President Joe Biden is preparing to encourage attendees at the first-ever White House Summit for Democracy to reverse an ongoing “recession” of democracy, which is occurring at a time of growing authoritarianism around the world and unprecedented stresses on the United States’ core institutions.
The two-day virtual summit, which begins on Thursday, is being promoted as an opportunity for leaders and civil society professionals from more than 110 nations to work together to combat corruption and promote human rights. However, the gathering has already sparked criticism from the US’s main foes as well as those governments that were not invited.
In a joint editorial published in the National Interest policy journal, China and Russia’s ambassadors to the United States described the Biden administration as having a “Cold-War mindset” that will “spice up ideological conflict and a gap in the globe.” The administration has also been chastised for how it chose which nations to invite.
The Biden administration, for its part, claims that the virtual conference is crucial at a time when the world is witnessing a significant erosion of liberties. Confronting that trend, according to Biden, is “the task of our time.”
Biden, who will speak at the summit’s opening on Thursday and again on Friday, will urge on attendees to devote themselves to “reversing the democratic recession and ensuring that democracies provide for their people,” according to White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
According to a senior administration source who previewed the event for reporters on the condition of anonymity, Biden wants to speak about the significance of voting rights at home, similar to what he said at an anniversary celebration of the capital’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. At the time, the president described voting as a “basic right” and termed attempts to restrict it “the most un-American thing” imaginable.
The summit takes place at a time when the United States’ democracy is facing serious threats to its institutions and traditions.
Angry voices at school board meetings, elections offices, and town halls are prompting local elected officials to leave at an alarming pace. States are enacting legislation to restrict voting rights, making it more difficult for Americans to exercise their right to vote. And, in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, many in one U.S. political party are sticking to Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations of a rigged election, weakening faith in the election’s integrity.
Biden has stated that the passage of his ambitious domestic agenda — which includes the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law as well as the roughly $2 trillion “Build Back Better Act” of social and climate change initiatives currently moving through the Senate — will demonstrate how democracy can improve people’s lives.
Some supporters want Biden to concentrate on other methods to strengthen democracy at home. The House will vote on the Protecting Our Democracy Act on Thursday, the third of a trio of legislation — together with the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — that are widely supported by Democrats in Congress but have been stymied by Republicans in the Senate.
“The United States has a strong democracy, but it has been struggling in recent years,” said Michael Abramowitz, head of Freedom House, whose annual study marked the 15th year of a global democratic decline. “Right now, in America, it’s really tough to get things done and to truly demonstrate that democracy is capable of delivering.”
Biden has made promoting democratic ideals a priority in his foreign policy, emphasizing the need for the United States and other like-minded friends to show that democracies are a better vehicle for nations than autocracies.
However, democratic liberties have continued to deteriorate throughout his first year in office.
CIVICUS Monitor, a worldwide rights index, said 13 nations’ civic liberties were degraded in 2021 compared to the previous year in its latest annual report issued Wednesday. According to the research, civic liberties improved in only one country, Mongolia. Only 39 of the 197 countries assessed by the organisation were classified as open societies.
According to a research issued this week by the Pew Research Center, “people appreciate democracy, but their devotion to it is frequently not particularly strong.” Even prosperous countries, such as the United States, have supporters of military control, according to the survey.
In its annual report, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance stated that the number of nations suffering democratic backsliding “has never been as high” as it has been in the previous decade, adding the United States to the list alongside India and Brazil.
The conference has been met with a barrage of public condemnation from Chinese authorities, with one senior official even describing it as a “joke.” They’ve also expressed their displeasure with the administration’s invitation to Taiwan to attend the gathering. China considers the self-governing island to be part of its territory and refuses to allow it to interact with international governments on its own.
“If the US side claims that its so-called democracy summit is to defend democracy, I can’t help but wonder how, with the most abundant and advanced medical resources and technology, the US could allow more than 800,000 people to die from the virus and nearly 50 million people to still be infected with COVID?” Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, stated this week. “How can the United States preserve democracy in the face of such human rights tragedies?”
Other nations that were not invited have expressed their unhappiness. Hungary, the sole member of the European Union not invited, attempted to prevent EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen from speaking on the bloc’s behalf at the summit. Biden referred to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a “thug” during the 2020 campaign.
The White House refused to reveal how it decided who was invited and who was not.
Turkey, a NATO member, and Egypt, a crucial US partner in the Middle East, were also kept off the list. Concerns regarding both countries’ human rights have been voiced by the Biden administration. Poland, on the other hand, was invited despite being chastised for weakening the independence of its court and media.
The invitation list was not meant to be a “mark of approval or disapproval,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
She explained, “It’s basically designed to have a varied variety of perspectives, faces, and representations at the debate.”