“Democratic governance is in high demand, according to the 2021 edition of the annual Democracy Perception Index, a poll of more than 50,000 people in 53 nations. But it’s also perceived to be threatened—by economic inequality, by suppression of free speech, by big tech companies, by unfair or corrupted elections, and by the United States of America.
44 percent of the respondents are worried the United States threatens democracy in their home countries. By contrast, 38 percent said that about China and 28 percent about Russia. The U.S. was deemed the biggest threat of the three in free and unfree nations alike. It was the top pick in Europe and Latin America, and it nearly tied with China for this dishonor in Asia. Only a few African nations were polled, not enough for a regional average, but the U.S. was the most widely selected threat there, too.”
“Perhaps the United States is seen as a threat to other nations’ democracy because our government is often less an exemplar of liberty than a belligerent global meddler. Perhaps it’s because Washington has spent the past two decades invading and occupying large swaths of the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps it’s because our leaders’ diplomacy is frequently ham-fisted, hubristic, and naïve. Perhaps it’s because Washington has literally overthrown democratic governments and has a unique—and risky—network of hundreds of military bases worldwide.”
“If every basic fact is disputed or called into doubt, we lack a common, agreed-upon reality. We become unable to deliberate or compromise or make informed decisions. Liberal democracy itself becomes an unsustainable enterprise.”
“Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters have been occupying major roads surrounding the capital, New Delhi, since November in protest of the agriculture reform laws.
Under the new policies, introduced by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian farmers must sell goods and make contracts with independent buyers outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces, which have long served as the primary locations for farmers to do business.
Modi and members of his party say the reforms are needed to help India modernize and improve its farming industry, which will mean greater freedom and prosperity for farmers. But the farmers, afraid they will be at the mercy of big business, remain unconvinced.
Modi’s government offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but the farmers have refused, demanding a full retraction of the laws to end their standoff.
After an 11th round of talks between the farmers and the government failed, the farmers unions decided to up the ante with a tractor march into the capital on India’s Republic Day, which commemorates the signing of India’s constitution. Miscommunication led to violent face-offs with police, who used tear gas and batons to try to turn them back.
Hundreds of police officers were injured. A farmer was also crushed when his tractor was among the many vehicles overturned in the violence.”
“On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted to end nearly a decade of Conservative Party government and elect a new government led by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. Just over two weeks later, on November 4, Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister.
Five years earlier, a very similar series of events played out in Great Britain. On May 6, 2010, Britain held its most recent election where control of its government changed partisan hands — voters tossed out the incumbent Labour Party government and replaced it with a coalition led by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron. Just five days after the election, Cameron became prime minister.
Modern democracies, in other words, can and do transfer power very rapidly — and much faster than the two and a half months that separate President-elect Joe Biden’s election on November 3, 2020, and his inauguration on January 20, 2021, the official transition date established by the 20th Amendment. French President Emmanuel Macron won election on May 7, 2017, and was sworn in just one week later. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won his election on May 16, 2014. He became prime minister just 10 days later. Japan’s Abe Shinzo, the last Japanese politician to preside over a transition of partisan rule, also took office 10 days after his party won an election.
The dangers of a long lame-duck period have come into stark relief in the wake of last week’s storming of the US Capitol. America’s lame-duck period gave insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump two full months to plan the putsch that briefly occupied the Capitol and forced lawmakers to flee in terror — and they were egged on this entire time by a president who encouraged them to stage a “wild” protest while lawmakers formally certified Biden’s victory on January 6.
Meanwhile, as the sitting president, Trump retained command and control over both federal law enforcement and US military forces that eventually helped secure the Capitol. For unclear reasons, the Pentagon was reportedly slow to approve emergency requests to send troops to regain control of the building. And, for as long as Trump is president, the nation’s capital will need to rely on the Trump administration to protect against future violence.
Even before Trump seemed to cheer on a violent attempt to overthrow Biden’s incoming government, the lame-duck president spent the post-election period doling out pardons to his cronies and handing out medals to his most sycophantic loyalists in Congress. While Trump’s abuse of the pardon power has been particularly egregious, it’s hardly unprecedented. President George H.W. Bush pardoned several former officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal more than a month after he lost his bid for reelection. President Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother, as well as wealthy fugitive Marc Rich, during his final days in office.
American history is replete with examples of outgoing presidents who actively sabotaged their successor during the lame-duck period — sometimes in the middle of a historic crisis.
The United States, in other words, pays an enormous price for its long lame-duck period. There’s no good reason the US cannot join Canada, Britain, France, India, Japan, and other nations in transitioning swiftly to a new administration after a presidential election.”
“Not that it’s surprising after a year of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and emergency powers, but the world is becoming less free. A new report says that pandemic-era authoritarianism is an acceleration of a pre-existing trend rather than a new phenomenon. For years, liberal democracy has been losing ground, not just in the way governments treat their subjects, but also in the favor of the public at large.
“As a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world in 2020, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny,” Freedom House, an 80-year old watchdog group, announced in a report published this week. “These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.””
“Even more troubling is that governments aren’t necessarily swimming against public opinion when they become authoritarian—they’re doing so as their populations lose faith in democratic government.
In the United States, only 16 percent of Americans say democracy is working “extremely/very well” according to a February AP/NORC poll. About 45 percent say it’s working “not too/not well at all.”
The United States isn’t alone in the erosion of faith in liberal democratic systems.”
“”Freedom of personal expression, which has experienced the largest declines of any democracy indicator since 2012, was further restrained during the health crisis,” observes Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021. “Governments around the world also deployed intrusive surveillance tools that were often of dubious value to public health and featured few safeguards against abuse.””
“even if Trump’s authoritarian bluster rarely cashed out into any real-world seizure of new powers for the president, it was far from harmless. Four years of 100-proof strongman rhetoric may have the effect of building up our tolerance if and when the real thing comes around in a smoother blend. When (at least) half of the political class feels driven by partisan loyalty to defend or downplay open contempt for constitutional limits, it’s likely to make well-planned assaults on those limits that much easier to execute. Donald Trump may yet end up being a “transformational” president, not because of the abuses he managed to carry out but thanks to the dangerous possibilities he revealed.”
“By excusing or ignoring the 45th president’s disgraceful assaults on democratic norms, Republicans have largely abandoned any principled objection to such moves in the future. If and when an actually competent authoritarian comes along, what will their argument be? “Yeah, but our guy wasn’t any good at it”?”
“For the first time in the history of the United States, a defeated president attempted to overturn the election’s outcome to keep himself in office.
Trump’s effort to try to steal the election was multifaceted. He spent months lying that there was massive voter fraud. He pressured state officials and state legislators not to certify President Joe Biden’s win. He filed dozens of frivolous lawsuits. He urged members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to throw out valid electoral votes on January 6. And, that same day, he encouraged supporters to gather in Washington and egged them on. The violence at the Capitol ensued.
It was stunning conduct that flew in the face of the US tradition of peaceful transition of power. And Congress did have an opportunity by which they could make Trump face a very real consequence for this: impeachment and prohibition from holding federal office again in the future (preventing him from running again in 2024). An impeachment of a US president has never ended with conviction, but surely, if one ever would, one would think that Trump’s conduct would merit it.
But instead, partisanship triumphed, Republicans mostly closed ranks around Trump, and the vote fell well short of the two-thirds threshold needed for conviction. The result is that Trump will face no consequences — from Congress, at least — for his effort to defy the will of the voters and stay in power. That has ominous implications for the political system’s future stability, and seems to invite Trump or someone similar to try something like it again.”