America’s democratic deficit and eroding credibility in global leadership

In his April 2016 article “The End of the American Empire,” Amb Chas Freeman from Brown University’s Watson Institute observed, “The run-up to the 2016 presidential election is providing ongoing evidence that the United States is currently suffering from the political equivalent of a nervous breakdown.”

He noted “America is now in a schizophrenic muddle — able to open fire at perceived enemies, but delusional, distracted, and internally divided to the point of political paralysis…politicians who long asserted that Washington is broken appear to take pride in themselves for finally having broken it.”

It certainly looks that way, with the Republican establishment divided over the nomination of Trump; the DNC rigging the system to coronate Hillary Clinton regardless of popular vote; the demise of the rule of law due to lack of enforcement when politicians violate federal statutes on classified information; poor governance and lack of accountability; the widening trust deficit between the government and the people, and the increasing democratic deficit in the country.

Some states are so disgruntled over the state of the union that the Brexit vote inspired five US independence movements in Texas, California, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Domestic front: state of the (dis)union?

While Americans are familiar with the independent spirit of the Lone Star State and the notion of Texas’s “Texit”, independent movements of other states such as California’s “Calexit” or “Caleavefornia” may surprise them.

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A younger state in the union, California did not become US territory until 1847 as part of the treaty ending the Mexican-American War. However, she is another state with a spirit of rebellion, as manifested in the 1836 “revolution” led by Juan Bautista Alvarado who proclaimed California “a free and sovereign state” from Mexico. The flag of the state in fact still reads “California Republic.”


Now the California National Party and Independent California Party are attempting to register for November under the banner of California independence.

Separatists from these states voiced their displeasure with “an over-bloated bureaucracy that doesn’t know us, doesn’t love us, doesn’t care for us and does not have our best interests at heart,” with New Hampshire’s pro-independence group citing “disregard for the rule of law as embodied in its [US] founding Constitution must inevitably lead to the dissolution of our own once-great nation.”

Secession is illegal in the US without federal permission, and the 1869 Supreme Court case Texas vs. White established that a state cannot leave the union unilaterally. However, with the federal government now seemingly unwilling to uphold or enforce the rule of law, separatists may likewise not feel bound by this legal hurdle.

Nonetheless, secession movements are unlikely to gain momentum, but may serve as effective warnings to the Washington establishment to change course after years of obfuscation, unaccountability, subterfuge, and law evasion.

Since a house divided against itself cannot stand and an unkempt and muddy house needs cleaning, it may be time for America to do some housekeeping — because how the US maintains its house domestically will impact how it will lead the liberal order internationally.

International front: a post-western world (dis)order?

As Charles Kupchan, author of No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn and current NSC senior director for Europe in the Obama White House argued, “our first, second, third and fourth priorities have to be to get our own house in order.”

Speaking at a 2014 forum in London regarding how to manage the transition into a post-western and multi-polar world, Kupchan warned that an EU that is falling apart and a US that is closed for business would be unable to maintain a rules-based international order.

By tending to its own domestic problems first, Kupchan predicts “If our economic and political system snap back, not only will the western model look better in a world in which there is a plurality of options, but we will at least be able to go out there and manage a transition, try to create a new rules based system…even as…we preserve, protect and defend our own liberal order.”

Indeed, currently the western model is looking unattractive, and the endless scandals have damaged US image on the international stage. Not only does US look like a lawless nation with the Justice Department failing to uphold justice when laws are broken over Clinton’s mishandling of national security information, but now foreign governments would be distrustful of sharing intelligence with a US government that is incapable of securing classified information.

This in turn would severely degrade US ability to protect Americans and counter-terrorism and Islamic extremist groups both at home and abroad.

Moreover, the Wikileaks DNC emails confirm suspicions that the Washington establishment consistently undermines democracy and no longer represents the will of the people.

As such when Beltway politicians condemn China, Russia, and other countries as not being democracies and violating a rules-based international order, these accusations ring hollow since the US no longer has standing with its own internal corruption and increasing lawlessness and disorder.

In China, these US scandals fill the news as well as social media, and as one Chinese scholar from a state-owned think tank observed regarding the DNC corruption, “I think Americans should take this as importantly as what Edward Snowden revealed”, and that Americans should call out “not only Hillary but review this ‘money-and-vote’ driven system seriously.”

Realising he’s from China, the scholar continued: “The interesting part is what gives the right to a person under ‘communist dictatorship’ to judge the ‘beacon of democracy’, and Hillary answers it.” The Chinese are tired of America’s double standard and perceived hypocrisy over its own western values.

Hopefully, somehow a new administration would clean house and reverse this political meltdown. But while American voters watch nervously at home, US allies abroad should brace themselves for a bumpy ride in the event an increasingly dysfunctional US leads the world into a new disorder.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a California-based academic and consultant specializing in China-Mediterranean/Middle East relations. She has extensive US government experience working on China security issues, including policy planning at the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and National Security Council--where she also worked on CFIUS cases.
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