In a new book, an Illinois political scientist considers racism a major obstacle to democracy
The revival of democracy is now available from the University of Illinois Press.
An Illinois political scientist and former Chicago city councilman has drawn on his 50 years of experience for his latest book examining the challenges Americans face in making the United States a multiracial, multiethnic democracy.
The new book by author Dick Simpson, The Rebirth of Democracy: The View from Chicagouses the city of Chicago as an example to highlight the impact of political, racial, economic and social inequalities that divide the nation on cities and neighborhoods.
“The racial segregation and discrimination that still exists in the country is a major impediment to democracy,” said Simpson, also a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Democracy demands that each of its citizens be treated equally, have equal opportunity in the economic sphere and an equal voice in the political sphere… We will not be a true democracy until we have achieved this .”
A major structural problem in the United States lies within our electoral system – specifically, the mapping of electoral districts.
“We have all kinds of specific issues that I cover in the book, like gerrymandering, which we just saw here in Illinois,” Simpson said. “It ensures that we only elect the most extreme members of political factions to a place like Congress, instead of those who are willing to legislate and do the will of the people.”
According to Simpson, the election of more radical politicians resulted in less effective government at the federal level.
“The House and the Senate have become so polarized, and the margins of the House and the Senate are so close, that essentially nothing gets done,” Simpson said. “There are incredibly important laws that are blocked.”
However, Simpson sees the growing civic engagement of young people as an encouraging sign for democracy in the United States. Data from the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that voter turnout at the university has increased by more than 10% in each of the last three presidential elections. Illinois State University has seen a similar trendthe student vote rate rising to 64.8% in the 2020 presidential election, up 14 points from 2016.
“Students work hard, participate in internships and other programs with community organizations to solve real problems,” Simpson says.
In The revival of democracySimpson describes practical methods that can be used by people around the world to educate themselves and help shape institutions that will allow democracy to flourish.
“Our long-term effort must be to create a more participatory democracy at the local level… and at the national level,” Simpson says. “We need a more deliberative democracy where public servants and citizens speak directly to each other and understand their points of view. And representatives actually represent their constituents.