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'Democracy' summit exposes US decline

By Sun Chenghao | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-14 06:46
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US President Joe Biden delivers opening remarks for the virtual "Summit for Democracy" in the South Court Auditorium on Dec 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Joe Biden has striven to re-activate "traditional value-oriented diplomacy" and made it one of his diplomatic tools to reshape the United States' relations with its allies and reclaim its global leadership since his inauguration in January. The "Summit for Democracy", a first-of-its-kind meeting, is a typical example of what Biden calls value-oriented diplomacy.

What the seeming hustle and bustle of the summit have revealed is only the decline of democracy in the US and its hypocrisy and impatience to prove to the world that it remains the "beacon for the globe".

The so-called democracy summit, which concluded on Friday, was held at a time when the democratic system the US takes pride in is teetering on the verge of collapse. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the vulnerability of the US democratic system, which separates the three branches of the government-legislature, executive and judiciary-focuses on bipartisan politics and democratic elections, and emphasizes the importance of checks and balances on power, the right to vote, and the freedom of individuals.

The systemic maladies US-style democracy has developed have made it impossible for the US to call itself the "beacon of democracy" or the "land of freedom".

First, the checks and balances of power have turned into "veto politics" with each branch of the government using its veto right to set up policy barriers, seriously compromising decision-making efficiency. Which has resulted in collisions between the US Supreme Court and the federal government, and discord between the Congress and the federal government on many occasions. For example, during the Donald Trump administration, the federal government and the judiciary were locked in a tussle over immigration policy.

Second, bipartisan politics has developed into a bipartisan dog fight. Cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans is rare while differences on a series of issues including expenditure, immigration, abortion and gun control have widened. And that is true for all administrations, including the Trump and Biden administrations.

Recently, the expenditure plan Biden proposed was affected by not only bipartisan game playing but also the differences within the Democratic Party. Which shows the tensions and extent of US political polarization.

And third, the democratic elections have turned into money politics. Ostentatious interest groups pick and endow their respective politicians while the super political action committee makes it hard to track and closely monitor the election funds. Ordinary people in general are unable to run for election. Against this background, the 2020 presidential election smashed the spending record with $14 billion, more than two times that in the 2016 election.

More important, people in the US were forced to suffer because of the erroneous policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic of previous president Trump and the federal government in 2020 thanks to the astute calculations of US politicians and election politics-influenced governance logic. Trump even tried to instigate a domestic split, and fuel anti-foreigner sentiment to repeat the "victory in chaos" drama of 2016. Worse, the turmoil on Capitol Hill in January was a slap in the face for US-style democracy and the scar it left has not yet healed.

In a poll conducted by Harvard Kennedy School covering 18-29 years old in the US, about 52 percent of the respondents said they believe democracy in the US is either "in trouble" or "failing", with only 7 percent saying they view the US as a "healthy democracy".

But some politicians, still lost in the miasma of the "beacon of democracy", insist on continuing to make rules on universal values by hosting meetings such as the "democracy" summit. Washington's irresistible urge to set up "democracy camps" on its own is indeed an insult to democracy. The US has turned its style of democracy into a weapon, which it wields against other countries and uses to implement its own plans, creating chaos and devastating people's lives around the world in the process.

The democracy model the US boasts of could give rise to trouble and disorder if transplanted to other countries given their distinct national and social conditions and public opinions. History teaches us lessons the hard way. A government that chooses a political and development path against the will of its people will eventually end up creating lawlessness and entropy.

In the final analysis, democracy must be people-centered, aimed at solving people's real problems, while the form of democracy the US preaches goes against this goal and will be consigned to the trash bin of history, because history is always forward-looking.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

The author is a guest researcher at the Center for International Security and Strategy, Tsinghua University.

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