August 21, 2022

The American Dream and Democracy in Doldrums

B Arjun

AMERICAN democracy is in the doldrums. The bipartisan functioning of the American system is in shambles. Its marred by a new phase of internal conflict and political violence. In the aftermath of the attack on US congressman, Lee Zeldin, the government has granted lawmakers $10,000 to beef up security at their homes.

A few weeks ago, Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was subjected to harassment by a man who stood outside her house shouting racist slogans and threatening to kill her. Earlier a man was arrested for planning to kill the supreme court judge, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The members of the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection are being increasingly targeted. One member of the committee, Republican Adam Kinzinger, was delivered a letter that threatened to execute Kinzinger, his wife and their newborn son. The cases of intimidation against the election administration officials and poll workers are also on the rise.


The primary reason for the pathetic health of American democracy and the dismal state of harmony in American society is the Republicans' reticence against surging white supremacism. The Trump-induced polarisation over the past decade has boosted majoritarianism and enfeebled the basic tenets of liberal democracy. The problem is accentuated by the fact that the acceptance of violence has not only grown among the political elite but also among the public.

According to Brookings report In February 2021, 39 per cent of Republicans, 31 per cent of Independents, and 17 per cent of Democrats agreed that if elected, leaders will not protectAmerica, the people must do itthemselves, even if itrequires violent actions.” In November, 30 per cent of Republicans, 17 per cent of Independents, and 11 per cent of Democrats agreed that they might have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

The idea of democracy was one of the main pillars of American soft power during the Cold War. ‘The Soviet Union was authoritarian and totalitarian while America was the paragon of freedom’. The American middle and working classes are yet to fully recover from the devastation caused by the 2008 financial meltdown. Inequality, poverty, gun-related violence, and mass shooting have all combined to kill the so-called American dreamand make the China model attractive and worth emulating.


According to foreign affairs, the US share of the global GDP has declined from 50 per cent in 1950 to 14 per cent in 2018. On the other hand, the Chinese share of global GDP has catapulted to 18 per cent. The US is no longer the sole determinant of technological advances in the world, China has surged ahead in the R &D(Research and Development) arena as well. According to Manoj Joshi, Between 2001 and 2018, China provided loans worth US$ 126 billion to African countries and invested US$ 41 billion. While the US has been trying to match the Chinese, it has little to show for it as of now. The latest proposals of the G7 to unleash US$ 600 billion remain only on paper.”

America spends roughly $ 700 billion on defence.  However, this humongous amount of money, ostensibly to make America safe, is hardly achieving its purpose.  The military extravagance virtually takes food out of the mouths of children to feed the maw of the military-industrial complex and the never-ending wars that go with it. Even before the pandemic, more than 10 per cent of US families regularly experienced food insecurity. Now, its a quarter of the population.” Gross economic inequality; over-spending on military expansion; political corruption; deep cultural and political fissures are working towards making it difficult for America to retain its primacy.

The trends clearly indicate that China is gradually pacing ahead to replace the US as the number one power in the world in all three dimensions - military, economic and financial. Forging elite networks is what China currently lacks. However, as the American influence over global supply chains and trade routes declines, its power to forge elite networks across the globe will concomitantly plummet. Disruption in these networks through which America exports hegemonic ideas will lead to strengthening the counter-hegemonic ideas and forces that will severely hamper the sustenance of the American empire in the coming decades.  The US intelligence complex will also get effective when alternatively networks begin to come up. 


What is troubling America most is the gradual decline of the dollar as the reserve currency. Although the dollar continues to be the dominant player in global trade, international debt, and non-bank borrowing, the reality is that central banks arent holding the greenback in their reserves to the extent that they once did.” According to the IMF, the dollars share of global foreign-exchange reserves fell below 59 per cent in the final quarter of last year, extending a two-decade decline.” Take, for example, the Bank of Israel recently decided to bring the share of US dollars in its reserves and increase the portfolios allocations to the Australian dollar, Canadian dollar, Chinese renminbi and Japanese yen.

The sanctions against Russia, the exclusion of selected Russian banks out of the Swift payments system and the freezing of the assets of Russias central bank, have led to increased calls for an alternative holding. With the increasing weaponisation of the US dollar, the world is asking, if your dollar-based central bank reserves can be frozen at the whims and fancy of the Pentagon then where is the point in holding them. Therefore, more and more countries are thinking of having their reserves outside the dollar-based financial system.

Currently, Renminbi markets are limited in terms of liquidity and accessibility. So, neither renminbi nor any other alternative hegemonic currency has emerged to replace the dollar but the process of splintering the dollar-based financial system has begun.

American democracy is backsliding towards failure. And that is the biggest reason for dwindling American power. The informal norms that guide the conduct of the institutions - The Congress, the Courts, the bureaucracy, and the press - were significantly enfeebled during the Trump regime.  The decline of democracy and growth of violence is symptomatic of the overall decline of the American global power. The Empire is crumbling from within and is unable to keep control of the internal fissures. As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858, A house divided against itself cannot stand.”