Democracy is a tough concept. It means personal freedom and political self-determination. But how do you balance personal freedom with personal safety and security? How do you achieve fairness in government when everyone has a voice in making decisions? It is not easy to accomplish these goals which can often be in conflict with one another. In fact, it is the political competition between different factions which leads over time to societal change and progress.
Freedom House divides the world into three categories: free, partly free, and not free (see map). Ukraine is only partly free but identifies with the West and is becoming more democratic. Russia wants to keep Ukraine under its autocratic thumb. The U.S. and its allies are supporting the brave Ukrainian resistance with military aid. There is a good chance that Ukraine will ultimately prevail. If it does, then other countries presently under Russia’s domination (see second map) will also want to break loose. In other words, there is momentum for democracy’s expansion around the world as there has been for the past hundred years.
Democracy is also thriving within the U.S. Consider:
- The 2020 Presidential election. The Trump organization filed 60+ lawsuits trying to overturn the election results in particular states. None were overturned. The January 6, 2021 capitol break-in, as disgraceful as it was, had no effect on the outcome of the election. In other words, U.S. democracy has had a severe stress test and passed with flying colors.
- Voting restrictions. There were numerous voting irregularities in 2020 due to the pandemic. Many (especially red) states are tightening procedures for absentee and mail-in voting in order to preserve the strong American tradition of voting integrity. Decentralization of governmental authority is one of the key strengths of our constitutional republic. The states are in charge of election procedures and, not surprisingly, are taking this responsibility seriously.
- The culture wars. The culture wars represent democracy in action. There are huge differences of opinion in the U.S. about abortion rights, gender ideology and critical race theory. These differences have to be worked out within our democratic system which is exactly what is now happening. It’s a messy, contentious process but how could it be otherwise with such huge differences of opinion amongst the people?
- Polarization. Our current political climate is highly polarized, with all but two states (Minnesota and Virginia) having both legislative chambers controlled by the same party (Nebraska is unicameral with Republican control). Again, polarization is simply a sign of our widely divergent views on many basic issues. It is made worse by identity politics and should gradually fade away as minorities become more integrated into the American way of life.
Conclusion. There is a worldwide struggle occurring between democracy (the U.S. and its allies) and autocracy (China and Russia). The forces of democracy have many strengths, including economic and military superiority (see chart). But the main strength is that so many people around the world prefer individual freedom and political self-determination when they have a realistic opportunity to achieve it. Ukraine is willing to fight for the same freedoms that the U.S. (and its allies) have in great abundance.
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Given a worldwide population of 7.9 billion for 2022, the Freedom House folks estimate that 20.3% of the worldwide population live in Free nations. Given our census estimate of 330 million for 2022, the math suggests that the USA population represents 21% of the Free Nation population and 4% of the worldwide population. According to Freedom House, both these estimates have been decreasing for at least 15 years…steadily. Avoiding nuclear warfare while slowly winning the Ukraine battle could represent the best strategy for eventually promoting a collaborative worldwide, post-covid recovery. By that time, Russia might well sink into political chaos. Sometimes, we fail to realize that the Russian GDP for 2021 was only 8% of the USA GDP. Shooting down a “bunch” of planes or sinking a couple of naval “cruisers” would represent relatively large losses for them.
Democracy and world order have been growing steadily for the past hundred years, even if there are occasional setbacks. Let’s keep the momentum going by supporting realistic democracy movements whenever they spring up. Ukraine is resisting Russian intrusion and we should continue supporting Ukraine as much as possible without coming into direct conflict with Russia. If we are willing to act consistently like this, democracy will continue to expand worldwide. The more democracies the better because democracies seldom go to war with each other.