December 10, 2021

Summit For Democracy

“U.S. President Joe Biden gathered over 100 world leaders at a summit on Thursday and made a plea to bolster democracies around the world, calling safeguarding rights and freedoms in the face of rising authoritarianism the ‘defining challenge’ of the current era.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left worries that the US is not dealing with its own domestic threats to democracy but supports the general goal of the summit.

“Across the world, there are many cases of democratic ‘backsliding’… Sometimes, as in modern Venezuela or Hungary, this ends in a full-tilt slide away from democracy. Other times you get ‘near misses,’ cases where democracy beat back the authoritarian threat… When you read about these near misses, two factors prove decisive again and again: when a society’s elite stands up to an authoritarian faction, using their power to beat it back, and when the mass public organizes and demonstrates in favor of democracy…

“In the United States, we are experiencing failures on both the elite and mass public level… The year began with an attack on the Capitol designed to thwart the transition of power; instead of repudiating this violence, Republicans doubled down on the lie that Trump won the election and are working, right now, to rig the system in their favor. Neither Democrats nor the general public are doing much of anything to stop them…

“A September ProPublica investigation documented the emergence of a ‘precinct strategy,’ beginning with a call to action on Steve Bannon’s radio show, in which Republicans have begun flooding local voting precincts with volunteers who could shape the counting process in the next election cycle… Experts on democracy warn that America is sleepwalking toward a disaster.”
Zack Beauchamp, Vox

“It is understandable if many wonder why Biden is bothering to host the democracy summit in the first place. Shouldn’t we get our own house in order before telling others what to do? We should definitely work to strengthen our democracy — it’s imperative for Congress to pass voting rights legislation — but we cannot afford to abdicate international leadership until we perfectly practice all that we preach…

“In the early years of the Cold War, after all, the United States defended freedom in Europe and Asia even while Southern states enforced segregation at home. The hypocrisy was jarring, but the proper response was to improve human rights at home rather than refuse to defend human rights abroad.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“This summit seems an odd beast. Of the 111 countries that Biden invited to attend, 29 are described by Freedom House as ‘partly free’ (e.g., Colombia, Indonesia, and Kenya) or ‘not free’ (e.g., Iraq, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo). Pressed on this point, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, ‘Inclusion on an invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy—nor is exclusion a stamp … of disapproval.’ Well, then, what does inclusion or exclusion indicate?…

Mainly it’s about international politics. Russia and China weren’t invited because the summit’s premise—the contest between democracy and authoritarianism—is largely a contest against them. Iraq was invited because the U.S. backed Iraq in a long war and because Israel can’t be the only Middle Eastern country to attend. Pakistan was invited because India was, and it would offend the Pakistanis—still needed for support in counterterrorism operations—to leave them out…

“The summit, as it has emerged, is at best a prod and a symbol. At worst, it’s an annoyance, and there’s the additional danger that it could calcify into a bureaucratic entity.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

From the Right

The right supports the general goal of the summit but criticizes the invitation list and notes the undemocratic measures that have been put in place since the pandemic began.

The right supports the general goal of the summit but criticizes the invitation list and notes the undemocratic measures that have been put in place since the pandemic began.

“Chris Tang surely didn’t intend to give President Biden a plug for ‘The Summit for Democracy’ the White House is holding this week. But the Hong Kong secretary of security did precisely that when he denounced one of the President’s invitees, former Hong Kong legislator Nathan Law… Mr. Law is a former student leader in the democracy movement who served time in jail for his part in 2014 protests, was elected to the city’s Legislative Council in 2016, but was then booted out for altering his oath of office…

“[In addition] A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry objected to the Biden administration’s inclusion of a representative of Taiwan on one of its panels… The democracy summit is getting criticism over which countries have been invited and which not—and that’s fair comment. But if the vitriolic denunciations against Mr. Law and Taiwan’s Audrey Tang are any indication, the summit has already had a constructive impact

“China wants its authoritarian model to spread around the world, but those Chinese voices for democracy show how precious self-government is and how people are willing to fight for it even at great personal risk.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Those who claim that the U.S. is too flawed to trumpet liberty ought to try living as dissidents in Beijing or Moscow, or in most of the 85 or so nations not invited to the summit. American democracy may not be perfect, but it has delivered more for its people than any other system of government. The real problem—as with much of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy—lies in the summit’s clumsy execution…

“Freedom House classifies only 77 of the invited nations as free. Thirty-one are partly free. Three—Iraq, Angola and Congo—aren’t free at all… Fourteen invitees are electoral autocracies, only one notch above the lowest ranking—closed autocracies. Of the 10 nations that [the Varieties of Democracy Institute] identifies as having deteriorated the most between 2010 and 2020, half managed to snag invitations to the summit: Poland, Brazil, Serbia, India and Mauritius.”
Sadanand Dhume, Wall Street Journal

“Last month, Sweden’s International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance declared that America and other nations imposed COVID measures ‘that were disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or unconnected to the nature of the emergency.’ It warned that ‘established democracies are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics.’…

“The Australian government has set up detention camps to lock up anyone suspected of contact with COVID-positive individuals. Austria and Germany imposed nationwide lockdowns that nullified millions of citizens’ freedom of movement. When New Zealand imposed a lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered her captive citizenry: ‘Do not congregate, don’t talk to your neighbors.’…

“Britain unleashed some of the most absurd restrictions, including prohibiting couples who live in different homes from having sex indoors. Dozens of nations have used the military to enforce COVID restrictions, heightening ‘the risk of unchecked excessive force and the normalization of increasingly militarized civil life after the pandemic,’ the Swedish think tank reported.”
James Bovard, New York Post

A global perspective

A Chinese human rights lawyer argues, “The West should stop providing technology to the Chinese censorship and surveillance system, and stop American companies’ complicity in forced labor, genocide and human rights violations in China. China’s internet censorship and control systems have benefited from the enthusiastic assistance of Western technology companies such as Cisco, Nortel, Motorola, Microsoft and Intel. Google tried to launch Project Dragonfly, a search engine complying with the Chinese government’s censorship. Fortunately, that project was canceled…

“Links to forced labor have been reported in the supply chains and products of Apple, Nike and numerous other Western companies. It is welcome news that the U.S. Congress is looking at legislation to stop Uighur forced labor. It would be greatly helpful for Congress to also pass a law or regulation banning Western companies from providing surveillance or censorship technology and equipment to authoritarian governments.”
Teng Biao, Politico

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