To confront global threats, the U.S. must urgently fix democracy at home
President Joe Biden has been reckoning with two interrelated global crises that together illustrate one harrowing truth: Western democratic values are receding globally, and the internal disarray with the United States’ own democracy is enabling that recession.
In order for the United States to confront threats from the West’s adversaries and counter the rise in autocratic movements across the world — in other words, fix what’s broken with global democracy — we need to solve the problems that exist within our own democracy.
The United States, in order to lead, must once again become a model for a successful democracy that other nations want to follow. A series of systemic reforms can lay out a path forward from the abyss that has undermined our democracy and threatens to replace “government of the people, by the people” with authoritarian rule and autocracy, which is on the rise globally.
To that end, one of the aforementioned global crises facing Biden is the military escalation at the Ukrainian border, where thousands of Russian troops have been deployed in a move that the international community fears could signal an invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Last week, Biden held a videoconference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to mitigate the crisis; however, neither the White House nor the Kremlin said that progress was made. Biden reportedly warned Putin that an invasion would result in harsh economic sanctions, the disruption of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and Ukraine receiving defensive capabilities from the West.
Despite Biden ostensibly drawing a ‘red line,’ Putin is holding his ground on the military escalation and continues to demand a guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward into Ukraine. This indicates that the Kremlin is emboldened by what they see as a fragmented Western alliance and an America that is weakened both internally and internationally, especially following the calamitous withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan in August.
At the same time, Biden’s Summit for Democracy, a virtual meeting of more than 100 countries, took place last week amid escalating democratic crises in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa. The stated goals of the event were to “set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.”
We do feel strongly that America must exhibit engaged leadership in order to safeguard global democracy. However, both Russia and China, among other nations left off the invite list, have used the summit to stoke cynicism over the strength of the Western alliance and disparage the United States for asserting itself as a global democratic leader at a time when our own democracy is struggling.
Taken together, Putin’s unwavering posture vis-à-vis Ukraine and the international criticism surrounding Biden’s Democracy Summit illustrate how America’s internal democratic crisis has effectively enabled a decline in global democracy, while also weakening our position on the world stage.
In order to truly accomplish the stated goals of the summit and counter aggressive adversaries like Putin, who want to destabilize the West, America must urgently take action to strengthen our democratic systems and institutions here at home.
There are solutions to restore faith in our democracy, and we call on our elected officials to implement fundamental electoral, congressional and judicial systemic reforms, while also pursuing centrist, common-sense priorities that incentivize bipartisan cooperation.
Foremost, we must make our elections freer and fairer so that they once again can serve as a model for countries around the world. There are a number of reforms to this end, including mandating non-partisan redistricting, implementing ranked-choice voting and ending the winner-take-all electoral college system.
We can also implement measures that would move the U.S. away from our current two-party system, which has enabled the ascendancy of extremism in both parties and incentivized elected officials to reject compromise. We encourage the creation of a centrist third party and also advocate for expanding participation in presidential debates by making it easier for third-party candidates to enter.
In terms of congressional reforms, we can preserve the filibuster and impose restrictions on lobbying in order to weed out special interests. When it comes to the judiciary, we support requiring the Senate to hold confirmation votes on all justices, ending lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court and setting the current size of the Supreme Court at its current composition of nine justices.
In addition to these structural changes, there are also legislative reforms that have the potential to encourage bipartisan cooperation. These include criminal justice reforms that fund police departments while also reallocating resources where necessary, increasing federal education funding, reforming the tax code to close corporate loopholes and creating a “living wage.”
We’re making a call to action to our leaders to come together to support a collective renewal of faith in our democracy and a recommitment to America’s founding ideals: liberty, equality, opportunity, free markets and the rule of law.
It is only through this collective renewal that America will be able to protect our own democracy and ensure that global democratic values endure for generations to come.
Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York. They are co-authors of the forthcoming book, “America: Unite or Die.”
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