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Why So Many Democracies Are Floundering

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We pay too little attention to delivering effective government as a critical democratic value. We are familiar with the threats posed by democratic backsliding and the rise of illiberal forces in several democracies, including the United States. But the most pervasive and perhaps deepest challenge facing virtually all Western democracies today is the political fragmentation of democratic politics.

Political fragmentation is the dispersion of political power into so many different hands and centers of power that it becomes difficult for democratic governments to function effectively.

President Biden has recognized this historic challenge, calling the defining mission of his presidency to be winning the “battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.”

Yet even with unified control of government, the internal divisions of the Democratic Party postponed passage of his bipartisan infrastructure bill for several months and have made it uncertain which parts, if any, of the Build Back Better proposal will be enacted.

When democratic governments seem incapable of delivering on their promises, this failure can lead to alienation, resignation, distrust and withdrawal among many citizens. It can also trigger demands for authoritarian leaders who promise to cut through messy politics. At an even greater extreme, it can lead […]

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