How Can American Democracy Win the 21st Century?

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By Quentin Choy

July 10, 2021

An article by Jake Werner in Foreign Affairs magazine intrigued me with its headline, which read “Does America Really Support Democracy—or Just Other Rich Democracies?” You can read the piece here.

I highly recommend you check out his very insightful piece.

Jake Werner, fellow at GDP Center and co-founder of Justice is Global. Courtesy of Twitter.

The title in itself proposed a question I had never considered. I thought that the United States had supported all global democracies to incorporate them into the American sphere of influence.

Why wouldn’t the U.S. support countries that want to emulate American-style democracy?

What Countries are “Democratic” to the United States?

My mind thought of countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Werner argues that when the United States discussed global democracy, these are the countries that most Americans think of.

Countries like Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa are excluded when most policymakers talk about the concept of democracy.

Werner believes that the world’s democracies are conflated with rich countries with what he calls “advanced economies,” while smaller democracies are peripheral to U.S. policymaking.

He thinks that the conflation of rich countries with democracy is because Americans share a cultural and ethnic affinity to smaller democracies.

The Meat of Werner’s Argument

The crux of Werner’s argument is that the clash between democracy and autocracy blurs the clash between the rich and the poor.

He says that with a democracy that doesn’t represent workers globally, space is created for the rise of autocrats, racism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.

Autocrats like Hungary’s Viktor Orban are increasing their global power.

In the same way the Great Depression allowed Italian fascism and German nationalism to rise in Europe, Franklin Roosevelt defended democracy by enacting New Deal policies, which showed Americans that democracy can deliver for regular people.

President Biden believes that a similar battle between democracy and autocracy exists today, and it is a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

This quote is from his address to Congress:

“America’s adversaries –- the autocrats of the world –- are betting we can’t.  And I promise you, they’re betting we can’t.  They believe we’re too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted the Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy.  But they are wrong.  You know it; I know it.  But we have to prove them wrong. We have to prove democracy still works — that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.”

President Joe Biden on global democracy and autocracy

Through the unequal distribution of global COVID-19 vaccines and the finger-wagging of post-industrial nations at developing nations, Werner argues that small democracies are harming the idea of democracy by presenting it as an ideology of the wealthiest nations.

When people think of democracy, they usually think of the world’s smallest, richest democracies. Courtesy of BBC.

A Solution to Bolster Global Democracy

Werner’s solution to increase democracy’s appeal is pretty straightforward and direct.

Firstly, larger democracies like India, Nigeria, and Brazil should be incorporated into global institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO) that are run by smaller democracies.

Democracy in India. Courtesy of Indian Folk.

Second, democracy should be more aimed at helping global workers rather than benefitting corporations, defanging the grievances and inequalities that strengthen autocrats.

Amazingly, China uses the same goals of “growing insecurity and suffering caused by pandemic disease, climate devastation, and destabilizing inequality” to justify authoritarianism that the U.S. uses to justify democracy.

Chinese authoritarianism and western democracy justify themselves with the same goals.

Third, the small democracies should increase investment in the global South as well as developing democracies to legitimize democracy as a viable global ideology, rather than the means by which the rich exploit the poor.

Werner’s Argument in Foreign Policy

If these actions were implemented by the United States and smaller democracies, their foreign policies would be altered for the better. Wars aimed to “democratize” nations such as Panama, Iraq, or Afghanistan wouldn’t be fought as frequently.

American efforts to democratize Iraq after invading in 2003.

Investment and worker’s rights in these countries would bolster their people and elevate them to levels of higher prosperity.

The United States would no longer have to force countries to democratize. Instead, the people of these nations would crave democracy for themselves, seeing that democracy can help the masses, not just the elite.

Ultimately, this investment of soft power would replace American foreign policy, adding credibility to American power and allowing the United States to focus on investing in its citizens rather than engaging in war abroad.

To the Future

As the world sees countries like Belarus, Hungary, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Myanmar drift further away from democracy, American policymakers must work on incorporating other nations to a larger concept of global democracy.

Anti-Lukashenko protests in Belarus.

By focusing on worker’s rights and foreign investment, the autocracy’s appeal can be defanged without a single shot being fired.

Whether Werner’s ideas are idealistic or achievable, they are far better than America’s previous decades of global “democratization.”

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Quentin Choy, creator of <em>WeTheCommoners Blog</em>
Quentin Choy, creator of WeTheCommoners Blog

Quentin is a student of Political Science. He became interested in history and politics in 2015 watching the Republican and Democratic primaries as well as the 2016 General Election.

He is from Hawaii and currently attends school in Colorado.

Image Courtesy of The Progressive.

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