By definition, democracy is messy. So why are many so-called 'prominent thinkers' insisting on tinkering with it when that's precisely how it has eroded?
You know that there's some serious soul-searching going on in Western democracies when American President Joe Biden hosts an entire summit to save it last December, and then Foreign Policy magazine publishes an article with contributions from "thinkers" on how to "fix" it.
Democracy seemed to be doing just fine until a series of events spooked the global elites around the same time.
What does Donald Trump's election to the Oval Office in 2016, the pro-Brexit victory in Great Britain of the same year, the separatist victory in the Catalan Independence Referendum the following year, and the rise of the Yellow Vest anti-taxation protest movement in France all have in common? Each was a populist movement against seemingly harmonized agendas formulated in back rooms by the global elites and subsequently imposed on citizens across the Western world.
All of these events sprung up as a healthy democratic response to system failure warnings. Those warning signs included systemic corruption of free-market capitalism to the point of rampant corporatism, which gave rise to movements seeking to wrest back some control in a balance of power that had shifted too much into too few hands.
But the same world leaders facing this healthy democratic blowback by the people were disturbed by the notion of losing control of - and compliance with - their agenda and talking points. Which talking points and agenda, exactly? Just take any G7 meeting. Their key objectives are mostly the same: increased taxation and spending to "fight" climate change, defending "freedoms" against Russia/China/Iran/Darth Vader through increased transfer payments to defense budgets and contractors, and dumping money into pet NGOs with cronies on their boards in the interests of making people smarter, more equal, and more likely to demand that others refer to them by multiple pronouns rather than the binary approach favored by our unenlightened forebears.
But the citizens weren't buying into it, and they took to the streets and the polls to express the extent to which they'd be willing to not go quietly into the brave new world order. So 'populism' - the defense of democracy by and for the people - became a dirty word in the mouths of elites.
Last year, while discussing the Chinese social credit system during a French senate committee meeting, Senator Jean-Raymond Hugonet of the center-right Republican Party evoked the system used by the Chinese government to track its population and restrict the daily lives of non-abiders: "It is very interesting to see the way in which China, which has a population infinitely larger than that of European countries, is tackling the treatment of a virus much more important than the Covid, which will overwhelm us - namely the anomie, that is to say the absence of recognition, by a human being or by a society, of the rules and laws," Hugonet said. "We have seen the yellow vests and are witnessing manifestations of anomie in France every day."
So there you have it. Populism is a "virus" worse than Covid to some of these people governing our lives. And they want even more governance, and less populist engagement in democracy by people who manifestly oppose their vision and agenda.
So when Foreign Policy magazine asked ten contributors for a January 7 piece on fixing democracy what they believe the solution is, it's hardly surprising that many widely miss the mark.
For instance, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested the need to "build an alliance of democracies." Excuse me, Sir, but may I refer you to your former title? Perhaps he missed the opportunity when he helmed NATO for five years? More recently, Rasmussen has been serving on the advisory board of NewsGuard Technologies, a New York-based company backed by private interests, which attributes subjective labels to sources of information, thereby guiding audiences to favorable information and narratives. Sounds pretty undemocratic.
Josh Rudolph, fellow for malign finance at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, writes about his concern that "Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin began to authorize campaigns of strategic corruption that have taken the threat to democracies to a whole new level." Quick question: Who funds think tanks like, say, the Alliance For Securing Democracy, housed with the German Marshall Fund, which is itself funded by CIA-linked USAID, the European Commission, and George Soros' Open Society Foundations? Maybe start there in examining fiscal influence within democracies?
Meanwhile, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, wants to see more "digital and disinformation defense," launching into a tirade about Russia, to which he attempts to attribute a laundry list of unfavorable political outcomes. It might behoove him to check out the contribution of NY Times economic reporter Eduardo Porter, who points out that "the most insidious threat to Western liberal democracies doesn't come from China or Russia but from within." He has a point... so far.
But then, when elaborating, Porter identifies the domestic threat to democracies as "the urge of white, Christian native populations to circle the wagons against Black and other racial minorities." Maybe he could take a hint from fellow contributor Yascha Mounk, founder and editor in chief of Persuasion, who calls for a "cease-fire in the culture wars." Yeah, can't we just give peace a chance? Or is that not profitable enough to those in the democracy-promoting industry?
It's fairly unlikely that wannabe saviors of democracy are going to get the job done. Some of them are even part of the problem. They fail to understand that true democracy and true diversity also means ensuring that individual choices and decisions remain free of control by self-appointed gatekeepers under the guise of protecting democracy while really just mostly trying to protect their own interests.