America critical front in the global battle between democracy and autocracy

Almost 15 months ago supporters of former President Trump stormed the US Capitol building during the Joint Session of Congress to certify the results of the November 2020 election. That day was the culmination of years of lies, a vicious polarisation of American society and a rapid depreciation in the values and standards of American public life. It was also a reverberation of the global decline in democracy which has taken root since the 90s. However, January 6th was simply an introduction to a world where democracy itself was destabilised within The United States. A world potentially devoid of any democratic superpower in the time of the great awakening of autocracy can be viewed as a profound threat to the very foundations of global democracy. For that reason, America is the most important front in President Biden’s proclamation of a new battle between the forces of democracy and the evils of autocracy.

Among the rantings and ravings of Russian state television the other evening was a call for regime change in America, in order to restore the leadership of their valued “partner”, former President Trump. In any other reality this would be seen as a transparent attempt by Russia to sow division among the American people and simply brushed aside. But, in typical fashion, Trump saw an opportunity to advance his own self-interest and leaned into the prevailing rhetoric of the Russian media while his extremist supporters in Congress egged him on.

Most troublingly, while it was broadly expected for Trump to take the narrow and selfish opportunistic route in this crisis, referring to Putin’s genius, he hasn’t received any particular blowback from his own party and their sitting representatives in the Senate and House. This is a pattern which has emerged in the aftermath of January 6th, perhaps a display somewhat absent from European audiences. Rather than distancing themselves from a losing candidate, senior figures within the GOP have doubled down on Trump and his big lie. It is a simple indicator of the sustained and co-ordinated assault on American democracy which has continued to undermine the core pillars of democratic life. Faith in justice, civility, fellow citizens and elections themselves have all become valid targets in a rarely subtle effort to tear apart the world’s oldest enduring democratic tradition.

The United States has occupied the status of ‘flawed democracy’ in The Economist’s Democracy Index for the sixth year running. Although only an indicative and opinionated ranking, its reports are very difficult to dispute. Rising polarisation, institutional gridlock and a decline in the acceptance of pluralism as an important shared value are all visible in the weekly press rumblings from Washington. In January 2022, only 55% of Americans believed that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. This week perhaps has been worse than many for the global perception of American democracy. It was revealed that Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, actively engaged with Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in supporting the poorly attempted coup of January 6th 2021. From an international perspective, the involvement of somebody with such a close relationship to the highest level of the supposedly independent American Judiciary, in a sloppy but serious attempt to derail the democratic process, is yet another indicator of the festering dysfunction which has rapidly consumed the American system and society. The Republicans have also of course pledged to destroy the January 6th Committee should they win back the house in November, because oversight and accountability are now values seemingly fundamentally destructive to the Republican platform.

Furthermore, Trump again solicited the assistance of a foreign power in digging up dirt on Hunter Biden. Of course, also once again met by the silence of those within his own party. Have Republicans in power become so accustomed to Trump’s unfitness for politics and high office that they now actually view his actions and words as normal and acceptable? Similarly, we’re seeing now the cretinous nature of his 2019 efforts to extort Ukraine by withholding military assistance unless President Zelensky dug up dirt on the Bidens. The Democrats rightly impeached him and called out his thug-like behaviour while most Republicans proudly produced the usual excuses of ‘witch hunt’ and ‘no big deal’. Imagine what would have happened if Trump had managed to successfully indefinitely withhold military aid from Ukraine as their armed forces continued in their pursuit of modernisation and growth in the face of Russian aggression? How close would Putin be today to EU and NATO borders had Ukrainian rearmament stalled?

The body politic of The United States has actually become a reflection of the battle between democracy and autocracy of which President Biden warns. I don’t think any European leader doubts Biden and his Democrats are on the side of democracy. Would we be so confident in the leadership of The United States in the event of the election of another Trumpian President, or indeed a second Trump term? The events of the past 5 years show that democratic Europe holds values so profoundly in contrast to those of the illiberal Republicans that we really have to question how far we are willing to go in order to assist in the promotion and protection of democracy in The United States and international community, lest we risk another period of tumultuous disruption to climate policy, nuclear non-proliferation and European defence. The United States under an illiberal authoritarian administration cannot be considered an ally to Europe’s strategic interests, the invasion of Ukraine shows we must revolt against the bedfellows of dictatorships. Therefore, it is in our interests for European leaders to vocally support the Democratic Party in the 2022 and 2024 elections. To do otherwise is a betrayal of European fidelity to democracy, our shared belief in plurality and the deeply valuable historic relationship which we share with The United States. It is not considered normal to interfere in the domestic politics of friendly nations, but we live in deeply abnormal times.

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