As a committed democrat, I would dearly love to be able to convince doubters of democracy’s superiority by pointing to its leaders. And in the past that has often been easy. Today, not so much.

This came home to me the other day as I followed the speeches at the current session of the United Nations and was faced with the unavoidable comparison between the most important dictator, Xi Jinping of China, facing off with the most important leader of a democracy, Donald Trump.

Xi presented a rational speech, focussing heavily on the world’s major challenge, global warming. “Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature,” he said, going on to promise carbon neutrality before 2060. He called for a “green revolution,” stating the coronavirus pandemic had shown the need to preserve the environment.

As for China’s relations with the U.S., he vowed to fight neither a cold war nor a hot war with anyone, saying “We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. … Unilateralism is dead.”

Trump, on the other hand, went on a rant that indicated unilateralism is far from dead, sounding very much like a cold warrior, attacking China on everything from emissions to its handling of Covid. He ignored what should be a democrat’s most serious concern about China—its human rights record, particularly its reign of terror against the Uighurs.

After dissing China, he went on to attack the World Health Organization (“virtually controlled by China”) and the UN, scattering falsehoods as he rambled. He had little to say about global warming.

What is it with the English-speaking world? We have produced more democratic leaders than any other culture, yet here we are in the 21st century with the two most important Anglosphere countries led by buffoons.

We do have one consolation, at least. We can easily get rid of them and try to get regain some semblance of rational leadership. The Chinese, on the other hand, are probably stuck with Chairman Xi for his lifetime and even after that there are no guarantees. 

2 thoughts on “Democracy embarrassed”
  1. Do you consider the United States a democracy? The evidence suggests just the opposite. The 2014 study out of Princeton by Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern) examined the voting record of both houses of Congress going back many years. What they found was that when the public interest and narrow, special interests clashed, the private interests prevailed. The authors concluded that oligarchy had quietly displaced democracy in America.

    This is the culmination of a process that goes back several decades. It began with ‘regulatory capture’ where the corporate sector was permitted to dominate regulatory bodies with reliable, industry-friendly individuals.

    John McCain and Russ Feingold tried to avert legislative capture with their campaign finance bill that would break Big Donor control over the legislatures. That went down in flames and, with it, any chance of restoring democracy. For years, America has had a “bought and paid for” Senate. It doesn’t matter who holds the White House when Congress is owned.

    Jefferson anticipated this when he wrote that, from time to time, the Tree of Liberty would have to be nourished with the blood of patriots. He knew that the original revolution would not be the last if freedom was to prevail over the United States.

    What is Donald Trump but the culmination of a process that began many years ago? Would you argue that America today has free and fair elections? From gerrymandering to voter suppression and nullification to influence peddling, even sophisticated and powerful voter manipulation (a la Cambridge Analytica) to foreign hacking, American democracy has probably never been as subverted and lifeless as it is today.

    This is more than just an interesting debate. Canada needs to recalibrate how it will engage with the United States. We’re becoming a bit like Switzerland with the scary Germans at the frontier.

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