The United States is not a healthy democracy ⁠— here's why

The United States is not a healthy democracy ⁠— here's why
President Donald J. Trump boards Air Force One Thursday, Sept. 25, 2019, en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Richard C. Lyons is the award-winning author behind “The DNA of Democracy,” Volume 1 of the “Shadows of the Acropolis” series releasing on April 15, 2019. His first book, “But By Chance of War” (2012) won a Nautilus Book Award and a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award. His education took him through the University of North Texas and a graduate career at Southern Methodist University. Lyons has been an avid admirer of the written word, which led him to literary pursuits as a poet, essayist and screenwriter. Professionally, Lyons has been involved in printing, publishing, stage and television production throughout his professional career. For more, visit

“The DNA of Democracy” is an interesting title - what does it mean?

In viewing democracy through history, several cornerstones become apparent to its foundations, such as heroes who devote their lives to freedom, such as the will to found government for the good of all, not just some. Such as legal foundations as evident in constitutions going back to Athens and as modern as our own.

How and why did you choose the subject of democracy for your book? And what was your research process like?

I chose the subject because I have noticed what a fragile, temporal thing democracy can be. It is assumed we live in an eternal form of government, we do not, nor did the people of the Roman Republic. Several things are necessary for the health of democracy and they can be measured. As to the research, I found parallels or rhyming natures between the tyrannies of every era researched. Therefore, just as democracy has a DNA, tyrannies have a DNA as well.

Why is it so imperative for Americans to educate themselves on the history and processes of democracy, especially now?

We know as individuals we are in good health if our temperature is 98.6 degrees, if our heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute at rest and if our chemistry exists within certain ranges. The same can be said about telling readings as to the balances in a democracy. It is necessary to know if as individuals we are physically healthy, just as it is necessary to know if the government that governs us as a people is healthy!

What are the greatest misconceptions about democracy and the democratic process? 

The greatest misconception is that all governance is at the federal level and resides in the executive branch of government. That was not how our government was founded. “The DNA of Democracy” goes into depth, at a very readable level, to relate how the power of the individual in our democracy is the key to our democracy’s health.

Democracy has been a work in progress for centuries – will it ever stop evolving?

Government does evolve: it has a tendency to gather and concentrate power, hence the United States was conceived as a government with counter poise and balance between competitive branches. Volume 2 of the series, “Shadows of the Acropolis,” will go into depth on the critical subject of how dangerous our system can be, if it goes out of balance. “The DNA of Democracy” concerns itself first with how difficult the foundation of democracy is to achieve and the definition of what democracy  is.

What are the differences and similarities between democracy and tyranny? And why is it important to make specific distinctions? 

Because, just as one knows that a temperature of 101 degrees indicates ill health, by understanding what defines good health in democracy, defines what ill health would looks like and we can see examples every day…as either the virtuous expressions of a healthy democracy or the shadowy effects of  an aspiring tyranny.

Have you personally visited any of the countries you wrote about in your book?

Yes, though there are not many mentioned in the book. Democracy is not widespread either historically or geographically, even though a lot of countries call themselves democracies. When you read this book you will be able to know if they are – why they are – or why they are not. It is a handy self-help guide on one of the most important topics to humanity, how humanity is governed, or better, how humanity can govern itself.

Your book explores the history of democracy in countries around the world at different times in history – which culture or time period fascinates you the most?

Simple answer, they all do. Our story is endlessly fascinating from the circumstances of the times and places to the sometimes grotesque, sometimes beautiful characters who lived in those places, at those times.

“The DNA of Democracy” is the first book in a series – what will the next installment explore?

Volume 1 defines democracy throughout history showing its necessary elements. Volume 2 will explore what human tendencies and natural tendencies endanger those necessary elements, such as individual participation and representation, judicial independence and political balance.

What historically are the telltale signs of a healthy democracy?

A.  A balanced, mixed constitution of executive latitude of diplomacy, truly representative legislative assemblies and an independent judiciary.

B. Equality before and the equal application of laws which arise solely out of the legislative branch with the consent and enforcement of the executive and judicial branches.

C.  The maintaining of power nearest the local level where it is applied.

D. A hands off policy regarding competing associations of faiths, charities, businesses.

E. Free expression, private ownership and individual rights.

Would you consider the United States, right now, to be an example of a healthy democracy?

Democracy is a form of government that is always in motion, hence the competing branches the constitution provides.  But our democracy has been in motion in the past 50 years. Power that was once local or given to the states, is being assumed to the federal level.  At the federal level power is aggregating away from the people’s representative assemblies of house and senate and into the executive branches myriad agencies and into the judicial branch.  The constitution foresaw this will of every branch wanting to assume the powers of the others – it is happening both in the assumption of power in Washington DC and in the accumulation of power outside the reach of the governed at the federal level.  Diagnosis: Not healthy.

Andrew Fletcher and Jonathan Montano are HNN interns.


Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ }}

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.