This year has been an enlightening one. First with Brexit and now Trump. The ‘popular’ view conceded to the majority view and people have been left wondering how this could happen. There are two answers: first, to the Brexiteers delight there were people who voted in their favour but did not believe their vote could count. These individuals were surprised that their vote would actually cause the disintegration of EU relations and kill free travel to Ibiza. Second, there are people who wanted to make Britain great again, reminiscent of imperial days where the EU did not meddle in it’s affairs. In both instances, views represented the values of the majority through a democratic process. Perhaps there are strong parallels in the US election result. Did democracy fail?
According a Stanford University definition, democracy is:
1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
Looking at both the US and British cases, Democracy did what it is meant to. The majority chose Trump. I believe democracy has been given a burden that is too great for it to bear. Democracy is meant to do the “right thing”. Democracy is meant to sustain what elites might view as the correct order of things and it is meant to fix the problems in other nations. Democracy is meant to confirm the populist view and keep all opposing views at bay. Democracy should serve people who are “always right” and continue to keep those on the “margin” disenfranchised. This incredibly clique-ish democracy is a tool for personal interests and not to serve citizens in a stable democracy.
Coming from an African perspective, higher up the social order, democracy is a goal and a condition for development. It is meant to influence growth and ensure the rights of the people are upheld. Democracy and modernity are bedfellows, which is the ideal. There is an inference that democracy should mean the world to all those who have yet to achieve a stable democracy. We should want it bad enough to fight for it but democracy has a different face in different places.
There have been some great presidents but democracy has delivered some duds I must say. Democracy has been disappointing. Yes there is election rigging that is no fault of democracy. However, there is vote buying, black market trading of the vote. In some parts it means very little to be able to have your voice heard through the vote. Some people do not have that romantic view of democracy. It is just another part of the system they have to adopt, another language they have to learn.
Democracy has not failed those who hold that view either. It has not delivered the optimum results because of the conditions it has to operate in. Stanford University highlights these requirements and even still, these do not guarantee democracy can perform the job it has been asked to do.
Perhaps we are asking too much of democracy.
1. We want it work for our views and our values (only)
2. We want it to work for our country and make everything better
3. We want it to work for other countries and make them more like us
4. We want it to produce only the best candidates (according to us) for democratic elections
5. We want it to not allow people to sell their vote for essentials or campaign promises
6. We want it to perform miracles
7. We want it to be perfect
There is more we ask of democracy that I don’t think alone it can deliver. Democracy is working perfectly fine, we just have to fix our view of it.
Delia Majongwe is a second year MPA student at the LSE.