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Editorial: Are authoritarians winning due to democracy’s tainted image?

We all know that stalemate in Washington, D.C., especially in Congress, over the past few years has tarnished our opinion of the government we once were so proud of.
A recent article in “The New York Review,” however, makes a sobering case that our problems in governance are contributing to a realignment of the global balance between democracies and authoritarian governments throughout the world.
The article by Michael Ignatieff, a professor at the Harvard School of Government, is titled “Are the Authoritarians Winning?” And his answer is, “Yes, they are.”
Around the world, he writes, authoritarian regimes like those in Russia and China and dozens of countries in Asia and Africa appear confident and on the rise, while democracies “are in the middle of a … period of envy and despondency.
“For the first time since the end of the cold war,” he writes, the advance of democratic constitutionalism has stopped.”
The authoritarians in Russia and China no longer ever pretend to be democratic, but “explicitly refuse to accept liberal democracy as a model. Both insist that their 20th Century experience of revolution and civil war necessitates centralized rule with an iron fist.”
With that as a creed, the new authoritarians “offer the elites of Africa and Eurasia an alternate route to modern development: growth without democracy and progress without freedom…”
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That brings Ignatieff to the situation in the U.S.: “Faced with these resurgent authoritarians, America sets a dismaying example to its allies and friends,” he writes. “For two centuries, its constitutional machinery was widely admired. Now, in the hands of polarizing politicians in Washington and in the two parties, it generates paralysis … It’s difficult to defend liberal democracy with much enthusiasm abroad if it works so poorly at home.”
And the single biggest reason that politics works badly here is because of the infusion of huge amounts of money into the political process, especially since the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates.
“To citizens of other liberal democracies, the Supreme Court doctrine that money in politics deserves the protection accorded to speech seems like doctrinal insanity,” Ignatieff writes. “For other Western democrats, money is plainly power, not speech, and needs to be regulated if citizens are to stay free.”
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As it happens, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote this Monday, Sept. 8, on a constitutional amendment — prompted largely by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont — to overturn Citizens United. Both of Vermont’s U.S. senators are on board with it.
The stakes are high, it is clear, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.
The Herald of Randolph

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