In President Joe Biden’s most recent State of the Union address, he optimistically declared that democracy is winning in the world. Autocracies are failing, hope is ubiquitous and there are brighter days ahead. While positivity can be reassuring, Biden’s claims are overblown. Nearly everywhere on earth, democracy is facing its toughest challenges since World War II.
Just look at the brutal Ukraine War, where thousands of Ukrainians have died in order to protect their homeland. There is no denying the severity of Russia’s decision to invade its sovereign and democratic neighbor, despite disastrous military performance and bungled leadership. Ukraine is holding on, but for how much longer? Are they really winning? Is anyone?
Not to mention authoritarian China, with confidence and strength increasing day by day. The nation has teased a potential invasion of their democratic neighbor Taiwan for decades, and they may finally act upon their threats. According to a leaked memo obtained by The Guardian, one high-ranking U.S. general predicted that a conflict will occur as soon as the year 2025.
Democracy has even been under assault within several democratic nations’ own borders. The U.S., Germany, France, Brazil and many other nations have been rattled by far-right extremism and acts of domestic terrorism. Just think of Jan. 6 or the copycat version in Brazil. In many of these countries, including the U.S., several lawmakers have even encouraged violence.
In Israel, India and the Philippines, democracy has been on the decline for several years. With the return of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power, Foreign Affairs magazine reports that Israel’s farright has weakened the judiciary and strengthened government control over the courts and civil service.
In India, the world’s largest democracy by population, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have tarnished democratic practices by forcefully silencing critics, issuing blatant propaganda, diminishing religious tolerance and fanning social division and violence.
In the Philippines, democratic gains are at risk of being vanquished as freedoms erode. International fears worsened when the demagogue Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr., son of the brutal former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., won the presidency in 2022. In Myanmar, a once-promising democratic future has given way to a military dictatorship and mass genocide. In Hungary, populist President Viktor Orbán has tarnished his country’s freedoms.
While Biden touts how great democracy is doing, it is difficult to agree with him. If democracy is really important to the administration, more must be done to secure it. Optimism is good, but action is better. For example, voting rights have been gravely diminished recently. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, strict voter ID laws, cutting voting times, restricting registration and purging voter rolls have disproportionately limited people of color from voting.
Extremism remains an issue as well, and the U.S. must do more to curb it. Simply condemning it or waiting it out is not a solution; political extremism is a terrible threat to American stability and prosperity. Bipartisan initiatives should not get in the way of fighting extremism, because as Biden said in his speech, democracy must not be a partisan issue.
When it comes to defending democracies around the world, the U.S. must do more to defend vulnerable countries and fight against global extremism. This means sending aid to Ukraine, increasingly preparing Taiwan for a possible Chinese invasion through the “porcupine strategy” and partaking in more intelligence sharing and global cooperation.
While these actions clearly speak louder than words ever could, words are also important. The U.S. and its allies have stayed relatively quiet in regard to Israel, India, the Philippines and other strategic yet democratically unsound partners. This needs to change; if not, the U.S. and its allies will continue to spew hypocrisy instead of being beacons of democracy.
To say that the Biden administration hasn’t done anything on this matter would be a lie; they have clearly made great strides in combating anti-democratic forces at home and abroad. The problem here is when we start thinking that democracy is winning like it is some kind of sporting event. Democracy is far from okay, and saying otherwise is just plain disingenuous.
Democracy has always needed to be protected, but the state of democracy today is unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Will the people of the world step up to the challenge, or will we remain idle? Ultimately, it is up to us to decide democracy’s fate.