“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus
In a recent article published by NC Policy Watch
, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, veteran journalist Max McCoy writes, “Globally, according to IDEA, the number of democracies has shrunk, and the pandemic has worsened government repression of dissidents and journalists. In Poland, the government ‘resorted to xenophobic, homophobic and antisemitic rhetoric,’ LGBTQ activists have faced harassment and arrests, and ‘restrictive abortion legislation has been passed despite public outcry. Sound familiar?’
McCoy goes on to address the growing movement to ban books in the U.S.
In Huffington Post, Ryan Grenoble points out
, “When Dr. Seuss’ publisher stopped printing one of his older books last year because of its racial stereotypes, Fox News and Republicans cried ‘cancel culture,’” but that despite the obvious hypocrisy, conservative groups and individuals in more than 30 states are now engaged in a campaign to remove books from schools and libraries that threaten their world view “in what experts are calling a historic and concerted book-banning effort.”
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee (RNC) declared the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrectionionist riot at the Capitol “legitimate political discourse,” and voted to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only two members of Congress who have publicly condemned both the deadly riot
and Donald Trump’s incitement of it, as well as his attempt to overturn the presidential election.
A growing number of Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have since criticized the RNC for the statement and the censure
, which suggests that there may be further backlash, including against defenders of the insurrection and Trump. Nevertheless, the percentage of Republicans who in November 2021 continued to distrust the results of the 2020 Election remained an incredible 65 percent. And those beginning to position themselves to challenge Trump for the 2024 Presidential nomination include such far-right figures as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
—hardly defenders of the Constitution.
An interesting take on another failing by the U.S. appears in the December issue of The Atlantic.
Pulitzer Prize winning historian Anne Applebaum writes
, “If the 20th century was the story of a slow, uneven struggle, ending with the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies–communism, fascism, virulent nationalism–the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.” She points out that the Stanford scholar Larry Diamond calls this era one of “democratic regression.”
Applebaum blames both sides of our political divide, albeit the Democrats less harshly, for a failure of strategy and diplomacy abroad that is allowing autocrats to gain power. She identifies the obvious dereliction of Donald Trump, but also points out that the left “has abandoned the idea that ‘democracy’ belongs at the heart of U.S. foreign policy—not out of greed and cynicism but out of a loss of faith in democracy at home.”
There is truth to her contention that as Americans struggle with our own profound problems maintaining democracy at home, many no longer believe that U.S. diplomacy has much to offer those struggling globally. From our current vantage point of acknowledging the failure of our ghastly “forever wars,” ostensibly fought to help others defeat dictatorships and establish democratic systems, we must address whether sanctions imposed after the fact are at all helpful. For example, as Vox reporter Ellen Ioanes wrote in January
, sanctions against the Taliban in Afghanistan are exacerbating a humanitarian crisis and forcing millions into poverty and starvation.
Applebaum not only criticizes past and present U.S. administrations, but also challenges the reader to demand greater investment in American pro-democracy influence around the world, regardless of our own current struggles, concluding that “if America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, the autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding, and ideas.” She goes a step further to identify the rise of autocrats worldwide as one of the roots of current threats to democracy at home: “If Americans, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home: indeed, they are already here.”
It seems we have come full circle, and that perhaps it is time to remember that along with moving to correct our own historical failings both at home and abroad, we must prioritize ensuring our continuing privilege to be an openly self-examining society.
The task is intimidating but essential.