We are living a historical moment in which democracy is not in good health; democratic systems are suffering from a high fever. In America and Europe, they even risk collapsing in their historic strongholds. Democracies have to deal externally with autocracies (especially Russia and China) and internally with the onslaught of populist movements.
The most striking case is in the United States, the pivot of democracies in the world. On January 6, 2021, the world experienced an unheard-of event with dismay: thousands of protesters attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington, trying to prevent Joe Biden from taking office in the White House. Right-wing extremists carried out the assault in consonance with the allegations of “stolen elections” launched against Biden and the Democratic Party by Donald Trump, when, at the time, was still President of the United States.
Now, a commission of inquiry of the House of Representatives (with a democratic majority) has established that there was “an attempted coup d’état.” However, Trump does not necessarily turn into a defendant for two reasons:
1) the Republican Party has a majority in the Senate
2) Biden himself is cautious because about half of the United States still cheers for Trump.
It is no coincidence that the Democratic President is trying to give political answers to the problems raised by his populist predecessor in the White House. Biden also raised the flag of “America first.” In foreign policy he has implemented a muscular policy towards international opponents: more in a military key against Vladimir Putin who invaded Ukraine, and more in a diplomatic key against Xi Jinping who threatens to take over Taiwan. Biden, in internal politics, instead tried to steal the consensus of the impoverished white middle class that made the fortune of the Republican billionaire. The President of the United States has launched a maxi investment plan in infrastructure and in the welfare state (health and education) to provide work and provide assistance to the white middle class mesmerized by Trump’s populist promises.
Civil rights are also under discussion in the United States. The Supreme Court (with a Republican majority) has canceled the right to guaranteed abortion at the national level, leaving the states of the Union to decide whether to allow women to terminate a pregnancy or not. Biden is in favor of a law to restore this right, meanwhile he has signed an executive order to allow women to travel to specific states where abortion is legal. A clash is looming between government and justice, and we cannot allow an out-of-control court to limit the people’s freedom!
To add to his responsibilities, the U.S. President has to face serious challenges with an uncertain outcome: military and financial support for Ukraine in the war against Russia, strong inflation with skyrocketing gasoline prices, and the probable arrival of an economic recession.
European democracies are not better off, as the crisis is severe. The populist, sovereign, and anti-system revolt has also blown across Europe. In Italy, Mario Draghi, a technician, presides over a government of national unity after the failure of the populism of Grillo’s 5 Star Movement and Salvini’s League. However, now the former president of the ECB is with both feet out of the government because Conte’s Cinquestelle have not voted him to trust in the Senate.
Other European countries are not doing much better. In France, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, was narrowly re-elected but no longer has a majority in Parliament due to the affirmation of populism on the right and left. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to resign by the Conservatives, his own party, after riding a pyrotechnic sovereign populism for years with the successful Brexit coup in 2016. Darkness overrides the future of Britain, a victim of the political and economic crisis.
Economic globalization, strongly desired in the nineties by big finance and the left wing (a great supporter was Bill Clinton), has created the fortune of large multinational groups. This was primarily achieved by relocating production to the East, saving on labor costs, and buying raw materials (above all oil and gas) at low prices. China (now the second largest economic power in the world after the United States), and the former emerging countries such as India, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore have won. Nevertheless, the middle-western class has lost jobs and has impoverished due to competition among workers from the Far East and Eastern Europe with very low wages. As referenced in an essay published by the Center for Global Development, “in the mature economies of the western world, the middle class, considered from Aristotle to de Tocqueville the bulwark of democratic government, has been losing out, capturing a declining share of total income growth.” This cannot entirely be blamed on the opening of markets in the developing world, but it is also not entirely a coincidence. In the above mentioned emerging countries, and most dramatically in China, a new middle class has been on the rise since the almost universal post-Cold War embrace of open markets, growing in numbers and capturing an increasing share of total income in their own countries.
The arrival of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine were the final blows to globalization; it has entered irremediably into crisis. For some years we have been looking for a different response and model, respectful of the human, social, and economic rights of citizens. The workers, the unemployed, the precarious, and the pensioners are waiting for answers. An answer will have to arrive soon because the very existence of democracies is at stake. Besides autocracies, the so-called “illiberal democracies” (as in Hungary) are also advancing. It is a very dangerous landslide.
Featured image by: The Creative Post