Erosion of Democracy

A recent Groton alumnus, Victor Liu ’17, is currently forbidden from leaving China, with no charges against him. The Chinese authorities are after his father, Liu Changming, an alleged $1.4 billion fraudster who has evaded authorities for years, and they are using Victor and his sister as hostages to force Liu Changming’s hand. 

Now, I am not questioning the Chinese government’s right to bring Liu to trial. What is questionable, however, is the method they are using to get to him. Victor’s liberty is being infringed upon by a regime that has made great progress since the days of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in terms of human rights. The most troubling matter of all? This authoritarian move is only part of a growing international wave.

Staying with China for a moment, the most egregiously illiberal policy that the government has recently instituted is Xi Jinping’s “president for life” policy, wherein he abolished term limits in a country with no legal opposition parties. Beyond this action, China has instituted an exit ban policy, by which China can revoke the basic right to migration outlined by the UN and detain anyone within its borders, Chinese or otherwise. China also plans to nationalize an Orwellian “social credit system” in 2020, wherein certain government workers will take account of good and bad deeds, and being blacklisted by the system will make getting loans or buying plane tickets impossible. China is at the crest of a leftist authoritarian wave, but the left is not the only group tending toward violation of civil liberties.

According to the Washington Post, at least a third of the world’s population currently lives in a “backsliding democracy,” meaning that authoritarian and fascist movements are surging. Furthermore, this problem is not exclusive to historically unstable democracies and the developing world. Recent years have seen the rise of western populist neo-fascist political candidates such as America’s Donald Trump, France’s Marie Le Pen, and Austria’s Norbert Hofer, whose party, founded by ex-Nazis, is part of the governing coalition of its country, signal that the war on fascism did not end with World War II, but that fascists are still slowly gaining ground to this day.

So, why should you care? If this trend continues with no significant small-d democratic backlash, American foreign policy will change forever. Gone is the dream of a global democracy for the good of man that was so prevalent between the early 20th and early 21st century. America’s ideological enemies will grow in power, and this growth could drastically change the international status quo by putting freedom on the back foot. On the brighter side, there could be fewer wars under the guise of spreading “freedom,” however this wave could also inspire a second Cold War if the democratic west feels cornered. This is all assuming that America herself does not fall to the same wave.

The Latin American “pink tide” that gained popularity in the 2000s after the election of authoritarian-left leader Hugo Chavez is one example of a left-wing political movement which was swiftly met this decade with a new “brown tide” of right-wing authoritarian and fascist groups. If Latin America is to maintain its freedom, it is of paramount importance that these rising authoritarian movements are met with a return to normalcy, not simply with a switch between leftist and rightist values.

China’s treatment of Victor and his sister is just a small example of the larger movement of authoritarianism ascendant in this world. With a trend as dangerous as this one, it is important to nip it in the bud before it can blossom into something even more problematic. I will leave you with this: extreme political values foster hatred towards bureaucracy and inaction that is so inherent in a truly democratic process, and thus nourish the growth of authoritarian movements. In an age where political views are so polarized, it is important not to let over-eager legislators sidestep the democratic process to please their supporters. Argue your conservative or progressive viewpoints, but be aware of the dire need to preserve your right to argue them. Stay vigilant.