Crisis: What Crisis? We have Democracy
As President Biden goes about preparing for the upcoming Democracy Summit, it’s a timely point to consider what he’s doing, why he’s doing it and what he could do that might be more constructive rather than destructive to world peace and harmony.
One hundred and eleven countries and/or regions, ranging alphabetically from Albania to Zambia will attend the Summit, a variety of monarchies, republics and differing forms of governance but all share one common factor, they’re friendly and have good diplomatic relations with the USA. Those countries not invited are, in some cases, sanctioned and generally have, in varying degrees, poor diplomatic relations with the USA and, n most cases, are doing business with China and/or Russia.
Most of us aren’t experts on geopolitics, but common sense tells us: if you’re already in a good relationship with a country, although you need to work to keep it, you don’t need to invite them to a Summit to discuss how good your relations already are. Inviting your friends and supporters to this kind of meeting seems like the creation of the world’s largest and, some might say, least important, echo chamber. Surely, if you have a poor relationship with a country, it’s a much better idea to invite them to a meeting, discuss what issues cause conflict but, more importantly, what commonalities you share and how to build on them.
Quite clearly, not all the government leaders invited to this Summit represent democracies. Even the US State Department recognises this. First on the list for example, Albania, according to USAID: “has not been able to move forward with the momentum required to introduce strong and sustainable democratic institutions”. Albania is of course useful to the USA as it provides refuge to many of those organisations that the USA would like to call terrorists, but it can’t because they are enemies to their enemies. Several of Xinjiang’s Uyghur prisoners captured by the US in conflicts and then released from Guantanamo Bay were sent there. They were, at the time, part of a group called ETIM, registered by the US State Department as terrorists but useful in their Anti-China rhetoric. The People’s Mujahedin of Iran (Mojahedin-e-Khalq, known as MEK) have their home in Albania and are considered by both Iran and Iraq to be a terrorist organisation which makes them very useful to the US, So Albania gets an invite.
Other countries on the list have, what can only be described as questionable democracy. Niger, for example, according to USAID is an “emerging democracy” and, with the assistance of the USA and is now consolidating “…recent democratic gains vital to furthering the country’s development”. What USAID fails to mention in it’s report on the recent gains is that, not only has the US constructed Africa’s largest Drone airport there, their three largest exports are: gold, uranium or thorium ores and concentrates, and processed petroleum oils. The reasons democracy has been restored to Niger is not to offer better services to the people, but to offer better exports to the West: on Western terms!
Mali, Niger’s neighbour is not invited to the Summit and the reason the US needs a drone airport in Niger is not to support Mali’s democratic interests but Frances economic and financial interests. Mali, like Niger, is blessed with massive reserves of untapped resources such as oil, gas and uranium. Once the richest country in the world, Mali is now mired in war and instability with French troops on the ground and US drones operating from Niger in the air.
There are many other spurious claims for democracy in the list of attendees and it’s going to be a very long article if we were to overview each of them but one more worth looking at is Nauru, the tiny country is only 21 square kilometres and has a population of only 10,600 citizens, smaller than most towns in the rest of the world. It’s a democracy only in that it’s propped up by, supported and financially dependent on Australia. It also happens to be one of the offshore places Australia uses to hold refugees so as to not allow them to set foot on Australian soil until all administrative and legal alternatives have been exhausted. Being a good friend of Australia gets Nauru an invitation to the table.
So, having looked at some examples of who will be there, we need to look at the reasons why. One of the pillars of democracy must always be that all parties respect the will of the people. This is one of the fundaments of how democracy works. People vote and should get what the majority of them want. In November 2020, Donald Trump lost the election to Joe Biden. He didn’t like that, no one likes to lose. But, without supporting evidence, Trump claimed the election was fraudulent, votes were stolen, misused or miscounted. In fact, he was so convinced that he had been cheated, he launched no less than 63 different legal cases in seven different states and the result were less than spectacular. Fourteen were dropped, thirty-three were dismissed, six were ruled against him and two are still outstanding. The bottom line is that, according to the legal fraternity, Trump lost. Having said that, despite this massive weight of legal opinion, 63% of his party still remain of the opinion that he won and still think he is their rightful president. The news gets even worse when independent voters are asked, a further 28% of them believe Trump was the winner too. This amounts to more than 70 million people. There were 168 million registered voters in 2020, so over 40% of registered voters believe the wrong man is the president of the USA. Forty percent of Americans questioning their own democracy is a very serious problem.
