Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency
A number of student tickets and press passes are available. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
This event took place on Tuesday, June 18, 2019
JOANNE MYERS: Good evening. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you for joining us. It is a sincere pleasure to welcome back to this podium one of the world's foremost scholars of democracy, Larry Diamond.
Professor Diamond has spent over four decades studying and promoting democracy in every region around the world. We are very fortunate to have his insights about a world where democracy is under siege. He will be discussing an important new book entitled Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency. In it he distills decades of research indicative of what he argues is a global threat to democracy.
What's wrong with democracy? This is a question that is being asked more and more around the globe.
As the most successful political idea of the 20th century, democracy seems to have run into trouble. Several major democracies, including countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa are either hanging from a populist thread or showing large and growing signs of strain. The problems span the globe.
In its 2019 report Freedom House noted that last year more countries became more oppressive than more free. This was the 13th consecutive year that witnessed more decline than progress. There is ample evidence that democracy is facing difficult times, and the question is why, and how can we revive it.
In his stirring new book Ill Winds Professor Diamond writes that democracy is facing its greatest period of challenge and adversity since the end of the Cold War. In providing a sobering description of the origins and impact of the global insult from both domestic and foreign sources, our speaker addresses what can be done to revive democracy. He focuses on political reforms that will strengthen and safeguard this noble ideal. As he says, "It is not a cry of despair but a call to arms."
Please join me in welcoming our very distinguished guest this evening, all the way from California, Larry Diamond. Thank you so much for joining us.
LARRY DIAMOND: Joanne, thank you for welcoming me back. I'd like to thank the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I'd like to thank Penguin Press and my colleagues who turned out to hear me even though they've read the book and now they've got to hear me summarize it and bring it up to the current moment, if I may.
I'll pick up where you left off. Thank you for setting the stage for me so generously.
We've lived through a remarkable period, and it was a long remarkable period. When you live through a long period of positive and inspiring change you can be lulled into thinking that this is the new normal and that there's no reason why it can't go on indefinitely. When you're told that we've reached the end of history and that there has been a triumph of democracy and there is a triumphalist tone to it by our own leaders it can lull one into a sense of complacency and what we call in the social science field kind of teleology, that this is all natural, predestined, and irreversible.
The trends, I think you know very well, were protracted and very inspiring, and they didn't begin with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Democracy began expanding in the mid-1970s. We didn't know then that the world had entered what Samuel Huntington would call in his 1991 book the "third wave of global democratization."
But it did initially bring about the full democratization of Western Europe with the transitions in Portugal, Spain, and Greece; then the transition of a wave of military dictatorships back to democracy in Latin America; then the very inspiring changes in Asia with the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986, the student revolution in Korea for a second time within a decade in 1987, and free and fair elections there in 1988, and the beginning of a quite remarkable and successful transition to democracy in Taiwan, and all of this happened before 1989.
By the time we had the big bang of the fall of the Berlin Wall and then the collapse of the Soviet Union, not only did we have Europe basically whole and united more or less around the principles of—and increasing the reality of—liberal democracy, but we had a wave of transitions back to democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. It ultimately reached a peak where about a third of all the states in sub-Saharan African could have been said to be democracies of one sort or another.
For the first time in the history of the world, by the mid-1990s the majority of states in the world were democracies, and the majority of people in the world were living in democracies. That had never happened before.
Then, from the mid-1990s to I'd say the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, we had a slowly maturing continuation of these trends of growing democracy, increasing freedom in the world, and a sense that democracy was the only legitimate form of government in the world.
Remember the term "the unipolar moment," which was the idea that it wasn't even a moment, it was an era in which the United States was the only superpower in the world, liberal democracy was the only legitimate political idea in the world, authoritarian alternatives of various kinds had been swept onto the trash heap of history to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, and the rest would gradually work itself out with economic development and the continued vigilance and moral responsibility of the liberal democracies of the world.
Of course, that is not what happened, and that is not the moment we're at now. We are at, I argue, a new moment in which there are several really deeply worrisome and increasingly powerful ill winds that are blowing against liberal democracy that I want to take a few minutes to explain.
But let me first explain why because everybody asks me this question, so I might as well get it out of the way right now, why this came to a halt, and why it came to a halt around 2006, 2008, so that we now have experienced, as Joanne noted from the recent Freedom House report, 13 consecutive years in which more countries have declined in freedom than have gained and in which we've been in an extended period, which I was arguing we had entered even seven or eight years ago of what I've called the "global democratic recession."
