For much of the Western World, December is a season of reunions. In a month full of holidays, workers take time off to assess what’s happened in the year which just ended. Young families pack up the car to drive to their Grandparents’ house. Newly minted adults head home from college to see parents and friends from high school. It’s the time of year everyone checks in on how the people in their lives are faring and maybe lend a helping hand or a quick word of advice if they need it.
On behalf of the global community, maybe its time to reach out to our friends in the United States to see if there’s anything they need. It’s pretty clear to those on the outside that things are not ok. Just like that friend from home who used to be a star athlete but is now potbellied, out of work and reliving his glory days well into middle age, it’s startling to see the world’s self-proclaimed defender of democracy in such rough shape.
For the first time, the US has been added to an annual list of “backsliding” democracies by a respected European think tank. It’s a shocking indictment of a country that continually flaunts its prowess at the process of democratic governance and denounces any other form of government as implicitly immoral or “less than ideal.” According to Sweden’s International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s, the US’ “visible deterioration” began in 2019, but most people would admit to saying they’ve noticed the decline for years:
- As of 2021, in more than 25 States, the Republican Party led legislatures have manipulated new congressional maps to give their party a majority of seats with a minority of the vote;
- According to the US Census Bureau, the lowest 40% of earners in the U.S. were worse off in 2019 than 18th century French peasants, with a Gini Coefficient (a statistical measure of a country’s income inequality) approaching that of the 1789 Revolution;
- In 2021, for the first time in its history – an outgoing President refused to engage in the peaceful transition of power.
If the US was your athlete friend from high school – you’d say he needs to hit the gym and work on himself. The least responsible thing you could do is tell him he looks great and that he should put on a swimsuit and strut around. But that’s exactly what’s happening.
On December 9th and 10th the US will host the global “Summit for Democracy.” Ever ready with implicit martial metaphors, the Summit’s key themes will be defending against authoritarianism and fighting corruption. Rather than lead by example and get its own house in order, the US, whose ability to self-govern continues to weaken and whose people are experiencing a generational drop in standard of living and life expectancy, thinks the best course of action is to double down on coaching the world how to behave.
It’s the same as that former athlete lecturing you on what exercises to do to get in shape, even though the last time he hit the gym was twenty years ago. By nearly every metric (education, healthcare, crime – take your pick) the administrative model of the United States is not keeping pace with the times. We haven’t even mentioned the country’s utterly inadequate response to Covid-19. Rather than look around for new ideas to address its problems, the US is retreating further and further into the habits it already knows. There may irreconcilable differences between how the United States conducts itself and how countries of wildly different backgrounds, such as China, operate their societies. What cannot be argued, however, is that China has made great strides over the past forty years, lifting more people out of poverty that ever before in history. Instead of planning a “Summit for Democracy” and inviting representatives from Taipei (a move calculated to irritate Beijing), imagine if the US decided to host “Summit for the Global Future” and invited anyone that had good ideas on how to move the world forward. That is how a confident and healthy nation would behave. Rather than further dividing the world into competing systems of government, it would tell the world that all ideas are on the table as long as it brings progress. That would require the US to work on itself first and, sadly, it doesn’t seem to want to put in the effort.
This holiday season, the world should tell the US to get back in the gym.
Vendor Media Asia