There are many partisan responses to this question. Of course, internationally, the United States is regarded by many people to be the gold standard of what constitutes a democracy (perhaps because the US was the first nation that was born out of a successful revolution against an existing dictatorship and that quickly produced a written Constitution, which endorses many democratic principles and which lasts proudly till the present day). However, that reputation is not a substantive answer to the question as to whether the United States is today a democracy. There are dictatorships that have democratic written constitutions. Furthermore, the way that a constitution is enforced or not enforced can determine whether or not the nation’s constitution is real or whether it’s instead more of a mere formality than a reality.
Internally within the US, many people respond to this question about whether America is a “democracy” on the basis of their own political party, regarding whether or not the Democratic Party happens to be in power. Many Americans confuse a party’s name with the ideology that it’s supposed to adhere to. Many Republicans therefore respond to the question of whether the US is a “democracy” by saying “America is a republic, not a democracy,” as if those two terms — the bases, respectively, for the Republican and Democratic Parties — were ideologically opposed to each other (as those two Parties always have been, but now they represent only two different factions of America’s aristocracy; neither of them represents the public, any longer). The actual question here is whether either Party does represent the public — and the answer to that is no.
However, almost every democracy is also a republic, and many republics are also democracies. A republic can be of any kind — some are democratic, but others are dictatorial. So: that response (“It’s a republic, not a democracy”) is actually even irrelevant. It begs the issue. The real question here is: Is the US a democracy, or is it instead a dictatorship? (This intentional confusion of terms is also commonly done with the word “socialism”: that, too, can be either of the democratic type, such as in Sweden, or else of the dictatorial type, such as the Soviet Union was; but, many people in America are brainwashed to think that socialism versus capitalism has something to do with dictatorship versus democracy — and that’s just a big lie on behalf of the biggest capitalists, who are the billionaires, in order to prevent the emergence of democratic socialism here, which no billionaire wants.)
The first time that a scientific answer to this question, of whether the US is a democracy, became published, was in the Fall 2014 issue of Perspectives on Politics. That article subsequently became brilliantly and accurately summarized in a six-minute video. However, even before that article was published, I summarized and described its findings even more briefly in a headline: “America is one-dollar-one-vote, not really one-person-one vote” — and the word for that type of body-politic isn’t that America is a “democracy,” but that it’s an “aristocracy,” or a country that’s ruled by its super-rich. (When it’s the aristocracy in a vassal-nation, it’s instead called an “oligarchy.”) This is what that study and subsequently others have confirmed. America is a dictatorship by its super-rich. That’s now proven as a fact.
However, international statistics also contain a great deal of useful information regarding the extent to which the United States is a democracy, or else is a dictatorship.
Any dictatorship applies a great deal of coercion. Not all of this coercion is against the body; propaganda is instead coercion against the mind — not the body. To deceive is just as much coercion as is to steal or to rob or to shackle or to imprison — the physical forms of coercion. Historically, most dictatorships have employed primarily physical coercions, but more-modern dictatorships rely mainly upon deceiving the public: they rely on lies. For example: the US Government didn’t physically force the American public to support the US military to invade and destroy Iraq, but instead lied (“deceived”) its public into false beliefs about Saddam Hussein, in order to coerce them into doing it. That’s just as much dictatorship as if the Government had physically forced Americans into invading Iraq. It did the job.
And yet the United States Government does apply more of the physical forms of coercion than does any other Government on earth.
First of all, the US Government spends around half of the entire planet’s military expenditures. Although it’s officially only around 30%, that’s being low-balled by such tricks — again deception of the public — as the accounting trick of paying for soldiers’ retirement-benefits directly out of the Treasury Department, instead of from the ‘Defense’ Department, and paying for soldiers’ medical care out of the Veterans’ Administration, instead of from the ‘Defense’ Department. Consequently, around 17% of America’s military expenditures aren’t officially ‘for the military’ — even though other nations include those costs in theirs as being “military.” So, no other nation in the entire world is as militaristic as is the US Government, which has about a thousand military bases around the world. A country like that is an international dictatorship, regardless of whether it’s internally a dictatorship; but, of course, no nation that alone spends half of the entire world’s military budget can possibly be internally democratic — no nation’s population would tolerate it, if they knew about it. This can be done only by deceiving its public.
So: the US is certainly a military dictatorship.
