The issue with democracy - particularly in America as it stands right now - is whether it can get over its current trend of swinging too far to the authoritarian side of things. (And this is my argument against both the GOP and the Democrats right now.)
Authoritarian regimes are characterized primarily by four qualities. (This comes from a work in 1964 regarding them.)
1 - limited political pluralism; that is, such regimes place constraints on political institutions and groups like legislatures, political parties and interest groups.
2 - a basis for legitimacy based on emotion, especially the identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat "easily recognizable societal problems" such as underdevelopment or insurgency.
3 - minimal social mobilization most often caused by constraints on the public such as suppression of political opponents and anti-regime activity.
And 4 - informally defined executive power with often vague and shifting powers.
The US is currently undergoing massive problems with 2 and 3 - 1, to a degree, has always existed in our culture, and 4 can't happen because the President has clearly defined powers under the Constitution, so if that does happen, that should be our cue to GET OUT NOW - that have developed primarily because A: Americans have allowed themselves to become divided and turned on each other, and B: the slow ebb and drain on culturally shared morality over the last half-century.
Normally, I'm would start with 2, but I'm going to change my usual course and hit 3 because where I stand, 3 is the real cause of what's happened here. So, minimal social mobilization. First, the good news - the usual reasons for that lack of social mobility aren't the defined terms above; most people's lack of social mobility these days is tied to their lack of economic freedom. The idea of America was that you could come here, from anywhere, and if you worked at it, and improved yourself, you and your family could rise above your circumstances - the rags to riches story is powerful in the American psyche for this very reason.
But economic freedom has requirement, and those requirements are slowly slipping away. When my parents were my age, college was not a requirement in order to seek employment - you went there because you wanted to get ahead, but if you didn't go (or couldn't afford to), then you could go and get a job in manufacturing, working in a factory. Those jobs peaked in 1979...and have been declining ever since, primarily because it was discovered to be easier to ship the job elsewhere. Why? Because in a place like China or India, which isn't as developed, you can pay workers far less than what's legally required here in the US. Normally, this would be counterbalanced by things like import taxes, but trade agreements between various world governments have slashed them drastically, in the name of 'free trade.'
Nowadays, about the only jobs you can get without a college degree is flipping the grill at Burger King or stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. So, more people started going to college. Good thing, right? Go there, get more education, more experience, more money, that will actually work out better for us in the long run, right? Well, yes and no.
Yes - having a better-educated populace is one of the ideals that Jefferson strove for, because someone who is more intelligent and capable of critical thinking will be able to make better decisions than someone who is not.
No - because then you are resetting the economic start point at the level of 'college educated' rather than a high school degree.
The question has been asked many times why it is that, with the often crippling debt that comes with student loans and tuition payments, young people continue to go to college. The answer is quite simple - because they believe they have to. Because if they don't, all they can look forward to is a life of standing in front of a hot grill or being told to head over to Housewares to unload a cart of box fans.
This reset would not be a problem, if the new level at which people were expected to start from was publicly available. (And not 'publicly available' in the O'Reilly sense of the word.) The government - pick a level - pays for the operation of every single public school within US borders. Students are not required to pay the costs of educating them. One of two things needs to happen, depending on what becomes of the economic start point. The guiding principle needs to be this: economic freedom must be achievable through wholly public means. To illustrate.
If you want to go with the 'no universal college' route, then that's fine - but then you need to make available jobs here in the US that can be attained with just a high school degree, or high school needs to be expanded so that it can occupy jobs that will provide a basic standard of living. Otherwise, universal college needs to happen.
I can go on, but time is a constraint, sadly, and I can always elaborate later.
What the problems with social mobility have done is that they have inspired emotionally-based movements - on both sides of the political spectrum - to come forward and present their case to the American people, about how things feel wrong in America, and about how they're the only ones that can fix it, so please ignore our glaring faults and histories while we do that. This is 2 on the four qualities of authoritarian regimes.
These movements - both on the left and on the right - have been gaining more and more momentum as the years go by.
On the right, the movement is based on fear - fear of 'good old America' being taken away and replaced with a socialist hellhole that pays people (usually minorities) to go and irresponsibly have babies and generally be poor excuses for people, whereas 'real Americans' are the ones who get up and go to work everyday and are suffering under the weight of a looming, oppressive government.
On the left, the movement is based on outrage - outrage over all the things that happened to minorities (most frequently blacks) in the past; outrage over the fact that not all opinions are equally valid, and that there are people who disagree with their opinions; outrage over this injustice and that wrong thing and so on.
Neither of these movements are good, because both of them basically want - in the end - a country where everyone ascribes to their particular vision of what the US should look like. Both of them want to sanitize our history and our past - how they intend to do that, I'll leave up to your imaginations.