Idea of the Day #14
America’s Not So Stable Democracy
Thoughts on different types of government from Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
In Why We’re Polarized, Ezra Klein cites researches with a startling conclusion:
The “vast majority of the stable democracies” in the world were parliamentary regimes, where whoever wins legislative power also wins executive power. America, however, was a presidential democracy: the president is elected separately from the Congress and can often be at odds with it. This system had been tried before. America, worryingly, was the only place where it had survived. — Klein, Ezra. Why We’re Polarized (p. 201). Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
Further, even as we laud the Constitution as a sacred document, we do not force other governments to adopt our own form of democracy when the opportunity presents itself.
It’s striking that even though the US Constitution is treated as a sacred text in America’s political culture, we did not push any of these countries [those defeated in WWII] to adopt our basic framework of government.— Klein, Ezra. Why We’re Polarized (p. 202). Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
All this leads to the troubling conclusion that America is not as stable as we might hope it to be. In fact, Juan Linz, a Spanish political sociologist, suggests it is inherently unstable. As Klein summarizes:
The causes of collapse were often encoded in the architecture of the government: he showed that systems based around an independent president tended to dissolve, as conflicts between the executive and the legislature were often irresolvable, and irresolvable conflicts end in crisis and collapse. — Klein, Ezra. Why We’re Polarized (p. 201). Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
Klein goes on to make many subtle points about the destabilization of our political system, like the presence of the filibuster (in the Senate) and the abolition of earmarks (a common tool to reach across the aisle). But, I’m still stuck on this fundamental point: We are in trouble. If the executive and legislative branches are at odds, our democracy is in trouble.