First of all, we have to keep in mind if we're thinking a little bit with a social science hat that nothing so positive just continues in a straight line forever. You're not going to get ever a straight line to progress. Of course, we recall the famous maxim of Barack Obama, quoting Martin Luther King and others, that history doesn't move in a straight line, but ultimately the arc of history bends toward justice. Well, I'm going to come back to this in the end. It doesn't bend on its own. It takes people and organizations and committed policies and leadership to help it bend and to cooperate in doing so toward freedom, democracy, and justice.
It was bound to be the case as democracy spread to a lot of unlikely places in the world, countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia that had rather little experience with democracy and fairly weak supporting conditions for democracy in terms of levels of education, the size of the middle class, and so on, and the supportiveness of the surrounding regional environment, there was bound to be some movement backward.
Second, think about what had recently happened by the time we got to 2006, which was the last time I talked in this room about a powerful trend that was happening in the world and that led to a previous book called Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iran.
The invasion of Iraq was not just I think a calamitously bad mistake in American foreign policy, a war of choice that we shouldn't have fought, didn't need to fight, and had very punishing negative consequences for the United States in many respects that we could talk about if you want to, but it had a very particular unfortunate effect in terms of global democratic change. When we did not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, what was the Bush administration left with to legitimate this massive use of force and this awesome and protracted occupation of another country except the kind of moralizing mission of "promoting democracy"? Of course, that didn't go very well. It wound up becoming mired in a civil war.
European publics, the American public, and the broader world began to associate the words "democracy promotion" with military invasion, the use of force, a kind of neo-imperial arrogance, and we are still recovering from this rhetorical and historical burden of labeling democracy promotion in that way and so deeply and profoundly associating it with military invasion and protracted occupation of one kind or another to the point now where if you use language in a public opinion poll that mentions the words "democracy promotion," you don't find much support for it. If you say, "Well, how do you feel about the United States lending financial support and technological support to partner with democratic organizations and actors around the world to help them defend their human rights and institutionalize democracy," if you put it that way, Americans are much more supportive of it. But the general kind of bumper sticker provokes a powerful reaction.
Then, what happened two years later, really beginning a year later? The financial crisis and the near collapse of the American economy and the taint that this generated for the democratic capitalist model in general, from which again we still have not recovered. This was at a time when globalization was beginning to generate more and more displacement of people, more and more movement of people across borders, more and more concentration of income and wealth, and widening gaps between the city and the countryside and between people with higher levels of education who could take advantage of this digitizing and technologically revolutionizing world and others who couldn't, who were trapped in their more basic skill levels from a manufacturing era that was leaving the United States of America.
Now we've arrived at an era in the United States, as most of you know, where instead of 70–80 percent of people 30 years of age or 25 or something like that being able to expect that they will live better than their parents, the percentage has declined to 50 percent.
It is against this backdrop that we have to try to ponder what's happening in the last few years, and the four ill winds I want to highlight to you very briefly are, first of all, the growing momentum for illiberal, authoritarian, usually right-wing—although it has had some left-wing manifestations—populism that is feeding on this displacement, feeding on this anger against elites, feeding on this economic insecurity, and feeding on the cultural fear of being overtaken as a result of the rising pace of immigration, particularly in Europe or the brilliant cynical exploitation of it by very skillful demagogues like Victor Orbán in Hungary, where there actually isn't a very large immigrant population, but he sure made the country think there is, and by the man who emerged from this city to become president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. This is a wave that's spreading around the world as one illiberal, aspiring or real finally-emerged autocrat studies the techniques, the rhetorical strategies of another, and replicates them either intuitively or very consciously.
This has progressed to the point where we have for the first time since the creation of the European community of liberal democracies all the way back in the 1950s if you want to go to the European Coal and Steel Community through the creation of the European Economic Community and then the European Union and the Treaty of Lisbon. All of these bodies, one succeeding another, and all of these treaties have made very clear that the condition for membership in this union—which is not just an economic union, it is more profoundly a political and in some ways normative union—a core condition for membership is that member countries be liberal democracies.
