Ironies of American democracy – The Greatest Democracy and the Most Freedom

Meta note:

This post has almost no research at all. I did read the wikipedia pages about separation of church in state in the US and in New Zealand
It’s more an intuitive impresion. Is that an acceptable thing in this post-truth society?
It would be good to do some research and put a bit more detail into my claims.

A lot of Americans have the idea that America has the greatest democracy in the world, the most freedom, and that other countries are jealous of this freedom.

Let’s be fair to Americans and acknowledge that at some point, this might have been true. The American democracy is one of the worlds oldest democracies after all.


There are glaring issues in American democracy:

  • Rampant gerrymandering.
  • It’s a first past the post system. Proportional representation is common throughout the rest of the world.
  • There appears to political dynasties: eg. The Kennedys, The Bushes, The Clintons.


The US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Religious freedom

The separation of church and state is often touted tenant of American democracy, and makes up a part of its constitution – in the first amendment.

New Zealand by contrast, doesn’t have a so explicitly defined separation of church and state; and parliament starts with a Christian prayer.

However, religion isn’t a particularly big factor in New Zealand politics. By contrast, in the US almost all representatives profess to be Christian or Jewish, presumably because there is a considerable political cost if they don’t.

Religion also appears to play a large part in public policy – for example you see the debate about whether creationism should be taught in schools, and abstinence only education.


In New Zealand, abortions aren’t technically legal. They’re not legal except in the case where the mother’s health will suffer. This loophole allows any woman to get an abortion, almost all doctors happy to say that a woman having a baby that she doesn’t want, regardless of reason, would be a detriment to her health.

In the US on the otherhand Roe v Wade establishes the legal right for women to have abortions, but then you see states putting up all sorts of barriers that make it far harder to get an abortion in the certain parts of the US, than it is in New Zealand.

A justified cynicism as a result of the 2016 US election.

Without pretending that any democratic system is perfect and involves all parties working in what they perceive as the best interests for the country, I think many of us believe that while flawed, democratic systems make slow progress toward a better society.

During Obama’s presidency, we’ve seen cynical attempts by the Republicans to disrupt progress, notably:

  • The government shutdown in order to try stop Obamacare.
  • Refusing to give Merrick Garland a hearing.

Before the result of the election, my opinion was that ‘Yes, these are cynical ploys, but they’re not going to work. Hillary is going to win, and Merrick Garland will be confirmed, and the Republicans will lose credibility’.

But the Republican refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing has worked. Merrick Garland will not be confirmed, and now that Supreme Court Justice pick gets to be chosen by Donald Trump.

This fills me with a deep sense of cynicism; these underhanded and cynical tactics apparently do work. 

What are the Democrats likely to do in response during the next four years? Will they similarly use these tactics?

If I’m to retain a thread of optimism, it would be that that the Republican tactics did work, demonstrates a hole in the system that needs to be patched, presumably next time the Democrats control the house.