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Democratic Deficit in the United States

The democratic deficit in the US includes practices and institutions which insulate government from the public will and accountability.

February 4, 2024

The concept of a "democratic deficit" refers to a situation where democratic institutions or processes fall short of fulfilling the principles of democracy in their practices or outcomes. This can involve a lack of transparency, accountability, representation, or participation within a political system. In the context of the United States, discussions about a democratic deficit often focus on several key areas:

1. Administrative Agencies:  Increasingly partisan administrative agencies have combined executive, legislative, and judicial powers without constitutional basis, facilitating sweeping actions insulated from public preferences, democratic processes, and accountability.  

2. Courts: Partisan judges have at times acted as superlegislators with little public accountability.  Major crises, such as the migration crisis of virtually unrestricted illegal immigration in the United States, the explosion of homeless encampments across the state of California, and substantial dysfunction of the criminal justice system which has often elevated the rights of the criminals above  their victims, follow the decisions of rogue or extreme partisan judges contrary to overwhelming public opinion. 

3. Gerrymandering: The practice of redrawing electoral district boundaries to benefit a particular political party can distort the democratic process by ensuring that one party has a disproportionate advantage in securing legislative seats, often not reflective of the actual distribution of voter preferences.

4. Campaign Finance and Lobbying: The significant influence of money in politics, exacerbated by rulings such as Citizens United v. FEC, has raised concerns about the extent to which wealthy individuals and corporations can exert greater influence over the political process than average citizens, challenging the principle of political equality.

5. Partisan Polarization and Legislative Gridlock: Increasing partisan polarization has led to legislative gridlock, where Congress is often unable to pass significant legislation. This situation can be seen as a democratic deficit when the legislative branch fails to address the needs and preferences of the electorate effectively.

Institutions Working as Designed: The Electoral College and US Senate are often cited by critics as elements  of "democratic deficit." In fact, these institutions are working as designed according to the constitution and provide essential checks and balances. The United States is a republic, not a direct democracy. These institutions were carefully designed by the founders with careful study of history.  They help to protect political minorities from oppression and prevent "mob rule" which has historically occurred in direct democracies without such checks and balances.  

Curiously, critics advocating the abolition of the U.S. Senate and Electoral College overwhelmingly have no problem with the virtually unfettered authority of US administrative agencies or the European Union Commission, which are unelected bodies with little if any responsiveness or accountability to the public.  Strident concerns about the "democratic deficit" regarding institutions of (small-"r") republican government which provide essential checks and balances while neglecting these considerations entirely regarding unelected  agencies has been cited evidence that the critics seek partisan advantage and political power rather than their stated aims.

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