Now we have a country Member State of the European Union that not only proudly parades itself as an illiberal democracy under the leadership of an extraordinarily skillful autocrat, Viktor Orbán, but is not even an illiberal democracy any longer; it has become an illiberal autocracy and still is a Member States of the European Union. Now you have Poland as a second country under the Law and Justice Party that is trying to follow this same model and has gone very far in doing so, and the Czech Republic interested in this as well, using the specter of being overrun by Muslim immigrants to drive fear in people, using the polarization between urban, cosmopolitan, more tolerant, globalizing elites and people, maybe older people, maybe more based in the countryside, maybe more culturally and religiously conservative, who fear the cosmopolitan onset of difference in every form and displacement and the need for adaptation.
And you've got several Member States of the European Union now that if they are still democracies—which Hungary is not, but the others I think we can say are—are of a similar ideological and normative inclination, and they are defending one another. Since you need consensus to censure and possibly sanction with the ultimate goal of denying voting rights for one of these Member States, it is now past a certain point of extreme difficulty if not no return.
This doesn't mean that Europe is headed toward authoritarianism, but it does mean that illiberal models of governance, nativist, intolerant populism, and sympathy for authoritarian models going all the way to Vladimir Putin in Russia, has been steadily gaining momentum in Europe—one of the two core areas historically for liberal democracy in the world as recently as the gains that were made by the League in Italy, by the National Front in France, by Nigel Farage's Brexit Party in Britain, and by other right-wing, illiberal, atavistic parties throughout Europe in the recent European parliamentary elections.
Then you get other autocrats in the world who see what's going on and see the autocrats' playbook, what I call the autocrats' "12-step program" that has been used so skillfully, first by Vladimir Putin in Russia, then by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, then by Erdoğan, who has completely crushed press freedom, civil liberties, and almost every other kind of pluralism in Turkey. This model has been adapted by other leaders, the model of first demonizing the press and calling them enemies of the people.
Then as you get further along getting your allies to buy up independent media and extinguish media pluralism and freedom, and then going after the courts and politicizing them, purging them when you can, and turning them into instruments of validation of your authoritarian project.
And then going after the political opposition and declaring them to be treasonous, the enemies of the people, and trying to marginalize them or go as far as Rodrigo Duterte has done in the Philippines, to put some of them in jail including his leading opposition figure in the Philippine Senate.
Then you go after the bureaucracy and you purge them of the disloyal elements, the enemies of the people, and get rid of whatever traditions of professionalism and civil service norms that were in the bureaucracy and turn it into a faithful reflection of the ruling party and ruler mission and political line.
Then you carry that over into the intelligence agencies because, my god, if you've got this kind of project, you want to control, politicize, neuter, and reshape in your image the national police force, the domestic and international intelligence agency, and so on, and get rid of anyone who would use them as an independent instrument of objective defense of the national interest.
Then you go after the military itself as Erdoğan did to purge thousands of officers who were disloyal to him. There was a real coup attempt there, extremely ill-considered and I think regrettable in my view, but nevertheless it gave him an excuse to do this.
You just keep purging and politicizing and demonizing and knocking out the fundamental pillars of checks and balances, rule of law, protection of the civil liberties of individuals until there's nothing left but the hollow shell of a multiparty system that has been drained of its content and its ability to, by any normal fair working of the process, displace the ruling party in anything resembling free and fair elections, which is why Viktor Orbán was able to be reelected in Hungary even though he lost the elections. Most people don't pay attention to that. He did not win the popular vote. It seems like that happened somewhere else, too.
This is why Erdoğan was able to say, "Well, my city, Istanbul, the city I ruled as mayor for 10 years, I'm not going to allow this opposition figure— it's not possible that he really won a free and fair election some weeks ago, so the election has to be repeated next week," under circumstances that are certainly going to be more tilted for the ruling Law and Justice Party.
I can come back to that in the Q&A period because I think there's a lot of hope in the Turkish situation now, and I think there are important lessons from the remarkable effort that is being mobilized by this new leader of the opposition party and candidate for mayor of Istanbul that other peoples and other societies that are trying to combat this ill wind can learn from.
Anyway, authoritarian populism and projects of progressive incremental dismantling of democracy from within by elected officials are a major ill wind that we need to recognize, analyze, and mobilize against before it overtakes us.
