Does Democracy Work for America?

Roger McDonald
3 min readSep 8, 2021

Does Democracy work? In America today, are Americans as a people able to sort out the challenges both within our own country and with the rest of the world by means of the systems and processes of government that we have developed over the past 245 years?

We have had our crises before — from the early days of the republic to that greatest of threats, the War Between the States; in the Populist and Progressive eras straddling the turn of the 20th century; in the depths of the great Depression; and in our own times, during the upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s that brought legal equality to the races.

Wherever the pressure was economic — where one group of people was being shortchanged — we seem always to have been able to pull it off. Has democracy as we know it here survived because we always had enough? Even in times of scarcity, when many Americans were suffering economically for whatever reasons, there always seemed to be enough to get by until the political or legal process, and sometimes war, brought relief. America, by and large, has existed over the course of three centuries when tomorrow was surely better economically both for the nation and for “most” people — that is for those who had the franchise to choose.

Has democracy as we know it survived because of our system of checks and balances that arose both through the design of our government and by the role of the “fourth estate” operating under the principles and protections of a free press? Has technology disrupted the process and upended this system? If so, what can be done to ensure our society continues to evolve with democracy and its institutions intact?

Within the context of a free society, the dissemination of information and news historically was the responsibility of people and organizations who had stakes in an orderly evolution from the status quo: the town newspaper publisher who was at the same time a local citizen, the large newspapers of the “fourth estate” with such monikers as “all the news that’s fit to print.” We didn’t need state censorship; our own self-interest guided the debate. Periods of excess — the yellow journalism of the early 20th Century, the “red scare” of the 1920’s, McCarthyism of the 1950’s — passed and, for the most part, wrongs were righted. Splinter groups such as the John Birch Society on the right or the Weather Underground on the left were just that: splinter groups that never had a lasting impact.

Yet, what if advances in technology — the internet in particular — have permanently damaged our ability to take the events of the world, communicate them freely, and still provide a process for consensus and orderly change? In other words, what if our processes of civic debate, political campaigning, legislative decision making, and execution of the law has been overrun and made outmoded by the technology of communication among the electorate? Or what if, in reality, there have been hidden forces, power holders who have manipulated news and events to some unseen agenda: the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in the 1990’s which advocated for the invasion of Iraq; the “financiers of Wall Street,” a group of “hidden hands” who have as their purpose only the desire to control wealth for themselves?

Today as never before Americans have access to any kind of information, news, bias, or worldview that they want simply by turning on the radio, TV, smartphone, or computer. “Facts” are molded to a multitude of agendas and presented instantaneously to anyone who wants to know.

Written while living in China in 2008, this project is an essay on democracy set in the 21st century. My purpose is to unearth and explore the challenges it faces as a social, political, and economic system of managing the social contract.



Roger McDonald

Born and raised by the ocean in New England, lived in Japan, China, the U.K., India; Problem solver and mediator, lifelong passion to help make democracy work.