As President Joe Biden is set to host the second day of his Democracy Summit with more than 100 foreign dignitaries in virtual attendance, many wonder what was achieved during the first session. His message on the importance of democracy appears to be overshadowed by the insult some foreign leaders took after being excluded from the guest list in the first place. Others argued that before trying to fix the world, Mr. Biden should be working toward fixing America.
According to the folks who track such things, the United States is falling behind as a democracy. Michael J. Abramowitz, the president of advocacy group for human rights and democracy, Freedom House, said the U.S. ranked 50th on the organization’s annual index of global freedom. Just last month, the U.S. made the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s list of “backsliding democracies.”
The nation is experiencing a turbulent time with elected officials resigning left and right, parents and school administrators going head-to-head, and the never-ending pandemic and loss of jobs and homes. Additionally, the American people face discord over voting rights and a border crisis that has led to a flood of illegal aliens into the country in record numbers.
“Here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort,” Biden told the conference. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said technology is getting in the way of successful democracy. “The democratic conversation is changing,” the PM explained. “New technologies and large tech companies are increasingly setting the stage for the democratic dialogue, sometimes with more emphasis on reach than on freedom of speech.”
The U.S. president told the attending world leaders his $1 trillion infrastructure bill and the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act for social and climate change initiatives will show how well democracy can improve people’s lives. One of Biden’s bolder announcements was a new initiative that will see $424 million invested to advance technology, defend fair elections, combat corruption, and finance news media outlets overseas.
The timing of the summit comes as Biden is putting pressure on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to stop his troop buildup on the Ukraine border. During a video call with the Russian leader on Dec. 7, Biden warned there would be “severe consequences” if Russia decides to invade.
Mr. Biden also warned that autocratic governments try to “advance their own power, export and expand their influences around the world, and justify their repressive policies and practices as a more efficient way to address today’s challenge.” He explained that they do this by “increasing the dissatisfaction of people all around the world with democratic governments that they feel are failing to deliver for their needs.”
No, You’re Not Invited to the Democracy Summit
Russia and China were just two of the countries not invited to the meeting, and the exclusion did not go over well. Ambassadors to the U.S. from both nations wrote a joint essay accusing Biden’s administration of exhibiting a “Cold-War mentality” that will “stoke up ideological confrontation and a rift in the world.”
A Chinese report heavily mocks the U.S. and democracy alike, saying, “gunshots and farce on Capitol Hill have completely revealed what is underneath the gorgeous appearance of the American-style democracy.” It accused America of being a country where “money decides everything” and governing is impossible because of “an entrenched political paralysis.”
Chinese officials are also upset that Taiwan was invited to take part in the summit, claiming the island is part of its territory. China also objects to Taiwan having any independent contacts with foreign governments.
In November, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry Maria Zakharova made this harsh statement:
“The United States claims the right to decide who is worthy of being called a democracy and who is not. It certainly looks cynical. I would say that it looks pathetic, given the state of democracy and human rights in the United States and in the West in general.”
Hungary was also insulted not to be on the guest list and was the only European Union member not invited. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called it a “domestic political-type of event” where countries whose leaders had a good relationship with former President Donald Trump were not invited to attend or participate.
Confusion and criticism followed the choices over who would and would not attend. For example, why include the Philippines, which has been condemned for extrajudicial killings, or Pakistan, accused by the U.S. of “forced disappearance by the government or its agents; torture; and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government”? Singapore was also left off the guest list even though U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris have visited this year to promote relationships with the city-state’s leaders as an ally in the South China Sea.
So, what has come out of this summit so far? Biden said, “The choices we make, in my view, at this moment are going to fundamentally determine the direction our world is going to take in the coming decade.” But critics disagree. Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, said, “You can’t try to export and defend democracy globally when you can’t protect it domestically. You can’t be the global fireman when your house is on fire.” And Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, opined:
“American democracy at home and global democracy abroad are in dire need of strategy, of improvement, because both are facing swift recession. But a summit is not a strategy. In fact, a summit has been a distraction.”
~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.