Opinion | ‘Democracy’ is becoming a buzzword. Let’s change how we talk about it.

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President Biden recently stated thatProtecting American democracy” as the president’s “central issue”. In September Based on 13 recent US presidents from both sides issued a joint statement. Press critics say news outlets should adopt a “pro-democracy” approach to covering politics to “confirm our commitment to democratic principles.” Even this newspaper adopted the slogan “Democracy dies in darkness”.

These are wonderful feelings and motivations. But “democracy” is becoming a buzzword. It’s pronounced so frequently and in vague ways, it’s basically a synonym for “good” or “things I agree with.” We need a less general discourse about “saving democracy” and the policies and principles we want to defend and promote.

While democracy has been debated for centuries, Donald Trump’s first campaign spurred increased attention. Controversies about the state of democracy in America and around the world have increased significantly since Trump’s election and have continued to spread since his resignation. This makes sense. Trump’s 2018 Since Trump remains on the political stage (and may become president again), it is entirely appropriate to continue to talk about democracy.

But our discussion of democracy has rarely gone beyond Trump. Activists and even Some experts describe it more. The Electoral College, Senate, and Supreme Court are undemocratic institutions, or at least an obstacle to the United States becoming more democratic. Pre-Trump practices, such as gerrymandering and Billionaires spend a lot To fund campaigns and buy media organizations, they are cast as a threat to democracy. Many also Republican politicians Standing on the side of the former president and conservative ideas As Christian nationalism.

I was part of this trend myself. I use the terms “democratic” and “anti-democratic” more now than I did pre-Trump. I don’t think we’ve been wrong to use these words over and over again for the past eight years. And I strongly object to the idea that this discourse of democracy is flawed simply because it is more critical of Republicans than Democrats. Political violencerejection of election results and other extremism are coming from the right rather than the left.

But I worry that we now have too much vague democracy talk. Part of the problem is that there is no definition of democracy. In general, it is fair to say that democracies regularly schedule elections in which the majority of adults participate. Basic individual rights such as freedom of speech; and a broader ethos in which political power rests ultimately with the people.

That leaves a lot undefined. For example, before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black Americans faced many obstacles to their voting and political rights. So America has only been a democracy for 58 years? Is it undemocratic if a candidate loses the popular vote and is elected president by winning the Electoral College count?

What if “democracy” is not clear? One important approach is to define democracy properly. Many experts think of democracy as a continuum rather than a binary. So not, “Will America remain a democracy?” Instead, he asked, “Is America becoming democratic?” Freedom House, which studies governments around the world, has a list of standards by which it rates countries. It still ranks the United States as “free” (not “partially free” or “not free”). Rebellion of January 6, 2021And other events have caused the organization to lower the United States’ independence score. From 89 in 2017 (on a 100-point scale) to 83 today.

Thomas Zimmer, a professor of history at Georgetown University, argues that what America is arguing about—and what it is in its history—is.How many democracies and for whom?” Our tension is not about whether elections should actually be held, but whether black people in the past and transgender people should have the same rights as others today.

Two leading voices in today’s democracy debate, Harvard University professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their new book “The tyranny of the few“Oh, America.” It will be a multiracial democracy. Or it wouldn’t be a democracy. “Multiple” is an important modifier; Before 1965, neither the United States nor many democracies in the world today had political power among more than one ethnic or racial group.

I often use this approach – more fluid and about democratic discussions. But I’m moving to think that instead of just invoking the word “democracy,” people should define their goals.

For example, I want more majority rule. The United States should elect presidents by the popular vote, not the Electoral College. The Senate should eliminate the filibuster, which allows lawmakers representing minority Americans to periodically thwart the majority view.

I want an electoral system that increases voter power and options. A move towards proportional representation may bring more political parties. Limiting gerrymandering makes our vote more meaningful.

I want a political media that prioritizes truth and accuracy over bipartisanship. I also want a press that clearly supports certain principles, such as trying to make it easier not to vote.

I want more economic and political equality. Since no one wants a billion dollars, and since such wealth will inevitably go to war politics, for example, Elon Musk buying Twitter, it will be difficult to use the platform, so we should raise taxes on them.

To be clear about what I don’t want, Trump’s problem, as president, is that he has tried to stop an independent investigation while pushing for investigations of his political rivals. He refused to accept defeat in the election and instead tried to overturn the results; And for the second time, he plans to fire non-party government officials Replace them with people who are loyal to him.

My favorite list of reforms and policies are what democrats call America “more democratic.” And they argue that Trump’s behavior is “anti-democratic.”

I disagree with that frame. But I fear that many in the anti-Trump camp will call it “democracy” because that term misrepresents them as right and their political opponents wrong. It moves the discussion away from real world policies and practices to an abstract and broadly supported idea (democracy).

We’d better talk openly about the policies and principles we support and oppose. For example, I am generally careful not to withhold any information. But recent attempts by Republican groups to ban books are not necessarily “anti-democratic.” They are trying to keep people from learning evidence-based, morally sound concepts. Many GOP elected officials do not want children to know that racism is often systemic, not just individual bias, but that some people are uncomfortable living according to the gender they were assigned at birth.

Without going into a general discussion about democracy, we need to discuss these ideas and whether it is appropriate to limit their circulation.

Moving from the general to the specifics about “democracy” makes for a more honest debate. It is probably a better political strategy. It is not clear in the abstract that voters do not care about democracy. But this year and the results of the last election, Americans are strongly opposed Banning books, Limiting abortion And Rejection of election results.

If Trump-aligned Republicans take control of the presidency and both houses of Congress next year, they can say they will end American democracy as we know it. But it is easier and perhaps more effective to say they will stop America as we know it – and therefore it must stop.

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