This is happening in an international context that is quite different than most of what we lived through in the post-Cold War world and that we assumed would naturally continue for at least decades to come in the post-Cold War world, and that is an international context where the unipolar moment is long since gone. Liberal hegemony is under severe challenge now by two authoritarian juggernauts, the resurgent authoritarian regime of Russia under Kremlin leadership and particularly Vladimir Putin that seeks to really correct what Putin called "the greatest tragedy of the 20th century," the demise of the Soviet Union, and to restore it in not that name but in another reality, a reality in which there will be a Russian Empire again and in which Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, and any other country—Kyrgyzstan—that would be so bold as to imagine having real popular sovereignty independent from Moscow will submit to it.
He is working very hard to undermine democracy along the whole frontier of the former Soviet Union, going all the way through to the most established liberal democracies that were part of the Soviet Union, the three Baltic states, which of course now are members of the European Union and members of NATO. Putin is going to test even more than he has now our resolve to defend them under the collective defense provisions of the NATO treaty.
Of course, we know he hasn't stopped there. I say in this book—I will be glad to have the argument with anyone who wants to challenge me—that were it not for the Russian digital intervention in the American election in all of its breathtakingly clever, imaginative, deceitful, and cynical ways in 2015 and particularly 2016 and its hacking of the files of the Democratic candidate and her campaign and the strategic release of them and so on and so forth and the very skillful manipulation of public opinion throughout the final months of the campaign in particular, Hillary Clinton would have won.
It is also true that if James Comey hadn't made the announcement he made in the run-up to the general election, Hillary Clinton would have won. It's also true if she had been a better candidate with a better campaign she would have won. These things can all be true. But the fact that the first thing I said is true is a very humbling and deeply troubling reflection on our vulnerability as a democracy that frankly many people who worked for Hillary Clinton can't take onboard because it is just so massively unsettling.
This is not only going to happen again, it has been happening again as recently as the European Union elections last month, where the European Union just delivered a very detailed report on what the Kremlin did in a number of different European countries in multiple different languages to intrude on their social media, manipulate their fears and divisions, and try to aid all their right-wing illiberal, populist friends.
This doesn't begin to comprehend the most frightening vulnerability to my mind that we are looking at in 2020—and I think one of the most significant reasons why there is a very good chance that Donald Trump will be "reelected"—which is that our electoral infrastructure of registering voters and holding elections and protecting the vote is vulnerable to foreign manipulation.
We know that the Russians were in the voter registration databases of 20 states in 2016. They didn't do anything, we believe, the FBI believes or has no evidence that they did, but they could have. What if they do that in 2020, and people go to the polls on election day or in the days before if there's early voting, and find that their names aren't there and honest, well-meaning voter administration workers say, "Sorry, something happened. You're not registered to vote." If this happens on a large scale, there could be chaos in the United States of America, and chaos—maybe even more than the reelection of Donald Trump—is exactly what Vladimir Putin wants.
There is an overriding existential imperative now for the future of American democracy—which senators like Mark Warner and many members of Congress are increasingly writing about and advocating about and introducing legislation to try to be vigilant about—to address this and really get serious about hardening and modernizing our electoral administration before it's too late.
The most obvious piece of legislation is don't ever hold a vote in the United States which can't be audited with a paper trail so that there can be a recount. Another kind of obvious thing is, let people vote if they want to vote, and give them every opportunity to vote.
I'm very hopeful in many respects—I'll get to the closing in a couple of minutes. One reason why is we are actually having more and more states now that are passing automatic voter registration acts, what are called "motor-voter" laws or similar types of laws where if you have any contact at all with a government agency, you're automatically registered to vote. If you don't want to name a party, you're just registered as an Independent. Many states are taking the initiative to make it as easy as possible to vote. Want to vote my mail? You don't need an excuse; you just do it. There's your ballot in the mail.
But there are other states, and they happen to be states almost exclusively controlled by the Republican Party, I'm sorry to say, because I do not like making partisan statements when I'm talking about democracy as a principle. It's just simply an empirical fact that virtually all of the efforts to make it harder to vote, to suppress the vote, and to suppress the vote with racial precision and intention, are being promulgated by one political party, which obviously sees it to be to its advantage to make it more difficult for certain types of people in the United States—from certain racial groups and from certain socioeconomic origins—to have greater difficulty in voting.
This is not the way to win elections. It's not a winning bet on the future in the United States of America, which is becoming a more pluralistic nation in a variety of ways. In any case, we need much greater vigilance and determination to protect our electoral infrastructure and move it forward, not backward.
