The US’ Democracy Problem

| Oct 17, 2022

By Lucas Robinson, External Relations Associate

This contribution appeared in the October 17, 2022 edition of “Adults in a Room,” a series from The Stimson Center’s Reimagining Grand Strategy program and Inkstick.

The United States hasn’t avoided the international democracy recession. Despite this, the Biden administration has sought to arrest democratic backsliding in other countries through the power of the democratic example of the United States. But the power of this example could be undermined by Washington’s competition with illiberal adversaries.

The Institute for Global Affairs released an international poll last summer that found that most survey takers across nine countries hold positive views of US democracy. Among people with favorable views, one in three selected the United States’ protection of civil liberties as the reason why.

Moreover, the survey found those who’ve lived in, traveled to, and have connections to their country’s diaspora in the United States hold more favorable views than those without such cross-border connections. And when asked what would make the US form of government more attractive, people ranked better treatment of minorities, and a more permissive immigration and refugee system among the top three improvements the United States should make (alongside reduced economic disparity).

If previous eras of conflict are any indication, however, the United States might actually behave in ways antithetical to these more liberal values. One can look back at attacks on freedom of speech in the early Cold War, or more recently at what’s transpired in the United States during the Global War on Terror. Islamophobiainfringements on civil liberties, and travel bans are hallmarks of post-9/11 America. Tensions with Russia and China more recently coincide with visa restrictions on Chinese students, calls to expel Russian students from US universities, and a rise in domestic hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans.

Read more of Lucas’s contribution in Inkstick.

Some names and references have changed since the publication of this article including references to the Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF), the former name of the Institute for Global Affairs.

Written by Lucas Robinson

Lucas Robinson is an external relations associate at the Institute for Global Affairs.

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This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by IGA senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how US foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.

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