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Sorry state of US democracy will greet Biden's summit

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-03 07:18
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People walk on Times Square in New York, the United States, Nov 23, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

A Chinese national living in Germany told me recently that, as a college student in Shanghai back in the 1980s, he used to admire US democracy, but added that he has since become extremely baffled by many of the US' actions.

Having lived in the United States for 11 years, I can understand his disappointment. I have been travelling to the US since the early 1990s and have been told repeatedly by some US citizens that the country was not in its best shape. In other words, I should come back to see a real "shining city on a hill".

Sadly, my repeated visits to the US, including long stays, over the last two decades have resulted in more disappointment with the US waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to "spread freedom and democracy", conducting rampant drone strikes on a dozen Muslim countries and quitting global treaties and organizations, which have violated international rules and undermined multilateralism.

Domestically, the serious issues of racial disparity, homelessness, the world's largest prison system with disproportionate numbers of Hispanic and African American inmates, gun violence, partisan divide and the importance of money in politics have almost deteriorated the democratic values in the US. If there is a word to describe US democracy today, it is "dysfunctional".

Exactly a year ago, US President Joe Biden broke the fund-raising record to become the first presidential candidate to raise $1 billion from donors. Which shows that money talks in the presidential race and US politics.

It is no secret that the powerful K Street, which has been a notorious revolving door for many leaders formerly in power, influencing, to put it mildly, US lawmakers and officials to champion the agendas of the special interest groups they represent.

The police brutality against African-American George Floyd and the "Black Lives Matter" movement reflect only the tip of the iceberg of the appalling racial tensions between whites and African Americans even 58 years after Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I have a dream" speech.

A Pew report last year showed that 59 percent of the people in the US were not satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country-only 39 percent were satisfied. And a Gallup poll in November showed that only 24 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country.

Besides, according to a CNN poll in September, 93 percent of the respondents said that democracy in the US is either under attack (56 percent) or is being tested but not under attack (37 percent). And on Tuesday, US Senator Bernie Sanders said "that just this year alone, 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote have been enacted", and decried that it as "unacceptable".

More important, just a week ago, the US was added to the annual list of "backsliding" democracies for the first time by the Sweden-based International IDEA think tank. The question is: Why did it take such a long time for the US to be put on the list when many Americans have known it for many years.

Moreover, even months after Biden's inauguration, nearly one-third of Americans claim his victory in the 2020 presidential election was the result of widespread voter fraud, according to a Monmouth University poll.

Since October, Biden's approval rating has remained at 42 percent. On key issues such as his job as president, healthcare policy, crime, foreign affairs, the economy and immigration, the disapprovals were much more than approvals according to a Nov 1-16 Gallup poll. And a USA Today/Suffolk University poll in early November showed his approval rating to be at a record low of 38 percent.

It is against this background that Biden will host more than 100 global leaders at the virtual Summit of Democracies on Dec 9-10. Certainly, Biden cannot be proud of the deeply sorry state that US democracy is in, let alone tout it as "power of example" to use his own catchphrase.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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