Is Democracy Fading?
The western world risks losing faith in its political system
Public opinion across the Western world has turned against America, its beacon of democracy. The current President still enjoys nearly eighty percent approval rating amongst Republicans - even after an unsubstantiated challenge to the election that he lost, a second impeachment and apparently supporting an armed insurrection on the Capitol.
Democracy looks challenged.
Research reveals that Europeans think the US has lost its power and can no longer be trusted. They believe that within a decade China will become the leading superpower and that there is nothing much Jo Biden can do about it. They also believe that if there is conflict between the US and China, then the EU should remain neutral.
Donald Trump’s legacy, rooted in the mistrust of government following years of gridlock in Congress, redistricting, bipartisan politics, emails gone missing, dubious facts and an increasingly extremist media, has sown genuine doubt about the integrity of the US election and the consequent validity of Joe Biden's leadership.
Meanwhile Italy’s government teeters on the verge of collapse leaving it exposed to a possible far right coalition, while authoritarian leaders in central Europe survive. Lukashenko has sidestepped a dubious election victory followed by national strikes, and he retains the badge of Europe's last dictator - no doubt propped up by Russia.
Europe looks split now that the UK has left its ranks with a light trade agreement that increases the cost of doing business. There is a danger, in the short term, that this might increase friction between the parties. Equally Germany and France’s dominance of the EU continues to undermine its unity and potential development.
Ironically, now that the UK has left the EU, their businesses might once again need to set up manufacturing, warehouses and offices on the continent to trade more efficiently - which could prove to be more advantageous for EU workers than for the British.
All the above are evidence of serious chinks in the Western system of government and the regions inter-relations, which might translate to a weakness in democracy. Fault lines are starting to appear. Continental Europe seems to be drifting further from the Anglo-Saxon nations - who in themselves are splitting. The US looks far apart from Canada, the UK might lose Scotland and Ireland is closer to Europe than ever.
These splits seem to be all the more dangerous given that the West faces four existential crises: the pandemic, the economy, climate change and inequality (including racial inequality). One of these might be enough to break the system and weaken democracy. All four at the same time are starting to look like a perfect storm.
This storm seems to be feeding off the West's schism. The US, the UK and Europe are mired in rolling lockdowns, business closures and increasing unemployment and hardship. This is sparking social instability and insecurity. The Western world might face a consequent fifth crisis - a wellbeing crisis.
Research reveals that societal wellbeing, particularly across teenagers, young workers and the elderly is becoming a major issue. It might be that a majority of our youth and the elderly could be suffering from high levels of anxiety and depression. They might turn on their government. They might want to consider something different.
All of this is happening while parts of the East look to be doing better. Better at managing the pandemic, better at managing their economies and more socially cohesive. Right now, China seems to be more effective at running its country than the US. If their statistics can be believed, they have Coronavirus under control and their economy is full steam ahead. Even North Korea claims to have no issue with the pandemic.
It leaves many of us wondering what has gone so wrong in the West. Have our democratic freedoms and inefficiencies finally come to roost? Are we like Rome in the last days of the Republic? Is the Western order about to be replaced by something else?
Joe Biden’s message of unity could not be more timely. But will it prove too little too late? He will have much to prove in the coming months. Bipartisanship is his biggest barrier. And it will be hard for him to focus on international relations given the huge domestic agenda.
In the meantime, business leaders are pulling their hair out. They need things to get back to normal. Democracy, stability, unity and open trade all help Western businesses to thrive and stock markets to support them. They want decisive, effective leaders to focus on getting past the pandemic and onto economic rehabilitation.
But, right now, the risks to democracy and stability are real. It is for each of us to examine our beliefs and our conscience. Leadership has never mattered more. But surely a form of democratic leadership, with all of it's human flaws and endless compromises is better than the alternative.
In a time of deep crisis autocracy can move faster, more decisively and more aggressively. But it is the West that has produced the majority of the early vaccines. It should be the West that comes together to lead us out of the economic crisis and unites to tackle climate change. It ought to be the West, with the softer touch of an inclusive democratic system, that tackles inequality.
Perhaps Donald Trump’s greatest legacy will be for the Western world to turn away from divisive politics and divisive leaders and turn back to co-operation and openness. As post war reconstruction united the West just seventy years ago it might be that post Covid will do it now.
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