We are now waking up to American (non)democracy
Updated 17:27, 03-Nov-2021
Keith Lamb
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with then President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 6, 2021. /Getty

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with then President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 6, 2021. /Getty

Editor's note: Keith Lamb is a University of Oxford graduate with an MSc degree in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China's international relations and "socialism with Chinese characteristics." The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

A recent Pew Research Center survey, entitled "What People Around the World Like – and Dislike – About American Society and Politics" released on November 1 shows that there is mass disenchantment with the U.S. democratic system. The survey undertaken in 17 advanced economies, including the U.S., shows that few believe U.S. democracy is a good example for others to follow. Outside the U.S. only 17 percent of respondents see U.S. democracy in such a positive light while within the U.S. up to 72 percent say its democracy has not been a good example recently.  

Clearly, there is a growing consciousness that the procedures of U.S. democracy are not leading to real democratic outcomes. For example, there is nothing democratic about endless U.S. wars, for the benefit of a small elite, and there is nothing democratic about the appalling U.S. health care system, which has led to precipitous COVID-19 casualties.

No wonder, 89 percent of respondents have little faith in U.S. health care while, simultaneously, a total of 71 percent in the 16 non-U.S. publics believe the U.S. military is the best or at least above average. This result represents a tragic, if unconscious, damnation of U.S. democracy because it points to the fact that the U.S. is rigged to work for the minority interests of the profiteers of death and disease who collect rents from war and the sick. When it comes to the U.S. budget, it has all the necessary resources to negate democracy abroad by occupying sovereign states, while it only has crumbs to spare for the basic democratic needs of its citizens.

Of course, former President Donald Trump would likely say that the democratic electoral process, itself, is corrupt but even discounting his claims, no matter how overtly "fair" the U.S. electoral process seems it is nevertheless rigged. Systemically, except for the poor getting poorer, very little changes from one president to the next. For example, even Joe Biden's simple promise of canceling student debt has, so far, come to naught.

Despite reneging on even the simplest democratic pledges, the U.S. never tires of lecturing China on democracy. Indeed, although China is clearly making vast improvements for all its citizens, the U.S. denies that China has any democracy. This contradiction brings to mind President Xi Jinping's comments when discussing China's democracy known as "whole-process people's democracy." Xi said, "Democracy is not an ornament only for decoration, but to be used to address the issues that the people really care about." As such, real democracy has to produce material results, not empty promises.

In the Western sense, China's system does not have elections, but there are constant feedback mechanisms to discern what people think. Often overlooked as a facet of China's democracy are its Five-Year and longer-term plans, which present a bold widespread plan for positive movement that, if achieved, will be advantageous to society as a whole. The democratic process in these plans is at work on three levels. Firstly, there is widespread consultation in their construction; secondly, a measure of what the state should be achieving is created, which leads to producing expectations that hold government to account; thirdly, these plans, if successful, lead to bringing about material change for the benefit of the masses. Without being able to bring about real positive change for the majority, democracy is merely a wishful lie.

The fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress opens at the Great Hall of the People, to review the draft outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) in Beijing, China, March 5, 2021. /Xinhua

The fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress opens at the Great Hall of the People, to review the draft outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) in Beijing, China, March 5, 2021. /Xinhua

These above-mentioned facets of democracy are all missing in the U.S. There are no expectations of positive improvement which explains low voter turnout; U.S. citizens have no concrete measures with which to judge political progress, and unfortunately, U.S. democratic elections have been primarily a process for selecting a head of state who manages the undemocratic status quo rather than for making real material democratic changes.

Within the recent Pew Survey, there were some positive sentiments expressed towards the U.S. For example, the majority of respondents were positive when it came to U.S. technology, entertainment, and its universities. However, I believe even in these sectors there are problems that, thus far, have negated real U.S. democracy.

While it's true that the U.S. entertainment industry produces many cultural wonders, it also dumbs down its citizens by acting as a "circus" to distract the masses and propagandize them into supporting needless wars, as well as accepting poor health care. Indeed, the whole notion of democracy, such as the election process itself, takes on a pantomime character that, at best, could be described as competitive but not democratic.

Then while it's also true that U.S. technology is still first-rate, this technology buttresses U.S. military capacities, which have been undemocratically used. By controlling the heights of information technology, the U.S. has been able, through its soft power, to normalize its unipolar vision, which is inherently a vision of an undemocratic world order. Also, let us not forget that behind the soft "Disney veneer," the U.S. has worked tirelessly to prevent others from competing fairly in high-tech industries, thus preventing a democratic flow of information.

When it comes to U.S. universities, there are many excellent ones but they are elitist and reduce the ordinary U.S. graduates into a state of modern-day debt peonage. Moreover, in the social sciences, sham universities exist, which are used as sources to prop up imperialist disinformation campaigns. For example, Fairfax University produced dubious academic-looking reports on China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. At any rate, academics who express the basic manifest truths that I've mentioned are rare and at best marginalized. As such, the U.S. has an excellent academic system for supporting the undemocratic status quo.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at

Search Trends