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Can American Democracy Come Back?

America’s ideals of freedom, democracy, and justice for all may never have been fully realized, but now they are under open attack. Democracy has become rule of, by, and for the few; and justice for all is available to all who are white and can afford it.

NEW YORK – The United States has long held itself up as a bastion of democracy. It has promoted democracy around the world. It fought, at great cost, for democracy against fascism in Europe during World War II. Now the fight has come home.

America’s credentials as a democracy were always slightly blemished. The US was founded as a representative democracy, but only a small fraction of its citizens – mostly white male property owners – were eligible to vote. After the abolition of slavery, the white people of America’s South struggled for nearly a century to keep African-Americans from voting, using poll taxes and literacy tests, for example, to make casting a ballot inaccessible to the poor. Their voting rights were guaranteed nearly a half-century after the enfranchisement of women in 1920.

Democracies rightly constrain majority domination, which is why they enshrine certain basic rights that cannot be denied. But in the US, this has been turned on its head. The minority is dominating the majority, with little regard for their political and economic rights. A majority of Americans want gun control, an increase in the minimum wage, guaranteed access to health insurance, and better regulation of the banks that brought on the 2008 crisis. Yet all of these goals seem unattainable.

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