Cowboys Attacking Democracy

The world has changed — and not for the better.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine this week is a clear sign that liberal democracies, which have had the upper hand since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, have lost their influence.

This attack also proves that the state of international law is in decline. The bedrock of this key achievement of the postwar era was respect for countries’ sovereignty.

But the United States, which has played the role of world sheriff since the end of the Cold War, does not look the same anymore. We saw it in Afghanistan, where its chaotic departure left the door open for the Taliban, who have turned democracy to rubble.

When the sheriff is not around, cowboys rule.

And a despot like Vladimir Putin is no longer wasting any time redrawing the map according to his vision of the old Soviet empire.

With no regard for international rules.

With no regard for those who will pay with their lives.

With no regard for democracy in Ukraine.


That Russia is trampling on international convention is not that surprising. We saw it in Georgia in 2008. We saw it in Crimea in 2014. What is more surprising is the reaction of Americans themselves to the invasion of Ukraine.

Seeing their sworn Cold War enemy starting a war, despite President Joe Biden’s warnings, we would have thought Americans were rallying behind their leader. Tradition wants us to leave partisan arguments aside, at least temporarily, in order to face an external threat.

But far from burying the hatchet, former President Donald Trump has instead seized the occasion to praise Putin’s “genius,” who, let us underscore it in bold, schemed on social networks to help his 2016 election … and to undermine American democracy.

Putin can say, “Mission accomplished.”

Today, the authoritarian management style is popular among Republicans, more of whom support the Russian president than their own. It is unbelievable.

Clearly, democracy is in decline — on all fronts.

These Republicans who continue to claim, incorrectly, that there was voter fraud in the latest election — do they even know how Putin organizes an election? Do those who sprinkle insults on Biden see how political opponents in Russia seem, vexingly, to die immediately?

Little does it matter. In the age of political tribalism, we follow the leader’s ideas and vilify the opponent.


Unfortunately, this political divisiveness is crossing the border, as we saw with the siege that paralyzed Ottawa for three weeks.

Let us be clear: It is perfectly legitimate to protest against public health measures, but when the goal is to overthrow the government, it is no longer legitimate at all.

One would have preferred that all elected officials condemn this attack on democracy. But no.

The parties are all coming out of this sad episode with a black eye, this episode which has once again undermined Canadians’ confidence in democratic institutions.

As proof, a majority of people think that leaders in government are trying to trick them, a jump of 12%.

It is urgent that we restore this confidence, which social media has notably broken down — social media, where hatred and disinformation are cultivated, where people become divided instead of engaging in constructive dialogue. As our democracies fall apart, dictatorships benefit from our weaknesses and score points.


We must not bury our heads in the sand. The invasion of Ukraine runs the risk of inspiring other autocratic regimes, seeing as how democracies have sat idly by.

It is true that world powers have been successful at imposing sanctions. Good.

But in the short term, these sanctions will not stop Russia, especially since China is at its side. And China, whose economy has grown three times as fast as the United States’ since 1990, is the world’s second-largest power.

That emboldens these leaders to affirm the superiority of their autocratic regimes to the world. With the invasion of Ukraine, China could now be tempted to take control of Taiwan.

We see the planet separating into two. And in this new world order, Canada is poorly positioned, because its foreign policy is based on respect for international rules, for institutions like the U.N. — whose security council is paralyzed by Russia and China.

The number of people living in a democracy has fallen to 46% in 2021, according to The Economist — a considerable decline of almost four points. And 2022 is hardly looking any better, unless we find ways to work together.

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