01/12/2013 11:00 am ET Updated Mar 14, 2013

American Democracy No Longer Works as it Has in the Past

In previous discussions, I asserted that our adverse systemic environment and philosophical civil war have negatively impacted American democracy. Now, I want to talk about a different aspect of democratic distemper in potentially dying America.

Some consider the current economic recession as the major obstacle to President Barack Obama's vision for America -- but I see the problem as fundamental degeneration in the historical mixture of people, politics, and government.


In my opinion, the American people are suffering civic depression, the political machinery of American democracy is broken and American national government is not performing satisfactorily.

A Civic Crisis

The most discouraging aspect of contemporary America is that the American people are losing their civic virtue. For decades, cynical notions have been replacing traditional concepts such as trust, responsibility, and participation in public life.

Uncivil Society: Our cynicism has reached far beyond the political arena, infecting our relationships with virtually all institutions of society -- our work, our schools, our churches, the media, sports, anything that smacks of authority and power. In the process, this growing "cyni-culture" seems to be undermining traditional American democracy.

Civic Disconnect: There is obvious disconnect, among a growing proportion of the American people, between their personal, private lives and the public good. Increasingly, we seem to view the broader societal endeavor as irrelevant or contradictory to our own self-interests.

Political Estrangement: Current research demonstrates unfortunately that Americans are moving further away from the political responsibilities of democratic citizenship. As will be shown in my next post, there has been serious decline in our attitude towrd politics and our willingness to participate in the public arena over the past few decades

Broken Political Machinery

Historically, there has existed in America an organic arrangement of political mechanisms -- election campaigns, news media, and political parties -- linking our people with their government. These mechanisms, working together as the political machinery of American democracy, have been critical to the success of our national democratic experiment. However, for several decades now, our political linkage system has suffered disrepair and disrepute. In short, the political machinery of American democracy is broken.

Political Parties: In the first place, our political parties have fallen into disrepair and disrepute. The political party system still dominates American politics, but the two major parties do a poor job of pulling us together or linking the people with their government; instead, they too often serve the interests of partisan hackdom and as conduits of special interest money and influence.

News Media: The mainstream news media likewise have lost their historic role in providing information and ideas to the American people, bringing us together, and mediating/moderating public debate. The people and public officials have figured out how to bypass the traditional press; and what's left today is very little news and even less public dialogue.

Elections: Complementary to the wayward ways of the political parties and news media, our elections too often have become empty and demeaning experiences. Campaigns and elections are held, but public participation and support are declining. Money and nastiness dominate as never before. Voters and candidates are disgusted with each other and the system.

To summarize, the traditional machinery of American politics is increasintly unable to link the American people with their representatives. Obviously, furthermore, these developments are creating serious problems for American government.

Unacceptable Governance

The clearest example and most maligned element of distempered America is its national governance. Broad changes -- especially the deteriorated systemic environment and our philosophical civil war, combined with unhealthy developments among our people and political machinery -- are pressuring American government adversely. Consequently and unarguably, our system of governance has changed significantly, and not for the better, over the past few decades.

A full body of analytic literature demonstrates that American government, particularly American national government, is functioning in unacceptable manner. The case against government -- against our governmental institutions, against our political leaders, and against their collective public performance -- has been made repeatedly during the past decade by practitioners, academicians, and journalists.

Cumulative Distemper

Without doubt, we are experiencing the combined, simultaneous impacts of a constrained systemic environment and philosophical civil war; consequently, our historic magical mix is losing its magic. We are left with the reality that our civic culture is suffering, our political institutions are worn out, and our government is not working very well; in short, American democracy no longer works the way it used to work.

Considering the cumulative distemper of the past several decades, there should be little surprise, as I will discuss in my next post, that the American people may be tiring of their Great Experiment.

(For previous posts in this series, click here.)

Author's Note: This is the ninth in a sixteen-part series of discussions about Election 2012, Barack Obama, and the future of American democracy. This series includes edited, updated material from my book, The Future of American Democracy: A Former Congressman's Unconventional Analysis (2002). I'm grateful to University Press of America for allowing me to borrow from that publication for my discussions on Huffington Post.