Biden needs this Summit to prove his form of democracy is still only alive and well and relevant to the world. In short, he needs to demonstrate his own legitimacy.
Through this Summit we can surmise that he wishes to prove the USA is the best country in the world, not only to people around the world, but to the American populace. The situation arising from the Trump support for an unfair election almost resulted in a constitutional crisis, thousands of people stormed the Capitol Building, the place where laws are made by democratically elected lawmakers. The purpose was to stop the legal process of ratifying the results of the election. This was without a doubt the closest thing to a constitutional crisis since the American Civil War.
The results were finally ratified, a little later than expected but the government was allowed to get on and do the job it was elected to do. They pronounced the results to have been fair, fairly counted and Biden was finally declared the winner. However, having the election results ratified wasn’t the end of Biden’s problems, it was only the beginning. Narrowly averting a constitutional crisis on January 6th gave him legitimacy (with more than half the registered voters) to claim the presidency. On his inauguration he took over the World’s largest economy with the most powerful global military but gained presidency over what is perhaps, the most dysfunctional population in modern history.
The Dysfunctionality of the USA
Biden has inherited a series of crises like no other leader in history has ever faced. Any one of these could bring a country down, but the combination of all of them together mean he has no choice but to tackle them all at the same time. A Democracy Summit may be a good solution and no doubt, he hopes will provide great news to report back to his electors proving he was the right choice and he can start the process of bringing normalcy back to this dysfunctional population.
There’s the Debt Crisis: US national debt has recently crept over 29 trillion dollars and rises at the rate of about $1 million every 20 seconds. There is no way to bring this down and it’s only going to increase further. Every few months, there’s a stand-off between the Senate and/or Congress and the president about how to manage this debt and there’s the threat of government shut-downs. Another one was averted only days ago but that’s a stop-gap, short-term solution with another vote in 2 weeks (December 15th). If agreements aren’t reached, government employees will take time off, government offices will close and services much needed in the community will cease to exist.
There’s the Health Crisis: Apart from Covid-19 which would stand alone as a crisis of international proportions, 49 million people have caught Covid-19 in the US and more than 808,000 have died of the disease. The strain on the health system in itself is enormous but the issue is compounded when it’s realised that 44 million Americans have no medical insurance. Catching covid may not be a death sentence but it’s certainly a fast track to bankruptcy for a great many of these uninsured people. In 2019, before Covid-19, almost 20% of US homes had medical debt. This would normally lead to about 1 million bankruptcies. That number is likely to be a lot higher once the 2021 figures are known and Covid-19 is still not under manageable control, 2022 could be even worse.
There’s the Gun Crisis: the number of registered guns is not exactly known in the USA but it’s more than the number of people, about 390 million or 130 guns for every 100 adults in the country. The number of illegal guns is an unknown, but it is well-known there are many. The USA has a gun culture and this should be respected, the ownership of guns stems back to before the days of their constitution to the pioneering days of the first settlers, guns were not only allowed but were required for protection against wild animals, angry Native Americans and for hunting purposes. Now, they are a constitutional right. Many people disagree but the law is the law. What’s most worrying is that, following the recent highly publicised Kyle Rittenhouse case, we now know that it’s lawful to carry a firearm into a zone where there is public disorder. The most frightening aspect of this must be that both sides of that public disorder situation are legally empowered to carry and use firearms if threatened. Which begs the question of which of the people involved will be dead and which will escape prosecution afterwards because the Rittenhouse case has now proven the survivor of a gunfight is most likely to remain unprosecuted, or will be exonerated if charged.
