American democracy, most observers seem to agree, is in crisis. Some pin the blame on President Donald Trump, citing his assaults on the country’s democratic norms and institutions—the electoral system, the independent judiciary, the rule of law, and the media. “This is not normal,” former President Barack Obama declared in a September 2018 speech rebuking his successor. Others see Trump as merely the culmination of a long decline in American democracy, a story that began decades ago with growing political polarization, congressional infighting, and economic and social inequality. Whatever the precise cause, however, there is a consensus about the effect: a broken system.
Yet the real story of American democracy is not one of disrepair but one of partial repair. The problems that ail it today have been brought about not by neglect but by incomplete efforts to improve it in the context of changing political realities. The result is a democracy that is simultaneously inclusive and ineffective.
For all the talk of unresponsive politicians and apathetic voters, the democracy part of the U.S. political system may be in the best shape ever. Voter suppression remains a major problem, but other trends suggest health. The 2018 midterm elections boasted