Fading democracy

Why wouldn’t everyone love America and Americans? I happen to be one that do, but it’s not hard to see why some struggle. It could be because there is sometimes the expectation that loving what many see as the epicenter of freedom and democracy is the only logical response. The City Upon a Hill-attitude works very well if you are an American, but sometimes it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t have a choice. America is the parent that has the right to make decisions the children neither understands or likes. President-elect Kennedy used the phrase in 1961, Ronald Reagan opened and ended his time in the White House with this reference to John Winthrop, and George Bush said this in 2004:

Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom. This is the everlasting dream of America.

Many seem to think that democracy died the day Donald Trump won the election, as if the previous administrations have been perfect. American entertainment has conquered the world, but this isn’t just entertainment. A lot of it supports the idea that America is the beacon of hope, our last best hope for peace. It’s the one place on this planet where we are guaranteed complete personal freedom. This is the American dream, but is that really an option today? Democracy is about more than celebrities’ right to rant louder and uglier than the president, the freedom to redefine your gender multiple times, or the right to have Christian symbols like a cross or a nativity scene removed from public land. Some people would argue that our own societies are major renovation objects too, and that this is where we need to start.

One of the most controversial policies has been the determination to spread democracy. An article by Sean Lynn-Jones from Harvard Kennedy School, written in 1998, supports this idea and he concludes that the USA ought to spread a liberal democracy. Liberalism aims to guarantee individuals rights such as the right to choose religion, gender, sexual orientation as well as equal opportunities in health care, education and employment. It may sound like a good idea, but this quote from from the article is problematic:

Policies to promote democracy should attempt to increase the number of regimes that respect the individual liberties that lie in the heart of liberalism and elect their leaders. The United States therefore should attempt to build support for liberal principles-many of which are enshrined in international human rights treatises-as well as encouraging states to hold free and fair elections.

First of all, where do we stand ourselves? Most people in my country think they live in a democracy. That is the official story, and we may deserve the number one spot in a report The Economist Intelligence Unit published in 2010. The report listed 167 countries from the most to the least democratic, with Norway as number one with 9,8 out of 10 points and North Korea at the other end with 1,08 points. The USA and Britain were 17 and 19, which was mainly because civil liberties had been sacrificed in the war against terror. The same countries occupied 1st and 167th place six years later, while the USA shared the 21st position together with Italy, which put them in the flawed democracy category. Shouldn’t the city upon a hill be a little higher? Incidentally, our friends in Saudi Arabia are tied for 159 together with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Are we trying to encourage liberalism in our allied countries? Read about it on Wikpedia.

The main issues in Norway is that we have a political elite that no longer needs the people, and that many decisions are taken in the EU, where we are not even a member. The UN has pointed out on several occasions that Norway is breaking human rights. We also have a press that has given up its independence.

Map showing the democracy index.
Dark blue is good and brown is as bad as it gets on the democracy index. Photo: Kamalthebest via Wikimedia Commons


It’s interesting that the report points to reduced freedom for the press and the eagerness to spread democracy, while we support authoritarian regimes like Egypt (under Mubarak) and Saudi Arabia. Countries like Ukraine and Turkey, and the EU are not exactly moving in the right direction either. This is the hypocrisy that makes it hard for foreigners to love America.

The author of the article assumes that it’s democracy if you force it on people. Sovereignty, the right to govern yourself without interference from outside bodies, is an important part of international law. It’s irrelevant what you thought about Gadaffi in Libya, and what you think about Assad in Syria. The fact is that both leaders had support in their own country, and although it was obvious that there were serious problems, they also enacted much needed reforms. I wonder how much more we can expect. No matter what religion we are talking about it’s a bad idea to mix it with politics. It’s not because they are Muslims, but because this has been a deeply religious region since long before Islam was invented. You can’t change that over night and we shouldn’t expect them to give people rights we can’t even agree on in our own societies. I think we should do more to encourage change in countries we see as allies, but we should start with ourselves.

Why the United States Should Spread Democracy

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