Now let me come to China, which in the near term is probably not as serious a threat to the future of democracy in the United States—and therefore I would say in the world, as Russia—as we look to 2020 but in the long run is far and away the most important international challenge we face. China is not a rising superpower, it is a risen superpower, and that is the most dramatic way in which—frankly, sorry, friends—the unipolar moment is over. We're back to two-and-a-half superpowers in the world with Russia half-restored.
China has not tried to intervene in an American election the way Russia did, although it has done so in Taiwan and will do so again in Taiwan's presidential election in January of next year. But as I talk about in this book—and as Orville Schell and I and a community of other China scholars mainly have tried to do in a recent report—it is intervening in a far more sophisticated and diverse array of ways to penetrate universities, think tanks, media, certainly in Australia the political process, and the whole process of policy and dialogue to try to shape the narrative about China in its image and get favorable policies in return.
This is I think a very significant threat to the integrity of democracies, probably more weaker democracies, smaller democracies, or in the case of Australia and New Zealand more proximate democracies, than the United States, but we can't take anything for granted.
If it's only that Chinese students at American universities don't have the freedom of research, inquiry, and speech that other students in the United States do, which they don't, that's troubling enough. The fact that many China scholars in the United States—probably most of them—feel the need to censor themselves in order to get a visa to go back to China, the fact that the Chinese language media in the United States are virtually all now singing the policy and interpretive global tune of the Beijing propaganda apparatus because Chinese Communist Party-affiliated businesses or sympathetic businessmen have bought up or started all these Chinese-language newspapers, and TV and radio stations in the United States, Australia, Canada, and so on, with a few noteworthy exceptions, is very troubling in terms of its implications for freedom of expression and freedom of speech in the United States.
But when you add that on to China's 30-year campaign of appropriation and theft of high technology and the way it has cycled that back not only into the pursuit of dominance now in the global telecoms industry with the whole debate over who's going to shape and control the 5G networks of the future but over military applications as well, this is very alarming because China has a goal of pushing the United States of America out of Asia, out of the Western Pacific, and becoming the regional hegemon in Asia, inducing Japan, Korea, and Taiwan to basically submit to this new neo-imperial reality. This will not be a democratic Pax Sinica, I can promise you. If we allow that to happen, I don't think it will end there, but that will be bad enough.
We're facing I think in the long run a very serious existential threat from the rise to superpower status of a Communist Chinese party state that is not playing by any rules at all really, certainly not a global rule of law, and that is intervening in much more sophisticated and multifold ways to undermine democracy.
This comes back to the fourth ill wind that I've already alluded to, which is the deterioration of democracy in the United States. I will not continue in what could be interpreted—I think would be misinterpreted but could be interpreted—as a partisan vein by rehearsing all the other criticisms I have of Donald Trump and his lack of respect for the truth, for the courts, for opposition, for the media, and for basic democratic principles. But the fact that his party has with so few exceptions signed onto this or tolerated this and that the norms of democracy have so visibly eroded in recent years that a presidential candidate could stand before a large audience and say, "If someone shouts an opposing slogan, do what we used to do. Beat them up. Give them a black eye." This call to violence, sometimes subtle, sometimes not the least bit subtle, tolerance or legitimation of violence, is degrading our political culture and I think pushing us in a further, very, very dangerous polarizing direction.
Let me conclude by saying this: There are multiple reasons why I am hopeful—I want to cite two—and why I think we are at a hinge point in history that could swing back to a reaffirmation and reenergizing of democratic momentum in the world. One, I think the Chinese regime, and Putin as well, have just simply grossly overreached, and more and more people—not only in the United States but we're seeing now in Europe and certainly in Asia—recognize this and are rallying together to try to—there's no other word for it—"contain" their projection of sharp and hard, even military power, and defend democratic principles and norms.
I want to tell you—I think you know how I feel about the incumbent in the White House now, so this isn't an effort to legitimate him. I spent a lot of time in Asia last summer. Donald Trump is very popular in Asia. He's very popular in India. He's very popular in Taiwan. He's very popular in parts of Hong Kong. He's very popular in Japan because these countries are really scared of the rising Chinese hegemon, and they see Donald Trump as the first American president pushing back against that.
Europe was very much in the other direction until very recently, and now they're waking up to the threat they face as a result of these diverse forms of political and social penetration, the rising coercion and pressure, the Chinese regime buying up ports and strategic assets all over Europe and compromising their security, and they're beginning to rally to a more alert posture as well.
