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Why is democracy eroding more among America’s allies than in other countries? Moises Naím on

Why is democracy eroding more among America’s allies than in other countries? Moises Naím on how massive social change is affecting the way citizens feel, and the nature of politics, around the world. “The United States is very effective at exporting its anxieties.” Friends Like These Why is democracy eroding more among America’s allies than in other countries? Moises Naím on how massive social change is affecting the way citizens feel, and the nature of politics, around the world. Democracy is in retreat. It’s been one of the most persistent themes of the era—through a Donald Trump presidency defined by contempt for U.S. institutions; populist autocrats winning elections in Europe, Asia, and Latin America; military coups in Egypt, Myanmar, and Sudan; and an illiberal China’s apparently unstoppable rise. Now a research institute based in Sweden that measures democracy globally, [V-Dem]( has reached a striking conclusion: On average, democratic indicators dropped in the United States and allied countries at nearly [twice]( the rate of non-allied countries during the past 10 years. Very few allies experienced any increases in democracy, which the institute calculates based on hundreds of indicators, including election fairness and judicial independence. In other words, most global democratic regression isn’t the result of China, Russia, or other authoritarians undermining countries that are struggling with transitions to democracy; it’s the result of weakening institutions in countries that are established democracies—such as Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, and Israel. The study defines U.S. allies as the 41 cosuntries that Washington has mutual-defense agreements with. Of course, though the United States is the world’s oldest uninterrupted democracy, it has long kept defense pacts with dictators, and it hasn’t always demanded democratic behavior from its partners. Still, why the correlation between alliance with the U.S. and democratic decline? Moisés Naím—formerly Venezuela’s minister of trade and industry, the director of Venezuela’s Central Bank, and an executive director of the World Bank—is a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. In his view, the United States isn’t causing breakdowns for democratic allies; the U.S. usually has little to do with the vitality of democracy outside its borders. The global problem of democratic decline ultimately traces back to a series of profound economic and social shocks that most parts of the world have gone through during the past 20 years—and as Naím sees it, the social and political consequences of these shocks have been greater in liberal than in illiberal countries. ——— Michael Bluhm: Do you see any connection between the U.S. and democratic breakdowns among its allies? Moises Naím: If you’re in a democracy, you’ve gone through the 2008-2009 financial crisis, which has a long set of consequences. The political repercussions of the Great Recession are quite important, but they were not sufficiently noticed, and they created favorable conditions for demagogues and populists. We were saved from another Great Depression, but the recession did have significant effects: growing inequality, unemployment, declining incomes, declining budgets for social policies. The mantra of 2008-2009 was fiscal austerity—cutting budgets and curbing social programs. Around the world, we got a new lexicon, a new kind of politics that was not very democratic. It had a strong authoritarian propensity; it clashed with checks and balances, and limits to the power of the presidency. We saw it in Brazil, the Philippines, and Hungary. While all that was unfolding, we got hit by the pandemic. How can a democracy survive all those knocks without more skepticism, more frustration with the government—and with the idea of democracy itself? In democratic societies, protests are more visible; the instruments that the state has to control critics, more limited. It’s very important to note that even autocracies suffered the consequences of these situations. In Russia, Putin has tools, resources, and institutional settings that give him more power; he can be more repressive than a democracy. And he has been. The world, and democracies in general, have experienced significant external shocks. More from Moises Naím at The Signal: “Democracy is driven by many forces, one of which, and not the most important one, is the United States—its behavior, its significance as a model, or its intervention. There’s no doubt that it plays a role, but you have to be very careful not to assume that the main force shaping the prospects for democracy is what the U.S. does or doesn’t do.” “The backsliding is a consequence of a set of behaviors, decisions, and policies adopted by politicians. One of the most interesting surprises is how nations with different geographies, histories, cultures, and economics end up having extraordinarily similar politics and policies. If you compare the things [former Prime Minister] Sebastian Kurz in Austria says and does to President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, you will be impressed by how similar they are. Some have opposite ideologies—some are right-of-center, some are left, but their narrative is similar. There’s this significant pattern across countries that have very little in common other than a leader who was brought to power, and is retaining power, by using the same set of populist tools.” “I often use a quote by Jose Ortega y Gasset, a political theorist in Spain in the 1930s. He wrote, We don’t know what is happening to us, and this is precisely what is happening to us. That’s uncertainty. Everyone knows that we’re going through tectonic changes driven by politics, the pandemic, great-power rivalries, and technology. We know that a lot of things are happening that are large-scale and uncontainable, and will affect me, my family, my company, my country, and my neighborhood. I don’t know how my family and I are going to end up. And this creates a foul mood that’s being exploited by politicians who discovered this demand for protection, for a promise to fortify and defend people from the consequences of these huge changes.” ——— ——— [The Signal]( is a new digital publication exploring urgent questions in democratic life and the human world—sustained entirely by readers like you. To support The Signal and for full access: © 2021 The Signal The Signal | 717 N St. NW, Ste. One, Washington, DC 20011 [Unsubscribe {EMAIL}]( [Constant Contact Data Notice]( Sent by newsletters@thesgnl.email

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