Can Biden and Our Allies Reboot Democracy

From a Google Image Search – USA Today

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden left this morning to visit our allies in Europe. Quoting from The Washington Post’s WorldView newsletter,

“He heads off Wednesday for a week-long tour that includes meetings with Queen Elizabeth II, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and most of Europe’s democratically elected leaders. At summits of the Group of Seven nations and NATO, Biden intends to rally traditional American allies who were perturbed by the political volatility of his predecessor. Biden has cast the coming decade as a global clash between liberal democracies and autocratic powers like China, and sees the proceedings this week as the opening chapter of a new era of competition.”

Many Americans have been shocked by the last administration which seemed to rebuff former alliances that formed post-World War II in Europe, and express admiration for more recently allied nations in Europe and also in Asia and the Middle East that are trending towards authoritarian rule or have leaders who operate as dictators. As a result of the behavior of America in terms of recent foreign policy, our allies have backed off from former levels of trust towards America and have adopted a more wary wait-and-see stance. 

Biden seems confident that our allies have not given up on us completely and that they are looking forward to returning to having America as a trusted partner in global concerns.

In a Tweet (11:40 am, June 8) Biden wrote this:

“Tomorrow, I depart for Europe on the first foreign travel of my presidency. The trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and demonstrating that democracies can both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.”

Writing in The Daily Beast David Rothkopf asks, “[b]y the time the Summit of Democracies takes place, will the United States qualify to attend? He cites an article by Zack Beauchamp writing in Vox which questions whether America any longer has the democratic chops to participate in a summit of democratic nations. 

“[A]fter coming to power in 2010, Orban rewrote Hungary’s constitution and electoral rules to make it nigh impossible for the opposition to win power through elections. Tactics include extreme gerrymandering, rewriting campaign finance rules…appointing cronies to the countries constitutional court and election bureaucracy…and seizing control of nearly all media outlets…(to) render elections functionally non-competitive.” Sound familiar?”

And it does sound all too familiar because Trump was not a democratic president. Has he done permanent damage to our democracy? Can America guarantee that Trump will not serve another term as a US president, or that another Trump-like figure will not arise in 2024? Republicans are doing everything imaginable, and a number of things that we never imaged, to take back control of the Executive branch in 2024 and the legislative branch in 2022. 

Rothkopf continues by directing our attention to a report out of the Brookings Institute about Erdogan in Turkey He says that we only need to look at the chapter headings to see the parallels to what is happening in America. The title of Rothkopf’s own article in The Daily Beast is “If America was a Foreign Country We’d-Know its Democracy is Dying.”

“The Brookings Institution issued a report called “The rise and fall of liberal democracy in Turkey: Implications for the West” that both illustrates how mainstream US institutions have actively attacked assaults on democracy overseas and at the same time suggest how our foreign policy specialists would be writing about America if they treated us the same way they treated our friends and allies that have followed a path similar to the one Trumpists seek to pursue in the U.S. Just the headings from the report (PDF) are enough to suggest this “Challenges to Turkey’s democratic institutions,” “Increasing powers of the president,” “Weak opposition,” “Questionable elections,” “Erosion of the rule of law,” “Drivers of democratic regression—cultural factors,” “Weakened governance in state institutions,” and so on.”

When Biden was elected it suggested an end to our flirtation with turning our democracy/republic into an illiberal democracy, following in Europe’s footsteps rather than leading. Americans would like to be hopeful. However, the push to destroy our trust in our elections, the push to document “the big lie” that Trump actually won in 2020 by ersatz recounts in red states, another “big lie” which says that Trump will be back in the Oval Office in August and Biden will be ousted, the obstructionism that continues unabated in the US Senate, although we recognize these things as mostly false narratives, are undermining our faith that Democrats can hold onto power long enough to restore our trust, and, indeed, restore global trust, in our democracy.

Rothkopf further reminds us that,

This past week saw a ‘Statement of Concern’ from 100 leading scholars of democracy. They expressed alarm about “recent deterioration of U.S. elections and liberal democracy.” They cited efforts by GOP legislatures to implement “radical changes to core electoral procedures” that would transform “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.

We need to pay careful attention to what happens as President Biden ventures into Europe and Asia and at the G7, at NATO, and at a summit of democracies if such a meeting takes place. We need to continue to pay careful attention to the challenges to free and fair voting in our own country as attacks on voting continue. Can Democrats find a way around the obstructionism in the Senate to pass enough of their agenda to tempt Americans back from their love affair with a man who would like to be President for Life and destroy our freedoms in the bargain? Can we keep in our memory that this is a man who asked the Justice Department, that once worked for the American people, to collect names and phone numbers of journalists who criticized him, a man who used intimidation and serial replacement of our Attorney General to steal the Justice Department and make it an arm of the Presidency (as has happened again and again in emerging illiberal democracies across Europe)?

Two hundred and forty four years of a flawed democracy, and a democracy that got many things right, may be on the line right now. We may have felt that we were a generation mostly untouched by a world war level crisis, but this time the crisis may be harder to recognize. It may not resemble any previous war. But the ramifications of this war are huge. If we don’t get this right the entire planet may be at stake as the world comes under the domination of leaders who can dictate that we ignore climate change, ignore freedom, ignore leisure and time to read, think, and contemplate; leaders that can lead us back into a dark age and turn us into simple cogs in a great capitalist machine. This is not a statement against capitalism; this is a statement against authoritarianism.

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