Is the U.S. the best democracy if it still retains remnants of a monarchical system?

Allan BonnerRecent commentary on U.S. cable talk shows emphasizes that no one is above the law, echoing the historical sentiment that the U.S. got rid of King George III because they didn’t want anyone to wield monarchical power. These discussions often touch on themes of American exceptionalism, celebrating the country as the first, longest-standing, and best democracy.

However, reality checks reveal that many people are, in fact, above the law or have their own special laws – such as the police, self-regulating professions, and others. Moreover, there are older democracies than the U.S., and some arguably function better.

Considering the King/President analogy, Americans keep their political titles almost as if they were hereditary. Donald Trump is a rare exception to this pattern. The president combines the roles of head of state and head of government, functioning both as a trench warfare politician and an aloof ceremonial figure. Presidential speeches often resemble the King’s Christmas message, filled with supercilious, baroque language, making it challenging for voters to discern the key ballot box issues.

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After President Joe Biden’s poor performance in a debate, one cable network tried to balance the scales with a headline noting Trump’s lies and Biden’s stumbles. It took days before there was any candid discussion about Biden potentially stepping down in favour of another nominee.

This practical political discourse is laced with pompous language about Biden’s public service, dignity, feelings, family, and other reverential nonsense. In contrast, when a prime minister in the Westminster system has to go – they go. When a head of government loses a vote on a money bill, the government falls, and an election is called. When caucus members want the leader to resign – they do so quickly. The great Margaret Thatcher, for instance, was ousted in a matter of weeks.

In addition to the unwarranted reverence for the head of state and government, there’s the flawed U.S. political system. What happened to the “throw the bums out” democratic tradition? Americans can’t easily get rid of their president without undergoing a messy, political, and often ineffective impeachment process.

The nomination process is also problematic. It’s so prolonged that a candidate who leads in the primaries may be hopeless by the time the general election arrives 10 months later. A leader who appeals in the primaries may not resonate with the general electorate. Biden’s situation showcases a rigid political system that fails to adapt to changing circumstances. He is the presumptive nominee, and that’s as sophisticated as the realpolitik discussion gets. He is who he is.

Both Democrats and Republicans are hampered by their primary systems, which feature different rules in different states, and their convention rules. Democrats, in particular, have swung from picking candidates in smoke-filled rooms dominated by party elders and power brokers to empowering ordinary delegates and then to “super” delegates, mainly elected officials. No system is perfect; all have flaws.

The biggest flaw in the U.S. system is the inability to reconsider a flawed candidacy or one that looked promising months before the convention but no longer does. Otherwise, why have a convention? Americans must admit they still retain remnants of a monarchical system, their system is not exceptional, and they might find some aspects of the Westminster system attractive – for instance, its democratic elements.

Allan Bonner was the first North American to be awarded an MSc in Risk, Crisis, and Disaster Management. He trained in England and has worked in the field on five continents for 35 years. His latest book is Emergency! – a monograph with 13 other authors on the many crises that occurred during the pandemic.

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