How Democracy Turned Into Vetocracy In The USA – OpEd


Domestic and foreign developments in America have accelerated the decline of the United States; a trend which has not only made the domestic politics and, consequently, the daily life of the American people undergo tremendous changes, but it has also been effective in the turbulent field of foreign policy and led to various unpleasant consequences for the United States.

Zelensky’s resistance and his insistence on fighting against the invading forces turned the war scene to Russia’s disadvantage; causing the Ukrainians to stand despite the loss of so many lives and money. It also brought the West, suffering from many differences and internal feuds on issues such as Germany’s use of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, under a single flag and made them deliver political and military assistance to Ukraine. Even countries like France and Germany, which had an intermediate position and wanted to preserve Russia’s prestige and not humiliate Putin, no longer found an excuse to sit on the fence and decided to support Ukraine in order not to be compared with Chamberlain, the prime minister of England before World War II, who pursued the policy of appeasement before Hitler.

What has happened in recent decades in the USA society is moving towards domestic and foreign confrontation on a daily basis; as a result, convergence and solidarity, even temporarily, have turned into a far and unreachable purpose. Internal divisions are no longer constrained to race-related issues or bi-partisan rivalry. The USA is now seriously grappling with problems such as immigrants, xenophobia, queerness and heterophobia, the idea of white supremacy, the right to control the body, and opposition to capitalism. These problems are immediately reflected in the US political arena leading to stirring tension in the administration and among ordinary people; as was crystal clear on January 6 Capitol attack.

In recent decades, the seemingly perfect liberal structure has suffered serious complications and problems to the extent that, Francis Fukuyama, has referred to it as “vetocracy” or a government with the right to veto. To put it simply, he means that instead of preventing the complete supremacy of one power over others and blocking the path of dictatorship, the existing monitoring systems have become a tool for stopping other institutions. This situation is particularly striking in relation to the desperation of the executive branch, and the White House needs congressional approval even for its ambassadorial appointments.

Among the 4,000 federal government positions that are available for appointment by a new administration, approximately 1,200 need to be approved by the Senate. Therefore, if a non-favorable congress is in power, which is the case in recent years, it can practically paralyze the administration.  

The interventions of Congress in the work of the executive branch do not end here and include many other cases, amongst them the non-approval of the government’s budget, which can cause the government to shut down.

The interesting point is that in the 80s, these shutdowns lasted only four days in different years, and during two days they lasted only four hours. But the more we go forward, the frequency and number of days of government shutdowns has increased significantly, we have had 29 and 54 shutdowns in the 90s and 2000s respectively.

Thus, it is logical to approve Fukuyama that there is not enough power invested in a single governmental institution in the USA so that it can be able to make decisive and timely decisions and not be subject to permanent vetoes from other institutions; this is definitely considered a severe weakness that has caused the institutions, especially the executive branch, to be disempowered and has wreaked heavy havocs in sensitive situations.

The difference between democracy and vetocracy in the American political structure is quite evident. Democracy is supposed to be a system in which the principle of separation of powers is applied and government institutions perform their duties after being elected by the people for a certain and limited period of time; In addition, based on the principle of separation of powers, the government is divided into three independent branches, each of which has its own task, and while being independent, it must also supervise the performance of other powers. But in the United States, these controls are set up in such a way that none of the forces can act separately from the others under any circumstances. In other words, by applying its unique monitoring and balancing system, known as the check and balance system, the United States has made all three branches dependent on each other in such a way that making any decision without the approval of the other branch has no guarantee or even the possibility of implementation.

According to what was said, which is just a vestige of structural inefficiencies of the United States, it cannot be expected that the people of the United States trust their government and hope to solve their problems. Today, the absolute majority of American citizens believe that their country is in crisis and declining, while a few years ago, the majority of them maintained that their country is at the top of all countries in the world and that American democracy has a great performance. Interestingly, the decrease in trust in the system is not limited to one single group or political faction and includes supporters of all spectrums.

Vetocracy has so far had dire consequences for the United States and is not limited to domestic issues. The case is also true in foreign relations of the United States and has blocked the decision-making process of the president of the United States. For instance, If the President of the United States cannot convince and accompany Congress with his ideas, he will never be able to sign international treaties, because an international treaty is a binding commitment that cannot be implemented without the approval of two-thirds of the members of the US Senate. In addition, any agreement that is approved by the majority of one party in one term of the Senate can be annulled in another term if the majority is held by the rival party. Therefore, not only the rivals of the United States, but even its European allies cannot have the least confidence in the country’s international commitments. This situation has caused the discredit of America at the world level, which has deepened in recent years, especially during Trump’s tenure as president. This situation has caused the discredit of America at the world level, which has deepened in recent years, especially during Trump’s tenure as president.

Vetocracy also bypassed Congress and caused the executive branch to take actions that can be interpreted as bypassing the law or Congress as the legislative body of the United States. This can happen in a wide range of issues, such as changing the names of some international agreements from treaties to other titles that do not require the approval of Congress, as well as attacking other countries under the title of limited military operations that do not require the approval of Congress.

In general, the transformation of American democracy into what Fukuyama calls a vetocracy has caused a lot of damage to the United States in various domestic and foreign fields, which, along with the growing political and social divides, has led to the confrontation of people with each other and with the government. In addition, the political establishment is unable to respond to the demands of the citizens, a sign of the decline of the United States per se.

Greg Pence

Greg Pence is an international studies graduate of University of San Francisco.

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