A Step Backward for Democracy

President Joe Biden has called the confrontation between autocracy and democracy the central issue of our time, and it is the cornerstone of his administration’s foreign policy. He has questioned the regime of Xi Jinping on the grounds of human rights, for the suppression of individual liberties in Hong Kong and for its threat to annex Taiwan by force. He has organized a vigorous response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, imposing economic sanctions on Russia and mobilizing significant financial and military resources in support of the Ukrainian government.

To support Ukrainian resistance to the Russian aggression, President Biden has revived the concept of the United States as “the arsenal of democracy.” This was a term coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the beginning of World War II. Before the U.S. formally entered the conflict as a combatant, it provided assistance to the United Kingdom to resist Nazi aggression.

Faced with the Russian aggression, NATO has built up its strength, and the U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to the defense of Western democracies. With respect to relations between Russia and the European countries, the U.S. has reverted to a condition similar to the way things were during the Cold War. On the foreign policy front, there has been an undeniable change in contrast to the approache of the previous administration, which was openly hostile to the European Union but expressed a curious sympathy for the autocratic regimes of Russia and North Korea.

But the biggest threat to U.S. democracy is not foreign. It is domestic, and it is political as well as judicial. In terms of partisan politics, the United States is facing the unprecedented situation of a president who refused to allow the peaceful transfer of power, and who tried to stay in office through violence,after losing the election by 7 million votes. He has also convinced his followers that his successor is an illegitimate president. Although Donald Trump is the famous participant in the threat to democracy, he is more a symptom than its cause. The fundamental problem is that the Republican Party, feeling that it is in the minority, has stopped believing in liberal democracy and is prepared to resort to illegal means to gain and exercise power against the will of the people.

The judicial expression of that phenomenon is the recent decision of the Supreme Court by a majority of extreme right justices appointed by Republican presidents, to overturn progressive decisions such as Roe v. Wade that expanded individual liberties including the right to abortion. The argument the court advanced that the right to abortion is not found in the Constitution will threaten other precedent that has legalized family planning and same-sex marriage.

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