Apart from a few articles about the Biden-Putin video conference the other day, most of them pretty matter-of-fact recitations of the White House and Kremlin versions of the conversation, Danish media has been very light on American political news lately. I’ll cut the Danish media some slack on this: there’s enough going on closer to home that it’s understandable.
Besides, it’s pretty much all bad news for Joe Biden these days: things have gotten so bad the administration has had to trot out a dog and pony show to explain to the media how best to sell the current dismal economy as a Grand and Glorious Victory of the Biden Economic Machine.
All that aside, one article published on Thursday warrants some attention:
Mette Frederiksen’s going to Joe Biden’s big meeting. So is Bolsonaro: Controversial guest list raises eyebrows
Mikkel Danielsen, Berlingske.dk, Dec 9
The lede sets the stage:
Joe Biden has invited more than 100 countries to a large online meeting. It is first and foremost about forming a common front against China and the autocracies. But a strange guest list threatens to steal attention. “It does not seem that Biden has thought it through thoroughly,” says a Harvard researcher.
Danielsen then opens his article on an ominous note: China has crushed democracy in Hong Kong and is making provocative moves toward Taiwan, Russia is packing troops up along the Ukrainian border. He references a November piece from The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum entitled “The Bad Guys Are Winning.”
(Applebaum’s piece is actually quite good, provided you’re willing to overlook her reflexively partisan interpretations of Trump and Biden, and her willful blindness about the American left’s contributions to many of the problems she cites, even while describing them, but the rest of the long piece is genuinely worth reading.)
In Joe Biden’s universe, he himself is the savior. The president wants to regain US leadership of the “Free World.” And he will unite all the democracies of the world in a common struggle against the autocracies—especially China and Russia.
That’s why he’ll be sitting down in front of the screen early Thursday morning—at 6 o’clock US time. The White House has invited government leaders, ministers, and activists from 108 countries to a large-scale virtual democracy summit, which takes place on Thursday and Friday.
The first of those two paragraphs is fluff; the second tells us the president scheduled a video conference.
After a little more fluff telling us about Joe Biden’s vision of the world (democracy versus autocracy), we’re told a little more about the purpose of the meeting:
At the summit, the participating countries will discuss how to slow down the global decline in the number of well-functioning democracies. And they’ll try to find some concrete tools that can keep up with China’s huge investment might and Russia’s cynical propaganda machine.
Concrete tools—the best kind!
One easy way to fight China’s financial power might be not to take their money, but that’s a lesson they don’t teach in the Biden family. I wouldn’t expect Mikkel Danielsen to raise the subject of Biden’s own financial dealings with China here, and he doesn’t, so Danish readers will remain blissfully uninformed about them.
Danielsen quotes the Financial Times as saying the White House has promised the meeting will produce some concrete results (more concrete!), such as “declarations of internet freedom, money to fight corruption, or money to protect human rights.”
So we’ll have that going for us, which sounds nice (if not entirely concrete). Except internet freedom doesn’t need to be declared, it needs to be enforced; money doesn’t fight corruption, it creates it; and the best thing you could do for human rights isn’t to raise more money, but to withhold it from the offenders of those rights.
But never mind all that: as Danielsen notes, before the meeting even got started there was already a brouhaha over the guest list: Brazil’s Bolsonaro is invited, but Turkey’s Erdogan is not. Poland is “good enough for such fine company, while Victor Orban’s Hungary is too undemocratic.” Iraq, the Democratic Republic Congo, and Pakistan all made the invite list, but, as Danielsen points out, these governments “attack activists, employ torture, and carry out executions without trial.”
The meeting could give presidents like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro the opportunity to say they have the US stamp of approval, even though their behavior is anything but democratic. And it could create tensions between the United States and the countries that weren’t invited, write professors James Goldgeier and Bruce Jentleson in Politico.
“This whole summit risks being a self-inflicted wound,” they write.
Is anyone counting how many times the words “Joe Biden” and “self-inflicted wound” appear together?
“It doesn’t seem like Biden has thought this all the way through,” Danielsen quotes Stephen Walt of the Harvard Kennedy School as saying. “If democracy is out main goal, should we stand on the side of Saudi Arabia and Egypt? But if the actual goal is to limit China’s influence, can we afford to be so picky in relation to whom we speak with?”
So Danielsen does the natural thing: he pivots to Donald Trump with a section entitled “In three years Trump can be president again.”
