We were at an inflection point, Biden said in a speech at the Munich security conference on Friday, between those who say that given all the challenges we face, from the Fourth Industrial Revolution to a global pandemic , autocracy is the best way forward, they argue. , and those who understand that democracy is essential, essential to meet these challenges.
Historians will examine and write about this moment as an inflection point, as I said, he continued of the White House. And i believe [with] every ounce of my being that democracy goes and must prevail. We must demonstrate that democracy can still be beneficial to our people in this changed world. This is, in my opinion, our galvanizing mission. Democracy is not the result of chance.
Such a rebuke from autocratic world leaders would not be abnormal for any US president, except perhaps Bidens’ immediate predecessor. Donald Trump was not a strong supporter of democracy, as he has clearly shown over years of publicly embracing leaders such as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. But it was his reaction to the country’s last democratic elections that cemented his opinion of giving voice to the people: his repeated lies about the results of the presidential race ultimately led to a violent attempt to block the election results on January 6. in the USA. Capitol in Washington.
Trump’s views pushed his party to the right, but the Republican Party was already moving in that direction.
The Institute of Democracy Varieties at Gothenburg University, measures political parties in different countries on various parameters, including how populist and non-liberal they are, that is, how well parties adopt free and fair elections. If we plot the changes by party in different countries over time, the result looks a bit messy, but looks something like this.
(This graph is strongly influenced by a Evaluation produced by The Economist in October. The x-axis, from left to right, assesses the question: To what extent does the party show a lack of commitment to democratic standards ahead of the elections? The y-axis, from bottom to top, assesses, to what extent are party representatives using populist rhetoric?)
If we isolate the United States, we see a large divide between the two major parties. The Democratic Party has become slightly more populist in recent decades, but has always remained liberal (again, i.e. in the context of democracy). The Republican Party, on the other hand, has become much more illiberal and populist. The most recent year for which data exists, 2018 (marked by a larger dot), measures the GOP close to some of the least liberal and most populist parties in the world.
Compare the Republican Party movement with the main parties in the UK. The Conservative Party has also shifted towards illiberalism, albeit more subtly. UKIP, the UK Independence Party to which Trump ally Nigel Farage once belonged, is more populist than the GOP but slightly less illiberal.
The Putin United Russia Party is more anti-liberal than the GOP, unsurprisingly given that the country is an autocracy.
Rather, the movement seen by the GOP reflects the change seen in Fidesz, the party led by President Viktor Orban of Hungary. It has also become more populist and more illiberal in recent decades.
A more drastic shift can be seen within Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which has gone from staunch populist to heavily authoritarian following a coup attempt in 2016.
Orban and Erdogan were welcomed to Trump’s White House, unsurprisingly.
Even traditionally far-right parties such as the French National Front are seen as less illiberal than the Republican Party.
The distribution of party identities in France serves as an effective reminder of the nature of the challenge in the United States. Yes, France has the far-right National Front, but it also has a number of other parties.
If we look at the most recent position of each party in each county as some kind of spectrum of worldviews, we get something that looks something like this.
By isolating France, you see that the country’s parties (including some that are no longer actively engaged in national politics) cover a large area on the map.
In Greece, parties cover almost the entire spectrum.
In Germany, the range is narrower, but most political parties fall within a narrow non-populist and pro-liberal-democracy range.
Then theres the United States.
Keep in mind that what is displayed above is not really a measure of political opinion. Instead, it is a measure of the extent to which parties respect democratic traditions.
This was Bidens’ point: the world was tempted not to rely on liberal democracy as a tool for distributing power. He was offering his comments to an international body with a clear focus on countries like China and Russia. But his message was also, intentionally or not, a sort of repudiation of the political party of the man who lived in the White House a month ago.
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