November 5, 2018
From the time that the American Constitution was developed, there has been series of
debates on what constitutes democracy. On the one hand, democracy is often viewed as a social
arrangement, and on the other hand, a political system. Further, democracy is often regarded as a
social leveling or the collapse of the legally maintained class hierarchies. In other situations, the
term democracy is often taken to mean self-governance or the institutions that guarantee that
leaders remain responsible to the electoral majorities (Norris, 2011). In light of these
controversies, scholars have attempted to determine to what extent freedom and democracy
should be exercised if the United States is to be regarded as a democratically mature country.
This problem was resurrected In 2016 when Donald Trump was declared the presumptive
Republican nominee for the president of the United States. Consequently, Andrew Sullivan and
Michael Lind have engaged in arguments and counterarguments over the democratic principles
that resulted in the rise of Trump to political prominence.
Sullivan’s and Lind’s Arguments
The rise of Trump has generated urgency to the long-standing worries about the state of
the American democracy. Consequently, two opposing views regarding why he succeeded in
gaining support leading to his Republican nominations, have emerged (Mann, 2016). On the one
hand, Sullivan attributes this concern to democratic excesses. On the other hand, Lind faults
democratic deficit as the main factor that has catapulted Trump to national prominence. These
conflicting views attempt to define a major disagreement among people who seek to diagnose
and remedy the current governance problems that the United States is trying to confront.
In light of the above, Sullivan’s excess democracy argument is premised on the idea that
democratic societies begin to cripple when they become excessively democratic. In order to
safeguard the American democracy from the autocratic majority and the passions of the mob,
Sullivan asserts that the Founding Fathers developed major barriers between the popular will and
the exercise of power (Mann, 2016). Sullivan observes that the Founding Fathers developed an
extended commercial republic that required majorities to be established from coalitions of
minorities through the utilization of a process of accommodation and compromise. This refers to
a representative, and not direct democracy that has popular sovereignty obtained mainly via
indirect mechanisms, leaving the sole responsibility for elections and governance with the
Sullivan asserts that most of the restrictions that are placed on the dominant groups are
likely to reduce over time. This is especially the case during presidential elections. As Mann
(2016) puts it, “This is likely to render the United States with a media that is fueled by feelings,
emotions, as well as narcissism” (p. 1). According to Sullivan, Trump lobbied his followers from
individuals who are ignited by frustrations that boil with fury. Consequently, he could not be
barred by political establishments from clenching.
Michael Lind proposes an opposite argument. According to Lind, the challenge that
affects the American governance system is not an excess of democracy, but a democratic deficit.
To Lind, this deficit is to blame for the emergence of a demagogic backlash (Lind, 2016). For
instance, Lind states that the donor has a throttle hold on the political system by filtering out
candidates with divergent views unless they are movement icons, self-financed billionaires, or
celebrities. The waning voter participation by low-income citizens and less educated Americans
provides the actual electorates with a disproportionate affluent cast. Thus, Lind (2016) argues
that the decision-making process on key issues of significance to voters has shifted influence
from the ballot box from Congress to the corridors of justice, the executive branch, and less
elected institutions such as transnational committees that negotiate trade agreements.
Lind notes that city and county governments have too little freedom from federal and
state governments, thereby limiting the influence that they can have on ordinary citizens.
According to Lind, most Trump voters hold the view that people who like him do not have a lot
of stay. However, these people, together with other voters who feel powerless have much
influence and have the potential to transform the country. Lind supports the view that Trump
rose to fame because the Republican Party was institutionally too strong for a long period of
time, thereby making it easier for political elites to determine who among themselves can lead, a
situation which overlooks the importance of voters (Lind, 2016) For instance, a significant
fraction of the policies that Republicans persuaded, such as lowering taxes on the wealthy,
increasing trade deals, and more immigration and reduced public spending, did not gain much
support from Republican Party voters. This is particularly true for the working-class white
voters, whose socioeconomic statuses failed to improve as pledged by the party. Therefore,
Trump tapped into the opportunity and seized it, not having to show concern regarding the
reactions of the Republican establishment since he had no need for their support.
These conflicting views on democracy are not new. This is because they have always
formed a significant component of the political reform movements from the time of
independence. For instance, they have often manifested themselves during debates between
federalists and anti-federalists and in the early eras of the republic (Lind, 2016). Therefore, the
democratic forces and influences unleashed by the American Revolution overpowered the
republican concerns of most of the farmers in the early decades that followed the ratification of
the Constitution. People consider it difficult to acknowledge the democratic facts that their
present fate rests upon the views and votes of small-souled and largely unreflective ordinary
The Analysis that I Find More Convincing
In my view, Lind’s arguments are more convincing that Sullivan’s. Although the United
States is a mature democracy, citizens rarely have a say on political decision-making process.
They only time that they get to exercise their democratic rights is during the electioneering
periods. The fact that a few people wield immense power over the masses makes it almost
impossible for citizens’ voices to be heard. Moreover, a significant fraction of the American
population never takes part in the voting process. These citizens may have the potential to make
the right political decisions but are never allowed to register for voting. Thus, the ultimate
political decisions that affect people’s lives are often made in increasingly distant and
Although majorities have their way in the voting process, a popular opinion may not be
right. Thus, the majorities should be constrained when it comes to decision-making relating to
fundamental rights and freedoms of other groups of people. Therefore, removing too many
decisions from local and remote governments and from lawmakers who should be accountable to
voters is counterproductive to the democratic ideals that the ‘United States’ founding fathers
advocated for. This environment results in the creation of a democratic deficit that provokes
conflicts and dissents against the system. In view of the above, there is need to remove the
feeling of powerlessness among the electorates that catapults demagogy, hate, and radical groups
(Norris, 2011). This problem can best be confronted by expanding the democratic space in the
United States. For instance, it is important to implement the recommendations made by Lind on
allowing more and more citizens to participate actively in governance and decision-making
processes that directly affect them. This can best be done by expanding democratic institutions.
Lind, M. (2016). Is There Too Much Democracy in America or Too Little? New York Times.
Norris, P. (2011). Democratic Deficits: Rising aspirations, negative news, or failing
performance . New York: Cambridge University Press
Mann, T.E. (2016). Too much or too little democracy? Some reflections on Democracy for
Realists. Center for Effective Public Management.