The gun crisis is so serious it merits two paragraphs. This problem manifests itself in a different way with over 39,000 deaths a year from guns. Many of these are suicide but, on average, 3 of them every day are the police shooting civilians. Furthermore, on average, there are 1.6 mass shootings in the United States every day, a total of 612 incidents last year where three or more people were shot. That was a year when many people were actually locked down and not allowed out, once again we can expect the numbers to be higher now everyone is allowed out of their homes.
There’s a Homeless Crisis: The registered number of people who are homeless in the world’s richest country and leading democracy is over 550,000 that’s 1.6% of the population but the figures aren’t exactly correct, this “low number” hides the fact that, according to media reports, many more millions live in sub-standard, short-term motel accommodation and cannot afford to rent a normal apartment. Statistics for these homeless people are quite frightening, they die young, they are mostly people of colour and, importantly for this article, they don’t have an address so they can’t take part in the democratic process — they can’t vote.
There’s a Poverty Crisis: According to the US census, in the world’s richest country, the poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4% which means 37.2 million people don’t have enough money to buy food, clothes, accommodation or pay for education. This gets worse when we know that in the richest state in the USA, California, they have the highest number of people in poverty. The rate there is 15.1% meaning one person out of every 6 in the richest state of the richest country in the world can’t afford to buy breakfast or lunch tomorrow and will likely miss dinner today.
There’s a Crime Crisis: Crime statistics are declining in the USA but this are not because there is less crime, in fact, there’s more than ever, it’s just not called crime anymore. The downscaling of minor crimes means, things which used to be a crime are no longer considered criminal acts. The American legal system has downgraded many offences from crimes to misdemeanors. You can now walk into a shop in California and take anything you want to the value of less than $950 and walk out without payment. It’s no longer a crime. If the police are called, they won’t come, if the store security stops you, they are guilty of an unlawful arrest and if they film you and send the video to lawyers, the lawyers won’t do anything because the courts will not punish you. Consequently, anyone can “steal” (I use inverted commas because it’s not really stealing anymore) from any store and walk away unpunished. There are gangs running into stores taking anything they want as long as the value per person is less than $950, its not a crime — so, although crime statistics are decreasing, the problems associated with what was once a crime, but isn’t anymore, are increasing substantially.
Furthermore, in 2018, there were 16,214 murders in the USA. The Murder Rate then was 4.96 per 100,000 people, China, by comparison for the same period, was 0.53 with 7,525 murders in the same year. In 2020. The most worrying aspect that President Biden will be looking at, the United States saw a 30% increase up to 21 ,570 murders which amounted to 7.8 per 100,000. This may have had Covid-19 as a contributing factor but was the single highest increase since records began in 1905 and was higher even than 2001 when the USA experienced its largest single event of unlawful deaths, the terrorist attack of 9/11. We can begin to understand why the US needs very much to “Build Back Better”.
There’s a Drug Crisis: There are two kinds of drugs, legal and illegal so this is a very difficult problem to overcome, let’s look first at the illegal, these are the kinds of drugs some people call recreational, such as cannabis, marijuana, and party drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines but also seriously harmful and addictive drugs such as heroin. Almost 10% of the total population and more than 12% of the adult population, 31.9 million Americans, regularly use illegal drugs. 25% of those, over 8 million adults, are addicted. Frighteningly, more than 50 million Americans over the age of 12 have admitted to using some illegal drugs.
Then there are the prescription drugs issued by pharmacists on the instructions of a doctor. Although less than 5% of the population of the world live in the United States, 75% of the world’s prescription drugs are sold there. There is, without a doubt, a drug problem in the United States and it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. According to one addiction website: in 2017. 18 million Americans misused their prescription drugs and, according to the CDC, over 840,000 people died of overdoses in 2019. The numbers since the beginning of the Covid pandemic are likely to be even higher when they are available.
