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Facing the Four Structural Threats to US Democracy

During a time of deep political dysfunction in the United States, it is easy to assume that American democracy has gone off the rails, perhaps for good. But if Americans can look past the slow-motion travesty unfolding in Washington, DC, they will find that it is still within their power to effect meaningful change.

BERKELEY – It has been one year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and America’s democratic institutions are clearly under strain. A mere 20% of Americans now trust the federal government to “do the right thing,” while trust in Congress has fallen below 9%.

Among congressional Republicans, in particular, a “take-no-prisoners” extremism is undermining the federal government’s capacity for action, which is precisely what many on the far right want. According to some pessimists, the US Constitution was not designed to address the challenges of a country so sharply divided by income, race, and partisanship.

Yet state and local governments are still trusted by most voters, and they have the power under the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution to strengthen democratic institutions. Already, many states and cities are adopting reforms to encourage political compromise and improve democratic governance. Better yet, some of these reforms have national implications, because they will clean up the process by which members of Congress are elected.