitment to democracy support at the high policy level, the main elements of U. In numerous countries, U.

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In Cambodia, for example, the U. In addition, over the past year, the interagency has launched implementation of the Global Magnitsky Act, passed in late , to sanction dozens of corrupt actors and human rights abusers in places ranging from Nicaragua and South Sudan to the Gambia and Myanmar—though advocates argue that more should be done.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sanctions targeting regime allies under the Magnitsky Act and other statutes, combined with diplomatic pressure from the United States and other international actors, proved crucial in discouraging President Joseph Kabila from unconstitutionally seeking a third term—although the election still faces considerable risks. In parallel to this diplomatic work, U. In Ethiopia, as the new leadership has signaled a democratic opening and lifted a state of emergency, U.

Even beyond the higher-profile focus on free and fair electoral events, the United States remains active in supporting political party development, bolstering the rule of law, enhancing civil society, reforming legislatures, strengthening democratic local government, and helping independent media survive. Notably, democracy assistance budgets have remained steady during the Trump administration. Yet a stalwart bipartisan coalition of congressional leadership has been able to protect democracy assistance.

And beyond the explicit democracy assistance sector, economic growth compacts from the Millennium Challenge Corporation still incentivize democratic reform by weighing democratic rights and control of corruption in country selection processes. Overall then, the schism between high policy and low policy relating to democracy support has become even more stark in the second year of the Trump presidency.

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When writing about the emergence of this divergence last year, Thomas Carothers noted that if it were to continue—and widen—then over time the gap likely would corrode low policy efforts to support democracy abroad, despite the best efforts of dedicated diplomats and aid practitioners. In the realm of pro-democracy diplomacy, this corrosion has undercut specific midlevel diplomatic efforts to push back against strongman leaders. Such weakening often occurs when Trump personally praises or embraces the autocrat in question. After taking power through a coup, the ruling military general—turned—prime minister has repeatedly pushed back an election date , while cracking down on dissent and press freedoms.

America Is Not a Democracy

Beyond personal embraces of strongmen, Trump undercuts pro-democracy diplomacy when he indicates support for their broader autocratic actions. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen almost certainly discounts the pushback against his crackdown that he receives from U.

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Trump has also presided over decay in the institutional structures of U. Previous secretary of state Rex Tillerson oversaw an exodus of senior and midlevel diplomats and general suppression of diplomatic energy, leaving the department with no U. Secretary Pompeo has begun to reverse this decay, including by nominating a DRL assistant secretary and reembracing special envoy positions to add senior diplomatic bandwidth.

But a full renovation will take years. At the National Security Council, the Trump-era elimination of the Development and Democracy Directorate, and the senior director role that led the office, has removed key champions for democracy-related considerations within the interagency decisionmaking process.

The schism between high and low policy is also corroding democracy aid. Although Congress has protected democracy assistance budgets thus far, the president himself has made clear that he would like to dismantle them. All organizations engaged in democracy assistance that depend primarily upon U. For practitioners, who understand that fostering democracy is a process, not a onetime event, this lack of predictability poses real challenges to their long-term efforts to effectively cultivate democratic institutions.

Beyond budget uncertainty, the lack of high policy support damages democracy aid in other ways. For example, U.

America Is Not a Democracy - The Atlantic

The same is true for initiatives to support the rule of law, freedom of the press, political tolerance, and other values that Trump regularly tramples. Through global initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership and the Community of Democracies, as well as country-specific endeavors, U. Over several decades, active partnerships with like-minded countries have enhanced U. Natural partners for U. Shortcomings of U. During the George W. Bush presidency, the emergence of counterterrorism as a dominant U.

Yet the sidelining of democracy concerns under President Trump, together with his damage to the U. Trump and his top advisers are highly unlikely to shift the substance, or messaging, of U. With renovation of U. This cohort includes the long-dedicated democracy support constituency within the executive branch, legislative branch, and advocacy and philanthropic communities. Priorities include the following:. But building democracy is a generations-long endeavor, whether at home or abroad, and democracy practitioners know well the imperative of taking the long view.

The task immediately ahead is policy survival; policy renovation is a project for some later time. For now, if the United States is to remain a player in the global democracy space, the concerned community must redouble its efforts to preserve what remains, encourage other long-time pro-democractic actors to step up, and identify ways to bring in new partners to this mission. Follow the conversation— Sign up to receive email updates when comments are posted to this article. I found the portrayal of the schism between higher and lower elements of the foreign policy apparatus of particular interest.

This amounts to support of Trump's contention that there is an unelected and thus radically undemocratic bureaucracy pursuing its own policies in blatant disregard of direction from the top, i. So What? The US are the U. A: Sirs and Madams! Unless this isn't understood: that does not even astonish me. Who else Does Have that Clout among the Leaders around? Yes democracy is in danger in the U. Year after years, they have let their politics free to do whatever they wanted, without challenging anything done.

The system is slowly dismantled and honestly without "the people" to really care at all, unless they are personally impacted directly.

Even maybe were they complicit in letting their leaders break the machine for short term profits when possible ex: tax cuts, deficit, pollution Which indeed actually makes sense from a "cultural" point of view capitalistic self serving attitude - instant gratification - business over morality. The reason of voices starting timidly to raise in the background of the country is because of the repercussions of the past actions start to be sensible.

I do not believe "the people" care too much about their "democracy" - but more that they want delivered raises, growth, etc When do those people start whispering? Maybe when they don't get their paychecks government shutdown?. And YET it is not good reason enough apparently to be on a serious strike or quit. Just nicely go to work for free until it ends. And why would the others care? The people actually believe it and REFUSE to make the effort to give a shot to someone else than the 2 suggested candidates.

It has existed for many years. Congress is now belatedly reviewing it. Yet, once issued, such orders are rarely overturned. After numerous legal challenges, the supreme court upheld the travel ban. Many were shocked to discover that a US president could issue diktats and fatwas like the worst kind of unelected despot or ayatollah. But the use of such orders, avoiding public scrutiny, is long-established.

In exercising this arbitrary power, Trump is following precedent , however undemocratic. This may be one reason why Americans, according to polling going back decades, exhibit a consistently low opinion of Congress. But there are many others. The dominant two-party system, virulent partisanship and out-of-touch politicians are blamed for chronic failures of governance.

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The advantages conferred by incumbency are overwhelming; most members are repeatedly re-elected, reducing democratic choice. In terms of the presidency — the second constitutional pillar — systemic problems produce even greater anomalies. Trump was the fifth president to win office despite losing the popular vote , thanks to the archaic, unaccountably unreformed electoral college process. Members of Congress are widely viewed as overly beholden to corporations, wealthy donors and special interests.

In other words, they are seen as corrupt. The sums involved in greasing the wheels of US democracy are indeed eye-watering. The need for such huge war chests effectively excludes many would-be candidates from the democratic process and places others in hock to their financial backers. Again, worries over excessive, non-transparent or illegal campaign financing long precede Trump. Despite many reform efforts, a growing proportion of funding comes from anonymous sources. Mounting evidence of Russian influence-peddling and meddling has added to the sense of a gathering crisis of democracy.

Russians have been seeking to undermine US democracy since US intelligence chiefs agree. How would he react? This is unknown, scary territory. It seems unlikely. In nominating a prominent conservative, Brett Kavanaugh , for the latest court vacancy, Trump followed recent practice in shaping the court to suit his political outlook.