The state of global Democracy: battered, bruised, but unbeaten

by A. Altieri D’Angelo

In early 2022, the liberal world order was under attack. Trump and his supporters (the MAGAs) continued to claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent. It was no different on the international front: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign democratic state, ended over 70 years of peace in Europe. At the same time, China claimed that authoritarian regimes were more capable of serving the people. Other countries continued to imprison people for exercising their free speech rights.

The U.S. situation was particularly bad at the beginning of the year. The President was considered a weak leader, and the economy was recovering, but inflation and gas prices were rising. Biden’s favorability rating was at an all-time low. MAGAs were working hard to pass laws to restrict voter access and eliminate personal freedoms such as the right to an abortion. Most experts expected the Democratic Party (the Party) to be overwhelmed by a red wave and lose control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the November 2022 elections. Voters seemed to care more about the cost of living than the MAGA threat to democracy.

Throughout this period, President Biden remained confident that people would see the benefits of his legislation and begin to support him. But inflation and high gas prices continued to weigh on the Biden Administration. He also spoke about the threat MAGAs posed to U.S. democracy. He made the election a referendum on preserving democracy.

The voters did not forget the high inflation rates or expensive gas prices, but they also recognized that the Party did pass significant bi-partisan legislation. The Party, working with some Republicans, passed the Bi-Partisan Infrastructure Bill and CHIPS Act-a bill that focused spending on semiconductor plants and related research. Biden signed into law bi-partisan gun safety legislation-the first of its kind in 30 years. The President also took executive action to eliminate billions in student loans. He also supported the Respect for Marriage Act, which provides federal statutory recognition of interracial and same-sex marriages. He achieved historic legislative results.

In the end, the November elections did not produce a red wave. Party members, independents, and even Republicans voted for democracy. Exit polls indicated that for many voters, preserving democracy was a critical issue. (Biden was right to focus on this issue.)

The international situation reflected the same struggle, but the cost of lives lost was very high. People believed that Putin would conquer Ukraine in a few days, democracy would fail, and dictatorship would win. Yet, despite missile attacks, and crimes against civilians, Ukrainian defense forces inspired by their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, humiliated Putin and his cronies. The Ukrainian people are still fighting for democracy and the right to choose their government. The U.S., led by President Biden, rallied the free world to support Ukraine. Finland and Sweden, who were previously neutral, decided to join NATO to preserve their democracies.

Liberal governments are reasserting their power. French President Macron beat his right-wing opponent Marine Le Pen in the French elections in April. In Germany, the centrist government retained power in its regional elections and recently (in December) arrested 25 right-wing extremists on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. In Brazil, left-leaning Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro also tried to frame the loss as election fraud but failed to gain any support. Lastly, Peruvian elected officials impeached and removed President Pedro Castillo for attempting to dissolve the legislature without constitutional authority.

Some dictatorships (but not all) are also finding it hard to control their people. China’s zero-COVID and centralized economic policies have led to the most serious protests since 1989. The Communist Party caved in and dropped all attempts to prevent the spread of Covid. And Iran has yet to contain the social revolt caused by the murder of a Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini (22 years old). 

Democracies will never eliminate authoritarian regimes. Winston Churchill once said, “many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

Democracy will always be a work in progress, but one that will continue to be superior to any form of authoritarian philosophy.

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