There’s a Civil Disobedience Crisis: This manifested itself during the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. What we, outside of the United States, saw was huge protests in a few cities where buildings were burnt down, statues were toppled and many people were arrested. What we didn’t see on international news was that in the first few months after the death of George Floyd, which didn’t start the BLM movement but certainly acted as a catalyst to making it a household name, there were over 4,700 different protests in different cities. The vast majority of were peaceful. Wikipedia, (an unreliable source which should not be used as a primary reference but is a useful starting point for deeper research) reports that as many as 26 million US citizens may have taken part in some form of protest after the murder of Floyd. Whether or not this number is correct (it could be as low as 15 million), there is very much reason to believe that the people of the United States are unhappy with the current situation.
The Incarceration Crisis: The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but currently holds almost 25% of the world’s prison population. There are many factors contributing to this but one of them is NOT the number of refugees held in camps. This could be known as a Refugee Crisis This number is unknown but includes thousands of unaccompanied minors, tens of thousands of undocumented migrants from Central and South American countries as well as this, hundreds of thousands are held in places outside US borders in Mexico in what the US calls its “Migrant Protection Protocols”. Unfortunately, the degree of protection afforded to these migrants, many of them economic refugees due to US sanctions on the countries they come from, is sketchy at best. Human Rights Organisations report kidnappings, rapes, murders and many other crimes while awaiting passage into the USA
There are three Education Crises: As with other crises, there’s more to this than meets the eye. There are really three aspects and each one would constitute a crisis of its own. The International Student Crisis: The number of international college entrants has drastically reduced due to Covid-19, this creates a massive underfunding problem since a huge number of students were full fee-paying overseas students. Many of whom were Chinese and because of racial profiling, acts of racial violence and racial hatred towards them, will not return, even once the Covid-19 crisis is resolved. The Student Loan Crisis: The number of US students with loans outstanding amounts to 1.6 trillion dollars. For most graduating students this means they have a debt into their late 30s and even their 40s. The literacy Crisis: Is more disconcerting for the US education system is the number of people it is failing. 4% of Americans can’t read or write a basic sentence, 14% can read and write but at a “lower than basic level” and a stunning 34% cannot read 8th grade literature. This means that, according to the OECD, 52% of all Americans can’t read a well written book.
The Racial Crisis: This crisis is perhaps the most imperative issue for Biden to deal with. The largest numbers of people suffering poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, health issues, victims of gun violence and crime seem to come from the coloured population and ethnic minorities. More of the incarcerated and more of the Covid-19 deaths are from these lower socio-economic groups. The majority of violence takes place in these groups and the civil disobedience reflects the feelings of these groups.
Biden recently signed into law a new bill that would do several things, one is that it will stimulate the economy, another is that it will rebuild infrastructure which has not been properly maintained for many years. His Bill allows for massive spending on police to help curb some of these crises already mentioned but increasing police budgets have done nothing in the lead up to this point. In Fact, the US police budget, combined with the incarcerations budget overshadows almost every other spending item in the world — including China’s total military budget. Biden’s budget also allows for even more increases in the military budget which, to date, is higher than the military spends of the next 11 countries.
Given that this article has identified 11 areas in crisis, it’s no surprise that the US Administration needs to work very hard in the coming months. Biden knows he needs to convince the rest of the world that US democracy is legitimate and he very much needs to convince his supporters that he’s worthy of their support. More importantly he needs to work even harder to justify to those who didn’t support him, those who doubt, challenge and even fight his legitimacy that he’s up to the job.
The USA, believes it’s the greatest country in the world. The Biden Administration were convinced, in Anchorage a few months ago, that they were negotiating from a position of strength and found to their surprise that they weren’t. Now, surrounding themselves with friendly government leaders, countries that rely heavily on their subsidies, puppet leaders they have placed into positions of power, they are going to hear only one thing: Everyone loves the USA!
By ignoring many of the countries they deem to be unsuitable to call friends, by precluding countries such as China, Russia, Vietnam as well as many African and Asian and South American countries, they aren’t going to be told the truth, they are going to be back-slapped and agreed with and it’s likely they will learn nothing. If this is the case, the harsh reality of the failings of their own so-called democracy will be left unchallenged, the aspirations of 300 million Americans will be unmet and the crises which have been escalating over the last 50 years will fester, perhaps even erupt.