And, finally, no nation that has the world’s highest percentage of its population in prison can reasonably be called a “democracy.” But that country happens to be the United States. Unquestionably, therefore, the US is also a police-state — not only a military dictatorship. And, furthermore, as would be expected under a one-dollar-one-vote (instead of one-person-one-vote) Government, “in 2014 dollars, incarcerated people [in America] had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages.” That’s the bottom line from the first and only study which has yet been done regarding America’s “Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned”. It’s exactly what one would expect to find in any country that’s an aristocracy instead of a democracy. Moreover, wherever huge inequality of incomes exists, there is always far higher inequality of wealth (or “net worth”) than of incomes; and, so, inequality-of-income figures always vastly under-represent the actual economic inequality that exists. In other words: America’s prisoners are generally desperately poor people.
Can anyone who knows the facts call the US a “democracy”? If so, how?
Charles Dickens wrote dramatically about a similar situation during Queen Victoria’s years of England’s domestic and international (or “imperialistic”) aristocratic dictatorship. America, which had waged a Revolutionary War against England to free itself from that one-dollar-one-vote governmental system, is now repeating what England did.
There is lots more empirical data on this question, though not so direct; and all of it fits with America’s being a dictatorship by its super-rich. On 15 April 2013, I headlined “How the US Performs in Recent International Rankings”, and reported that on the basis of numerous independent rankings, the US scored around the bottom of the world’s industrialized countries. Then, I focused in there, on a group of rankings that had just been published by the World Economic Forum. “which ranks 144 countries, on a wide range of factors related to global economic competitiveness”:
The U.S, overall, is very far from being #1 — not really in contention, at all, for the top spot. The individual rankings suggest instead that this nation is sinking towards the Third World. The 15 nations that stand high in most of the lists here are: Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Canada, Qatar, Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, U.K., and Hong Kong.
The nations that generally rank in the bottom half of these WEF rankings are the ones that are typically considered as being “Third World,” or poor.
Some of these rankings related somewhat to democracy-versus-dictatorship — for examples:
On “Judicial Independence,” we are #38. On “Favoritism in Decisions of Government Officials” (otherwise known as governmental “cronyism”), we are #59. On “Organized Crime,” we are #87. On “Ethical Behavior of Firms,” we are #29. On “Reliability of Police Services,” we are #30. On “Transparency of Governmental Policymaking,” we are #56. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Challenging Regulations,” we are #37. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Settling Disputes,” we are #35. On “Burden of Government Regulation,” we are #76. On “Wastefulness of Government Spending,” we are also #76. On “Property Rights” protection (the basic law-and-order measure), we are #42.
Investors evidently find somewhat shaky ground in the US On “Strength of Investor Protection,” we are #5. On “Protection of Minority Shareholders’ Interests,” we are #33. On “Efficacy of Corporate Boards,” we are #23. On “Reliance on Professional Management,” we are #19. On “Strength of Auditing and Reporting Standards,” we are #37.
Years later, on 6 May 2018, I did a similar analysis, but this time comparing the US Government to the Government that America’s billionaires hate the most, and which their media propagandize the most against (when they’re not propagandizing the most against Iran’s Government), which is Russia’s; and it was titled “Russia’s v. America’s Records on Democracy, and on Whistleblowers’ Safety”. The bottom line, on this, too, was that for America’s media to be using such phrases as “the Russian regime,” is, at best, an example of a pot calling the kettle black — it’s sheer propaganda, shamelessly so. (But America’s public get fooled by it.)
The bottom line from all of this is that the US certainly is no gold standard of democracy, and that it really isn’t any democracy at all, except on paper — the Constitution.
Obviously, there is a lot of deception of the American public, in order to be able to pull off all this lying while still retaining a fairly high degree of trust from the citizenry. And that, too (a lying press), is the case — in spades. And, so, there’s a lot of important truth about the US Government which is being hidden from the American public, such as this and this. But perhaps the worst part of it is that what had started, during the Cold War, with the excuse of ‘fighting communism’, turned out to be, as soon as the Soviet Union and its communism and its Warsaw Pact mirror of America’s NATO military alliance all ended in 1991, just pure fakery, which was and still is being done simply in order to conquer the entire world including Russia. That was the coup de grace. After that (the secret continuation, by America’s Government, of the Cold War, after its end on the Soviet side), how could anyone even think that the US is a democracy? It’s clearly not. And everything confirms the findings of the only scientific studies that have been done of whether the US is a democracy — that it simply isn’t. It’s instead the US regime. (For example: see this. Is that from a democracy, or from a regime?).
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.