We just might be on the verge of something many thought they might never see again – a more stabilized world.
The Trump meltdown in Washington has consumed every useable space of media coverage, but what America is experiencing is something that is making ripples throughout much of the world. That violent brand of populism that introduced paroxysms of fear through the developed world has quietly been tamped down. It will never go away – it’s an historical constant – and it will always be nipping at the heels of established democracies. But its power to affect the masses has been kept in tenuous abeyance. COVID has provided some breathing space for reassessment.
Some European nations have been given a brief reprieve from the endless populist chaos. Nevertheless, in places like India, Brazil, China, and, to a lesser extent, Britain, a burgeoning sense of nationalism and racism continues to push their citizens to the edge – a reality causing Freedom House International to claim that 2020 still sees democracy in decline and authoritarianism as a continual threat.
Yet, in numerous established democracies, a second chance seems to be emerging. Fatigue with all the chaos and commensurate effects on economies is bringing on a growing tide of millions seeking not just stable, but better government. In places like New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and, yes, Canada, democracy has remained resilient, defying the efforts of crippling extreme right-wing chaos. Even Germany and France have achieved a certain level of stability that many thought impossible a year ago.
But, as Freedom House maintains, it will take a more peaceable America for global democracy to capture a new wave of legitimacy. Three weeks today comes the most important U.S. election in a generation, and the exhausted nation will get the chance to find a new way forward.
Still, that’s just the thing. The reason why rampant populism made its jarring incursion in the modern era has been the unwillingness of modern democratic nations to make the tough choices, ultimately giving rise to resentment. As wealth has gone global and even more elitist, citizens have had to watch a concomitant rise in homelessness, loss of jobs, dismal climate change action, lack of gender equality, a burgeoning poverty sector, and failure to invest in local and smaller businesses – all files that they once believed their respective governments had been on top of.
How would we expect Americans to act upon hearing the Federal Reserve’s announcement this past week that the wealthiest 50 Americans have more money than the bottom 165 million citizens combined? Their mood isn’t going to change when the same announcement stated that the majority of the 210,000 killed in COVID were people of colour, older people, women, and workers in low-paying jobs. Anger is but one option for them. Changing things is another, and an election is a good place to start. That is the frame of mind the majority of America seems to be in at the moment.
This will be the ultimate danger of a Biden presidency. If the Democrats continue to ignore these deeply seated public hurdles, then their most serious problem won’t be the return of anger, but the loss of hope. This is true for every other democracy, including the Canadian version.
Still, the enticement of a Biden victory grows daily as the Republicans implode. Some experienced observers now believe the results of this election will be nothing like what Americans have seen in over a generation. In her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, and a Pulitzer Prize winner, noted in words of clear surprise:
“This is also the week that journalists and politicos in Washington began wondering about something they never expected to be thinking about this year. They are wondering if November 3 won’t be a win for Joe Biden but a blowout, a landslide in a polarized country that doesn’t produce landslides anymore.”
In other words, hold on to your hats because we all just might be given a second chance to reverse the dangerous slide we had been on for decades. What ails our world can’t be fixed in one election, yet if it is an American election, the ripples will carry far and wide.
We might wish to deny it, but Freedom House is correct: the global democracy movement requires serious repair. Our politics, capitalism, free market, institutions, even our citizenship weren’t up to the challenges of the last few decades, and turmoil was the result. This is the time to change our ways of governance, finance, and public life. A darker age lies ahead if nothing changes, but a new world of possibilities opens up should we reverse our failures and put democracy back on the track of empowerment and inclusion we were on before we lost our way.
For nations like Canada, a Democratic sweep in America will usher in a larger world of collaborative internationalism – an arena in which this country can hold its own. The fact that Canadians kept their act together while living so close to the epicentre of democratic dysfunction proves not only that we still have great reserves of accountability and goodwill, but that we can also export them to a more open world. It isn’t a world incapable of moving forward, but it must now decide it is time to do so.