(4) The flawed electoral rules impair fairness and justice
The US presidential election follows the time-honored Electoral College system, where the president and vice president are not elected directly by popular vote, but by the Electoral College consisting of 538 electors. The candidate who achieves a majority of 270 or more electoral votes wins the election. The flaws of such an electoral system are self-evident. First, as the president-elect may not be the winner of the national popular vote, there is a lack of broader representation. Second, as each state gets to decide its own electoral rules, this may create confusion and disorder. Third, the winner-takes-all system exacerbates inequality among states and between political parties. It leads to a huge waste of votes and discourages voter turnout. Voters in "deep blue" and "deep red" states are often neglected, while swing states become disproportionately more important where both parties seek to woo more supporters.
There have been five presidential elections in US history in which the winners of nationwide popular vote were not elected the president. The most recent case was the 2016 presidential election in which Republican candidate Donald Trump won 62.98 million popular votes or 45.9% of the total, while Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won 65.85 million or 48% of popular votes. Although Trump lost the popular vote, he won 304 electoral votes while Clinton secured only 227, which gave Trump his presidency.
Another flaw of the electoral system widely acknowledged by the US public is gerrymandering. In 1812, Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry signed a bill in the interest of his own party, creating in his state an odd-shaped electoral district that was compared to a salamander. Such practice was later called gerrymandering, which refers to an unfair division of electoral districts in favor of a particular party to win as many seats as possible and cement its advantage. The US conducts a census every ten years. Following the completion of the census, redistricting or the redrawing of electoral district boundaries will take place under the principle of maintaining roughly equal population in every voting district while considering demographic shifts. Under the US Constitution, each state legislature has the power to redistrict. This leaves room for the majority party in state legislatures to manipulate the redrawing of electoral districts. Two principal tactics are often used in gerrymandering. One is "packing", i.e. concentrating the opposition party's voters in a few districts, thus giving up these districts to secure the others. The other is "cracking", i.e. splitting up areas where the opposition party's supporters are concentrated and incorporating them into neighboring districts, thus diluting votes for the opposition party.
On 27 September 2021, the Democratic-governed state of Oregon became the first in the country to complete redistricting. Electoral districts firmly in the hands of the Democratic Party have increased from two to four, and swing districts reduced from two to one. This means that the Democratic Party can control 83% of the state's congressional districts with 57% of voters. On the contrary, the Republican-controlled state of Texas, with new electoral district boundaries determined on 25 October 2021, has seen districts held by Republicans grow from 22 to 24 and swing districts shrink from six to one. The Republican Party now occupies 65% of state House seats with just 52.1% of voters.
According to a YouGov poll in August 2021, just 16% of US adult citizens say they think their states' congressional maps would be drawn fairly, while 44% say they think the maps would be drawn unfairly and another 40% of adults say they are unsure if the maps will be fair. As US politics grows more polarized, both the Republican and Democratic parties are seeking to maximize their own interests, and gerrymandering becomes the best approach.
The superdelegate system of the Democratic Party is also an impediment to fair election. The superdelegates include major Democratic leaders, members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic members of Congress, and incumbent Democratic governors, and are seated automatically. The superdelegates may support any candidate they choose or follow the will of the Party leadership without giving any consideration to the wishes of the general public. The late political analyst Mark Plotkin wrote on The Hill that the "Democrats' superdelegate system is unfair and undemocratic", and "the process of eliminating this elitist exercise should immediately begin".
(5) Dysfunctional democracy triggers trust crisis
The American-style democracy is more like a meticulously set up scene in Hollywood movies where a bunch of well-heeled characters publicly pledge commitment to the people, but actually busy themselves with behind-the-scene deals. Political infighting, money politics, and vetocracy make it virtually impossible for quality governance to be delivered as desired by the general public. Americans are increasingly disillusioned with US politics and pessimistic about the American-style democracy.
A Gallup survey in October 2020 shows that only 19% of the Americans surveyed are "very confident" about the presidential election, a record low since the survey was first conducted in 2004. In November 2020, an online Wall Street Journal report argues that the 2020 general election can be seen as the culmination of a two-decade decline in faith in democracy in the US.
According to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only 16% of Americans say democracy is working well or extremely well; 45% think democracy isn't functioning properly, while another 38% say it's working only somewhat well. A Pew Research Center survey finds that just 20% of Americans say they trust the federal government just about always or most of the time.
A Brookings online article in May 2021 indicates that the certification of the 2020 election results by all 50 states still leaves 77% of Republican voters questioning the legitimacy of President Biden's election victory due to allegations of voter fraud. This is the first time such things happen since the 1930s. A CNN poll in September reveals that 56% of Americans think democracy in the US is under attack; 52% reply they are just a little or not at all confident that elections reflect the will of the people; 51% say it's likely that elected officials in the next few years will overturn the results of an election their party did not win.
A 2021 Pew survey conducted among 16,000 adults in 16 advanced economies and 2,500 adults in the US shows that 57% of international respondents and 72% of Americans believe that democracy in the US has not been a good example for others to follow in recent years.
2. Messy and chaotic practices of democracy
That democracy in the US has gone wrong is reflected not only in its system design and general structure, but also in the way it is put into practice. The US is not a straight A student when it comes to democracy, still less a role model for democracy. The gunshots and farce on Capitol Hill have completely revealed what is underneath the gorgeous appearance of the American-style democracy. The death of Black American George Floyd has laid bare the systemic racism that exists in American society for too long, and spurred a deluge of protests rippling throughout the country and even the whole world. While the COVID-19 pandemic remains out of control in the US, the issue of mask-wearing and vaccination has triggered further social division and confrontation. Dividends of economic growth are distributed unfairly, and income growth has stalled for most ordinary people for a long period of time. The American-style democracy can hardly uphold public order and ethics, nor advance public well-being to the fullest.
(1) The Capitol riot that shocks the world
On the afternoon of 6 January 2021, thousands of Americans gathered on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. and stormed the Capitol building in a bid to stop the joint session of the Congress from certifying the newly-elected president. The incident interrupted the transfer of US presidential power, leaving five dead and over 140 injured. It is the worst act of violence in Washington, D.C. since 1814 when the British troops set fire to the White House, and it is the first time in more than 200 years that the Capitol was invaded. Senate Republican leader described it as a "failed insurrection". A scholar from the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) exclaims that the US is not nearly as unique as many Americans believe, and that the Capitol riot should put an end to the notion of American exceptionalism, of an eternal shining city on a hill.
The assault on the Capitol has undermined the three major bedrocks of the American-style democracy. First, "democracy" in the US is not democratic as it claims. The refusal of some US politicians to recognize the election results and their supporters' subsequent violent storming of the Capitol building have severely undercut the credibility of democracy in the US. Second, "freedom" in the US is not free as it claims. Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms suspended the personal accounts of some US politicians, a de facto announcement of their "death on social media". This has bust the myths of "freedom of speech" in the US. Third, the "rule of law" in the US is not bound by the law as it claims. The totally different attitudes taken by US law enforcement agencies toward the "Black Lives Matter" (BLM) protests and the Capitol riot are yet another reminder of the double standards in the US "rule of law".
The assault on the Capitol sent shock waves throughout the international community. While deploring the violence, many people also expressed disappointment at the US. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that what happened in the US Capitol were "disgraceful scenes". French President Emmanuel Macron said that "in one of the world's oldest democracies ... a universal idea – that of ‘one person, one vote' – is undermined." South African President Cyril Ramaphosa commented that it "shook the foundations" of democracy in the US. Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tweeted that the political farce in the US offers much food for thought, and that there is no perfect democracy, especially when it comes to its practices.