America’s real democratic challenge is internal
United States (US) President Joe Biden wants to host a democracy summit. His administration has identified a number of countries to be invited, including Taiwan much to the chagrin of China. India has made it to the list together with Pakistan while Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have failed to do so.
Two decades ago, then President George Bush had launched a similar “engendering democracy in the Middle East” campaign in 2003. Speaking at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, Bush gave a call for “global democratic revolution”. “The freedom we prize is not for us alone; it is the right and the capacity of all mankind”, claimed Bush in the address, around the time of America’s unjust war in Iraq.
For Bush, the democracy campaign was an answer to the challenge of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. For Biden, it appears to be a campaign against China’s growing dominance. It is undeniable that the China challenge is not merely about military aggression or economic domination. It is about President Xi Jinping’s ambition to rewrite the rules of a new, authoritarian world order. Xi is challenging the liberal democratic world order championed by the West after World War II. Xi’s prognosis that authoritarianism that delivers goods to their citizens is better than chaotic democracies is gaining currency even in some parts of the democratic world. The rise of strongmen democracies in Asia and Europe is an indication of the growing Chinese shadow over the post-Covid world order.
However, just as Bush’s democracy project ended up being branded as “democratic imperialism”, Biden’s initiative too may face accusations of a similar nature for various reasons. While rightly championing Taiwan’s democracy, Biden clumsily withdrew American support from a nascent democracy in Afghanistan and handed that country over on a platter to the forces of oppression, terror and authoritarianism. That hypocrisy apart, Biden has a major challenge at home where the very foundations of American democracy are being challenged. American society is being torn apart today by two centrifugal forces. On the one hand, Right-wing racism has reached worrying proportions. Not just Blacks, even Asians face “go back home” catcalls at the departmental stores and gas stations. On the other hand is the radical Liberal-Left on a rampage through the established social order and harmony.
Six decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr had inspired the world with his clarion call that persons should be judged not by “the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. That had led to the adoption of the United Nations (UN)-sponsored International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1965. America emerged as the beacon of equality and justice. That “America of hope” had attracted millions from all across the world and became a “melting pot”. Few decades later, it elected its first President of colour, Barack Obama.
But things started changing in recent years. Donald Trump’s ascendancy proved a watershed moment. Trump’s election campaign in 2016, full of racial overtones, innuendoes and uncouthness, had led to serious divisions in American society, and resulted in racial tensions. A spontaneous and occasionally violent Black Lives Matter movement erupted.
When the presidential elections in 2020 threw up a surprising mandate that brought a grandfatherly Catholic, Joe Biden, into the White House, hope and relief returned to America. It was hoped that the divisions and acrimony catalysed by the reckless actions of Trump as president would end and America would return to its identity of what the renowned English writer and philosopher GK Chesterton once described as a “nation with the soul of a church”.
But sadly, what is happening in America today is just the opposite. Divisions in American society are further exacerbating and deepening. The fire lit by Trump’s extreme zealot followers is continuing to rage. But what is further aggravating the situation is the bigotry of the American Left. Biden’s woes come more from these radicals in his own Democratic Party. The solutions that these radicals prescribe for the poison injected into America’s body politic are worse than the poison itself.
The Democrats have been the favoured party of the minorities, including Blacks and Asians. They have helped these communities rise in stature in American society and even occupy important positions in the country’s public life. But in their ideational overdrive, the extreme Left activist politicians among the Democrats are throwing caution to the wind. If the ratings of President Biden have dropped to below 40% today or, for that matter, the ratings of his deputy, Kamala Harris, have plummeted even further, the radical Left too cannot escape the blame. The defeat of Terry McAuliffe, former governor and a longtime fixture in the Democratic Party, in the Virginia state gubernatorial election earlier this month can be attributed, among other reasons, to some of the mindless policies that the radical Left had sought to impose on people in the name of fighting racism.
Biden’s radical colleagues want to “fix” democracies everywhere. Some of them find a democratic deficit in India too. It was then vice president Dick Cheney who had pushed Bush into unnecessary wars instead of focusing on Afghanistan. The US lost Afghanistan too in the end. Biden has his own Cheneys who can lead him astray.
Democracies are precious as they protect individual rights and dignity. While fixing ailing democracies globally is a noble idea, it should be the collective responsibility of democracies. At the same time, fixing the ills of American democracy should be of equal if not greater priority to Biden and his team as they host the world summit.
Ram Madhav is a member of the national executive of the RSS, and of the board of governors of India Foundation
The views expressed are personal