The Democracy Index, which is published annually by The Economist, analyzes 167 independent countries in the world to show the status of worldwide democracy. Of those 167 democracies, 166 are sovereign states and 165 are members of the United Nations.
Five primary criteria are used to determine the most democratic of global nations: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation by the country’s citizens and political culture. Using the criteria, the “most democratic” countries are Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and New Zealand. Some of the least democratic countries are routinely in the news: North Korea, Somali, Iraq, Iran, Egypt. Overall, half the world lives in a democracy of some form.
In this Index, the U.S. found itself down the list primarily because of two reasons: participation of its citizens in the voting process (not enough citizens exercising their constitutional privilege) and the functioning of government, aka gridlock.
Americans, for good reason, tend to believe their country invented self-rule. It is a birthright for certain, beginning a long time ago in 1789. Switzerland is a runner-up in this sort of tenure, beginning its democracy in 1798. Citizens of other countries have long been willing to go any distance, devote any sacrifice to reach these shores — the Irish immigration of the 19th century, the “boat people” of Cuba or Haiti in the last century, what’s happening these days with the determined Hispanic population from Central America or Mexico. While the U.S. isn’t perfect, it remains the one country globally that people seek to emulate.
Once a year — tomorrow, July 4 — we get together to celebrate a few things that are uniquely American, like:
• Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. A free press.
• The right to bear arms.
• U.S. veterans.
• Jazz. Country and Western. R&B. Hip-Hop. Heavy metal.
• Novels by Ayn Rand, Reynolds Price or John Grisham.
• Turkey and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving. Another great American day.
• National Public Radio. C-SPAN. Fox News. CNN, MSNBC. ESPN. The networks. The Internet. AM. FM. Sirius.
• PC, or Apple. And all the things you can do with smartphones, tablets and a constant dial tone at home.
• Top medical research hospitals providing cures, comfort and longer lives.
• A movie at the Centennial Theatre. A Broadway show in New York. Live local talent at the WYO Theater or the Carriage House Theater. Films by Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore, Sidney Lumet, Ken Burns, The Coen Brothers.
• Education — public and private.
• Disneyland. A quiet afternoon of summer sunshine in the Bighorns. A noisy Oregon surf at twilight. A beach chair and a book while the surf nibbles at one’s feet at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. A Saturday football game in Laramie.
• Major League Baseball. The NFL. Miss America coronations; Heisman Trophy winners. The USA soccer team.
• American music: Willie Nelson. Cole Porter. Bruce Springsteen. Stevie Wonder. John Philip Sousa.
• Air conditioning. Soft toilet tissue. Coke, or Pepsi.
• Letterman or Jimmy.
• Barbecue: Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis styles.
• Newspapers: Lots of ‘em. The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal. The Sheridan Press.
• The flying of Old Glory.
Happy Birthday, America!