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The US is the world's most dysfunctional major democracy

The US is the world's most dysfunctional major democracy
Trump's increasingly popular rhetorics is a risk for American democracy | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. I want to talk about US elections and democracy.

This has been the year 2024 of elections all over the world. And most of them are going just fine. I mean, pretty much almost all of them. Okay, Russia is not a democracy. So you shouldn't really talk about elections because it's not like the people actually have a choice. It's Putin or it's Putin. But everywhere else, we've had elections that are free and fair and peaceful, and they've led to stable transitions, whether they're voting people out, or whether they're clipping their power or whether they're doubling down on them. And that's been true in Indonesia and Mexico and South Africa, India, the European Parliament. And soon it will be true in the coming weeks, first in France and in the United Kingdom. So it's not like democracy all over the world is in crisis or is about to fall apart. It's not like most countries can't have normal elections.

But the United States is an outlier. it's of course, the most powerful country in the world, but it's also the most dysfunctional major democracy. It's a democracy in crisis, and it's getting worse. In 2020, of course, there was an election that was very seriously contested. Former President Trump claimed the vote was rigged. It wasn't. But he continues to push forward that narrative. And it has been supported by pretty much the entire Republican Party leadership because he's in charge of the party and as a consequences believed by a strong majority of Republican voters. That is unique among advanced industrial democracies.

And indeed, you see Trump continuing to say the only way the election could be legitimate this time around is if he wins. If he loses, it's obviously rigged. That's clearly problematic for a former president and a presidential candidate in a democracy. But it's worse than that because this time around, you have questions of legitimacy that are beyond the vote, but about the nature of the election itself. Trump's view, whether he believes it or not, is sort of immaterial, but certainly it's what he is promoting, is that the indictments against him, the criminal cases against him, now the 34 convictions against him are politicized by the Democratic Party, by President Biden to make it impossible for him to win a legitimate election. In other words, using the political power of the incumbent party and leadership to delegitimize the election.

That's what he's saying. Again, it's not true, but to the extent that that is the case that implies that, if Trump loses, it's not just because of a rigged vote, it's because of a rigged system. It's because, you know, he was undermined by these illegitimate cases, by the criminalization of the entire judiciary, the capture of the one branch of government by another branch of government, and it's politicization. So that that's the way that Trump is running, Biden is running, saying that Trump is a clear and present danger to democracy, that the country could become authoritarian, that you could lose your democracy if he becomes president. So everything is at stake.

And also the fact that he has been impeached twice, the fact that he has faced these indictments, including convictions, means that he is illegitimate, shouldn't be allowed to run for president, never mind be elected president. That is the Democratic view that Trump is not legitimate as a candidate. So it goes beyond who wins the vote.

It's the reality that Trump and Biden are now portraying the other as illegitimate in terms of the way that the election is being conducted itself. The very reality of a democratic election in that regard no longer holds for the messaging coming from the Democratic and Republican leadership. So is this about Trump? And the answer is only partially, he is a major symptom of the dysfunction and the crisis that US democracy is presently facing.

But it is also very important to recognize a deeper problem, which is that, many Americans believe that their country, my country, is no longer a representative democracy. That powerful, moneyed, special interests, across the board, whether we talk about the defense complex or, pharmaceutical companies or big finance or, you name it, the NRA or the teachers lobby or the police lobby or you name it, that powerful interests are able to capture the political system policies, the regulatory system, and ensure that government does not reflect the interests of the average American.

And it is true that the US is far more captured by special interests. And you see this with the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court. You see this with the ungodly amount of money that goes into campaigning for American elections from the presidency all the way down to the House of Representatives. You see this across the board in the way policy can and cannot be made in the United States.

And this is why you have people talking about a uniparty or the blob in foreign policy or even the deep state. And a lot of this is conspiracy theory, and it's certainly not true that there was a shadowy group of people that are actually forming, you know, sort of policy and controlling the president. But the reality, in a sense, is more disturbing than that. It is that the system is so structurally weak and so controlled by money and power of people that are not voted for office that it feels like an non-representative, non-democracy to large numbers of Americans who no longer share the values that America was founded on. They don't see that the country reflects that.

And to the extent the US is unique among G7 countries in being unrepresentative in governance of its people, you see a lot of that in Trump support, that people out there want someone who is angering the establishment, angering the mainstream media, someone that says he's going to break the system, he's going to bring a corrupt system to heel. And certainly you see a little bit of that in Trump's stated policies, like on wanting to end wars, for example, and why Trump doesn't support free trade and instead wants more subsidy, more industrial policy in the US, Trump's China policy, which precedes Biden's China policy but is largely similar, focused much more on that. But of course, it's also true that Trump's “drain the swamp” mantra only makes sense if you don't look at a lot of Trump's domestic policies.

I mean, Trump was the leader in my life who was most aligned to ensuring that rich people get richer, was most aligned with big finance and hedge funds and major corporations and big oil and fast food and manufacturing and, you know, pro-dumping all of these things. I mean, you look at his cabinet with Sonny Perdue as the secretary of agriculture, and Elizabeth DeVos as the secretary of education, and on and on and energy and treasury and you name it.

What you see the reality of Trump's cabinet was the swampiest, of pro special interests, pro very powerful people. And that's why Trump was so welcomed when the Business Council last week invited him to go and speak, as soon as he said yes, (and Biden was invited too, didn't make it, sent an representative), immediately far more CEOs, went to watch. Why? I mean, one, because they want to make sure that they're connected with someone who can be president. But two, because a lot of Trump's policies, will benefit the wealthiest and the most powerful people in the country. And so in that regard, you know, Trump can throw things like, you know, build the wall, identity politics, anti-DEI. But the reality is that the most powerful will do the best, at least in the short term. Under a Trump administration, that's the revealed preference we've seen, with the alignment that he has with those that give the big money.

So, anyway, that is a little bit for me, a little bit of the state of democracy is challenged as it is. I'm not looking forward to this election, in part because it's horrible to see your country go through this identity crisis and not align itself with the values that I think a lot of people around the world, and a lot of people in the US would like to see America do a better job with. That's it for me, and I'll talk to you all real soon.


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