Here’s the entire section, with which Danielsen concludes his piece:
But the Biden government has a credibility problem:
A major poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 16 countries shows that only 17 percent of respondents consider US democracy to be “a good example to follow.” 57 percent respond that the United States “used to be a good example, but has not been in recent years.” Also, Americans’ own confidence in their own democracy is historically low.
Unfounded allegations of electoral fraud, the storming of Congress, and Trump’s fight against international institutions have created global uncertainty about US democracy.
It’s only natural if some of the participants in the big virtual summit are wary of throwing themselves blindly into Joe Biden’s ideological struggle.
For how can they know that Donald Trump won’t return in 2024?
How can they know that it’s not Joe Biden who ends up being the abnormality?
Notice what Danielsen lists as the reasons for global uncertainty about American democracy: “unfounded allegations of electoral fraud” (but no concerns about well-founded allegations or actual electoral fraud), “the storming of Congress” (which would only cause concern among people taking the hyperventilation of the American left at face value), and “Trump’s fight against international institutions.”
That last one’s a real peach, ain’t it?
If you want America to be the proverbial cock of the walk, if you want America to lead, then you want an America that’s like Cleopatra’s vision of Antony:
His legs bestrid the ocean. His reared arm
Crested the world. His voice was propertied
As all the tunèd spheres, and that to friends.
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder.
If, on the other hand, you want an America bound by all the chains and ropes of “international institutions,” then you don’t want American leadership of the free world: you want free-world leadership of America. And the proper response to that from an American president representing American interests is to tell you to get stuffed, just as a Danish prime minister’s response to the poking and prodding of the EU is often quite properly the same.
This is something Anne Applebaum gets wonderfully (if only partially) right in her Atlantic Piece, and it’s something Chesterton wrote about in What I Saw in America:
And the normal man is almost always the national man. Patriotism is the most popular of all the virtues. The drier sort of democrats who despise it have the democracy against them in every country in the world. Hence their international efforts seldom go any farther than to effect an international reconciliation of all internationalists. But we have not solved the normal and popular problem until we have an international reconciliation of all nationalists.
Here are Applebaum’s concluding paragraphs:
At the same time, a part of the American left has abandoned the idea that “democracy” belongs at the heart of U.S. foreign policy—not out of greed and cynicism but out of a loss of faith in democracy at home. Convinced that the history of America is the history of genocide, slavery, exploitation, and not much else, they don’t see the value of making common cause with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Nursiman Abdureshid, or any of the other ordinary people around the world forced into politics by their experience of profound injustice. Focused on America’s own bitter problems, they no longer believe America has anything to offer the rest of the world: Although the Hong Kong prodemocracy protesters waving American flags believe many of the same things we believe, their requests for American support in 2019 did not elicit a significant wave of youthful activism in the United States, not even something comparable to the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s.
Incorrectly identifying the promotion of democracy around the world with “forever wars,” they fail to understand the brutality of the zero-sum competition now unfolding in front of us. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does geopolitics. If America removes the promotion of democracy from its foreign policy, if America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, then autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding, and ideas. If Americans, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home; indeed, they are already here. If Americans don’t help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity. They will continue to steal, blackmail, torture, and intimidate, inside their countries—and inside ours.
What we need is a vigorous defense of classical liberalism—and of the virtue required to sustain it.
What we don’t need is a lot of declarations and more money flushed down the toilet of almost always ruinous international programs to support democracy and human rights.
Want to slow China down? Divest. If the NBA, Google, Apple, and others won’t get out of China, we can sure as hell get out of them.
Want to show Putin we’re serious about defending the west? Take Ukraine into NATO or the EU, or both, and start moving manpower and machinery into eastern Ukraine…. and Estonia, and Latvia, and Lithuania. Or at least act like we might. Keep them guessing. Make them nervous.
Want to watch Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Ukraine fall, along with god knows how other many dominoes, while the armed and militant enemies of human liberty grow stronger and more confident?
Give another speech. Hold another conference. Sign another declaration. Keep talking about how wretched and racist and transphobic we are in the west.
Things are getting very dark and very serious out there, and have been for quite a while—and America’s top general, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent the spring worrying about “white rage.”
Applebaum gets very close to the heart of the problem in assailing the left’s contempt for western civilization, but she doesn’t have the integrity to follow that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion: the “part of the American left” she’s describing is the “part” that occupies the White House, holds the current Congressional majority, dominates our media and entertainment industries, controls academia, and owns our social meda.
That’s the “part” of America we need to change.
Let us all hope, all of us interested in the sustainability of classically liberal western civilization, that Joe Biden is the abnormality after all.