Politically, we are a form of modified democracy, more precisely called representative democracy. By calling ourselves a democracy, we mean that the ultimate authority belongs to the people as a whole. The authority of our leaders is granted by the consent of the people.
Economically, we are capitalistic, meaning the primary ownership of goods and services belongs to private individuals or corporations.
Between democracy and capitalism there is an inherent tension, one which we hope is always creative, because there is an overlap of responsibilities. Some matters, such as the creation and maintenance of basic infrastructure, are entrusted to the government, though in theory they could be handled just as well by private enterprises.
The ever-changing task is to find the right balance between the two while remaining clear about the distinction: Democracy is a political system and capitalism an economic system. A healthy nation uses capitalism as a tool serving democracy.
At various times, capitalism has threatened to dominate democracy. When government is seen as serving primarily the capitalists, the balance becomes eccentric. The great labor/union movements of a century ago were a painful righting of the balance.
Since World War II, we have increasingly seen capitalism becoming dominant again. When this happens, the income gap between the infamous 1% and the others increases, the middle class shrinks, and resentment among the poorer people grows. Just as importantly, morality suffers because capitalism is essentially amoral. While democracy serves the good of the people, capitalism serves the proverbial “bottom line.” Also of great importance is capitalism’s tendency to produce dictators and tyrants, not leaders.
So far we’ve not been able to find again the right balance, in large part because the Republicans since Reagan have not wanted balance but unlimited capitalism, selling out democracy in favor of an economic system
When the imbalance reaches grotesque dimensions, we end up electing a president from the business world who has neither understanding of nor appreciation for democracy or its inherent morality.
And then we’re in trouble. . .