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America has entered a new era in history in which the democratic system, which has long defined the country and its people, faces its most significant threats. White supremacy, deepening polarization, voter suppression and disenfranchisement, rising income inequality, the decline of government investment in public services, and anti-immigration policies, the rise of ‘unitary executive power’—among others— have weakened the institutional foundations that had previously preserved American democracy. These problems have threatened the breakdown of the democratic system to the rise of “competitive authoritarianism” - a civilian regime in which democracy exists in form but not in substance, due to the recurring abuses of state power. 

One of the main threats to democracy is the expanding wealth divide among upper-income families and lower-income families. From 1980 to 2015 the wealthiest 1% of the population’s incomes grew five times faster than the bottom 90% of the population. Additionally, the top 1% holds more than half of the total nation’s wealth in stocks and mutual funds. The wealth divide in the country also manifests itself across races. Black and Latino’s families are significantly more likely to have “negative” wealth -the value of their debts exceeds the value of their assets-. The average White household has 41 times more wealth than the average Black household and 22 times more wealth than the average Latino Household; in other words, the median Black family in America owns around 2% and the median Latino family owns 4% of the total wealth of the median white family in the country. Wealth disparities in the United States are the widest they have been in the past fifty years leading to drastic economic inequalities—in education, investment, mobility, health, crime, etc.—between citizens. 

In the 2020 presidential election six out of every ten voting-eligible citizens cast their ballot. The rise in turnout was undoubtedly fueled by Trump, an irreconcilable figure in American political history, and the worldwide pandemic. As a response to the health crisis, states issued lockdown and adjusted their voting rules allowing people to mail in their ballot or vote early. Both factors allowed Americans to step up and vote, hitting a century-record of 158.4 million ballots. The high turnout of the election is a testament to democratic resilience in the country, and something that should be celebrated. However, the current threats extend beyond Donald Trump, President Biden, or the election; these conflicts are deeply rooted in American history and will remain crucial issues we must resolve in order to restore and protect American Democracy. 

Another threat is the expansion of presidential power. Executive power has expanded beyond the obligations, outlined in Article II, which entrusts the president to, “take Care that Laws be faithfully executed” which is a constitutional issue. Constitutional powers of the executive allow presidents certain powers such as leading under the role of “commander in chief” of armed services, making treaties with foreign nations, and appointing ambassadors, consoles judges, etc. to the Supreme Court. However, presidents have acquired informal powers such as head of political parties, issuing executive orders and signing statements, bargaining, and persuasion (setting certain priorities for Congress to get their personal agenda through), or leading negotiation agreements with heads of foreign governments without State ratification. Congress lacks the necessary abilities to limit the President’s power allowing for justification of unchecked presidential behavior; this is justified as the Unitary Executive Theory. Over the years US presidents have confirmed the theory: President Bush authorized waterboarding and sleep-depriving prisoners, President Obama ordered military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and President Trump fired a number of inspectors general. 

Another major threat to American democracy—which is also argued to be one of the major causes leading to the increased presidential power—is political polarization. Partisan apathy is deeper and more extensive between the ideological boundaries of Republicans and Democrats than it has been in the past two decades. According to the Pew Research Center, “92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican”. This tribal dynamic created by the “us” vs “them” mentality has increased the distrust, bias, and enmity between Americans which ultimately damages the probabilities of achieving compromise in the legislature and raises the stakes of political conflict. Additionally, political partisanship has transformed congressional institutions: leaders are constrained to the extent that their members do not find negotiated settlements advantageous. 

It is important to consider that the threats to American Democracy go beyond the wealth divide, the increased power of the executive, and political polarization.

In the 2020 election Americans stepped up and voted in record numbers: a testament to democratic resilience. However, we must not deceive ourselves in thinking that Joe Biden’s victory is the end of the contemporary crisis of American Democracy. The threats to our democracy, as mentioned, extend far beyond Donald Trump. Instead, it stems from the convergence of all of the different threats that plague the American system: voter suppression, income inequality, the decline of government spending in public services, the diminishing middle class, anti-immigration policies, etc. Trump’s defeat is a crucial step away from the utter breakdown of democracy; as President Joe Bide put it “democracy has prevailed”. However, the threats to our democracy have remained and will continue; the contentious election will not resolve our disagreements over policy matters, yet bolstering the foundations of democracy—peaceful elections, the rule of law, and roughly implemented voting rights—will make it possible to move forward as a nation and protect our democracy and values from additional harm.