A battle between Trump and Sanders cuts democracy out
As is possible, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump may be the major party candidates for president this year. This will in no uncertain terms see the United States face an absolutely shocking and arguably unprecedented condition. We would choose between two candidates with different world views and incompatible perspectives, yet also both eschew advocacy of democracy as the best and most important form of government. Thus, if the election explodes into a polarizing battle between the most extreme factions of both parties, the whole notion of human rights will go out the door as a core element in American foreign policy, no matter who wins.
President Trump has been concerningly forthright in his praise of several right wing authoritarian leaders. In 2018, shortly after the European Union moved to sue Poland for passing laws that violated the independence and authority of its courts, Trump chose to praise Poland for “standing up for their independence, their security, and their sovereignty.” Trump has also touted his relationship and some of the policies of the notorious autocrat Rodrigo Duterte, the leader of the Philippines, who has overseen a brutal government crackdown on drugs involving many deaths and few trials.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Senator Sanders has been just as clear in debates and comments of his support for left wing dictators. In a recent interview, the front runner for the Democratic nomination lauded the system in Cuba under Fidel Castro, which had unprecedented levels of tyranny and subjection of people, for its literacy and health programs. Moreover, Sanders has also historically supported the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and was the only elected American official who chose to attend the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution in Managua.
The fact that neither the Republican president nor the likely Democratic nominee speak about democracy and our values, and instead praise the political systems that seek to crush individual freedom and liberty, rings serious alarm bells. This is also precisely what our enemies like Russia, an autocratic country whose leader Trump has refused to condemn, need to further their agendas and derail and the leadership of the United States.
Indeed, what Vladimir Putin and countries like Russia fear the most is the advocacy of democracy. His end goal is to create apparent instability in American elections and undermine our institutions, thus legitimizing his own badly conceived power at home in Russia and with other countries. If the United States is to properly counter his plan to soil the legitimacy of democracy, then our leaders need to unapologetically and unequivocally support democracy at home, with all of our allies, and around the world.
Both Trump and Sanders should consider the stance of the first President Bush on democracy, as well as the stance of former President Carter on human rights. “In the wake of the Cold War, in a world where we are the only remaining superpower, it is the role of the United States to marshal its moral and material resources to promote a democratic peace. It is our responsibility and is our opportunity to lead. There is no one else,” Bush said. In a speech about freedom, Carter stressed the need for the United States to use both “moral and material resources” to spread democracy.
Further, Carter made the need to protect freedom and human rights the cornerstone of his foreign policy. During the late 1970s, his administration had linked foreign policy with human rights by strengthening institutional human rights management structures and devising better mechanisms for applying human rights considerations to economic and military aid. These are enduring values that stretch far beyond electoral politics and practical campaign decisions. These are the enduring values of our democracy, our culture, and our world. That neither Trump nor Sanders publicly advocate them is one of the unremarked but most important issues in this election.
Indeed, the most critical moments in American history have been those defined by a rejection of our values, no matter the political environment. This was the certainly the case when former senator and diplomat Daniel Patrick Moynihan repudiated the 1975 United Nations General Assembly resolution which proclaimed that “zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” In his view, it was Soviet designed, a step away from a formal endorsement of anti-Semitism, and stoked fears after the 1960s.
In his speech before the vote, Moynihan rejected the resolution and the politics of fear surrounding it, declaring that the United States “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act,” adding that “a great evil has been loosed upon the world.” Moynihan said the resolution was “a political lie of a variety well known to the 20th century, and scarcely exceeded in all that annal of untruth and outrage.”
Now to have a Republican president who does not advocate for the values that have made this country what it is and a leading Democratic candidate who loudly supports left wing authoritarianism means we need to change our dialogue, change our outlook, and change our candidates. Our values and ideals are what motivates and animates our democracy, and they are what inspires people around the world to become involved in advocacy for freedom. These are the values and ideas that our enemies fear most.
Following the parliamentary elections in Russia six years ago, Putin was indeed scared to death that the mere advocacy of the values and norms of democracy would lead to the repudiation of his regime. Similarly, the greatest fear of the Chinese communist government beyond coronavirus is the outspoken advocacy of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong and Xiangcheng. Our values are powerful weapons that cannot be set aside, ignored, or eschewed in order to defend democracy around the world.
Douglas Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) is adviser to President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”