“It’s the operating system of the administration’s vision of how they view the world now,” Joshua Meltzer, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution who focuses on commerce, told me.
Mr. Biden, who promised to hold this conference since he was a candidate, lay it down new threats in old Cold War terminology – like the “free world” coming together to push back against fascism and authoritarianism.
Of course, there are a lot of risks in phrasing the challenge in these terms. First, there is the awkwardness of acknowledging that many countries of Team Democracy have been democratically challenged in recent years, starting with the United States itself. Hardly any corner of the world has been spared the erosion of democratic standards. The ruling party in Poland has targeted its independent judiciary and is fighting the European Union over what it means to uphold the rule of law.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has been demoted to “partially free” by Freedom House with the continued silence of dissent and the rise of Hindu nationalism and attacks on Muslim citizens. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has targeted journalists who denounce corruption and disinformation. India, Poland and the Philippines are all expected at the Biden Democracy Summit. Of course they are. We need them in our team.
Once we recognize that no democracy is perfect and all countries fall somewhere on a spectrum between “free” and “not free”, the line between “us” and “them” becomes blurred. . In a rare editorial essay, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Washington argued that the United States has no right to judge which nations are democracies and which are not. They argued that their countries should also be seen as democracies. After all, Chinese citizens can join the Communist Party and participate in certain deliberations.
“What China has is an extensive and comprehensive socialist democracy,” Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang and Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov wrote in The National Interest. “It reflects the will of the people, adapts to the realities of the country and enjoys strong support from the people.
While these arguments were not particularly convincing, they made a point that held true. Dividing the world into “us” and “them” could complicate efforts to address other existential problems facing both the free and the non-free: climate change, pandemics and mass migration.