Second, I think Russia, China, and all these authoritarian regimes have massive vulnerabilities. One vulnerability they share without exception—Turkey, Russia, China, Venezuela, you name it, Hungary, quite notably—is that they are breathtakingly, relentlessly corrupt. As the corruption gets exposed, and it has been exposed to much of the population even in China, certainly in Russia, and so on, it is undermining their legitimacy. Why do you think Xi Jinping is so nervous and Putin is so nervous that they can't allow any opposition expressions on the Internet? Can you imagine what Xi must be doing now, freaking out about 2 million people in the streets of Hong Kong? They're not secure. They're not self-confident deep down. They're constantly worried about their legitimacy. There are things we can do by fighting and exposing their corruption and the dirty flows of money washing onto our shores through the channels that are permitted by anonymous real estate purchases and banking transactions and asset purchases of various kinds that can push back against this.
Finally, I see a lot of political reform happening in the United States. I talk extensively about ranked-choice voting in my book, which the state of Maine not only adopted once by voter referendum to get more voter choice and to try to transcend polarization in their politics, but when the politicians took that victory away in the middle of the night they prevailed a second time by twice the margin in the June 2018 voter initiative than they had prevailed the first time.
Now you, the humble people of New York City, are going to have a chance to vote on ranked-choice voting in I guess a public referendum at some point in your next municipal election. I hope you will seriously consider it because I think it is the single most promising reform to open up our politics and generate incentives to transcend polarization.
We've got states that are passing voter initiatives to implement some form of public support for campaign vouchers or other public funding of campaigns. We've got states getting rid of gerrymandering by voter initiative and implementing motor-voter laws. This is happening because people want a better, cleaner democracy. Congress isn't giving it to them, so they are mobilizing in the classic way. Americans have mobilized through grassroots initiatives and state legislative pressure and state-level initiatives to pass very concrete and I think ultimately very hopeful reforms.
That leads me to the final conclusion. If you study, which most people haven't been doing—because they're happening in all these states, Maine, Alaska, South Dakota, these are small states; who pays attention to states like these?—so they don't see the spreading trend of voter action and voter mobilization and voter impact, but I do.
This leads me to feel that we may be on the cusp now—I think there's a very good chance of this—of a new progressive era in the United States which is going to renew and improve American democracy the way the last progressive era did in the early 20th century, when we got things like direct election of senators, the Federal Reserve, the Interstate Trade Commission, and, oh, by the way, the right of women to vote.
Thank you very much.
JOANNE MYERS: That was very sobering. Thank you for that because it was a very clear picture but a little bit depressing.
I have a question while everybody's moving to the microphone. You mention a 1975 report from the Trilateral Commission where they mentioned that there is an overload of demands on government and maybe an excess of democracy. Do you think we have an excess of democracy that has led to this particular state?
LARRY DIAMOND: No. I think we have a deficit of democracy, but it's not necessarily the way left or progressive figures always imagine it. We have democratic deficits that derive from what I talked about, the effort to demobilize certain political constituencies, stigmatize them, and even prevent them from voting.
But part of the populist reaction and the populist political wave is segments of populations that feel they're falling behind economically, in social status, feel like they're losing a world that they knew, that was familiar to them, and they feel they're not being heard by Brussels, by Washington, DC, and by the very impressive career elite bureaucracy in Paris.
So, there is a kind of democratic rebellion. Without validating everything they're advocating, I do think that there has been a democratic deficit there as well. Part of the challenge for progressives, say, is to just sit back and listen really carefully to what these disaffected voters are saying and try to figure out better policies to respond to them.
QUESTION: Good evening. Thank you. My name is Linda Senat. Depressing, concerning, very informative, and fascinating. Thank you.
I have a two-part question, and I don't mean it strictly politically, although obviously those are the implications. What do you think is going on between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?
Completely separately but obviously allied, what's going on with the Republicans? They've always promoted themselves as the party for the defense of the country, the strongest, and where are they on all of this Russian interference?
LARRY DIAMOND: Those are both very good and natural questions. I can only speculate on the first. I think I can give a more confident answer to the second.
I think one thing that is going on between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump is a mutual admiration society. I think at a minimum there is that.
One of the troubling things I think about the personality of Donald Trump, just think about who the people are he said he admires, he always gets along well with, he has a relationship of trust with, or has even had—I can't remember the exact words, but this is not a distortion—a "loving" relationship with in the case of Kim Jong-un. What do they all have in common? They're all tyrants, and in some cases horribly murderous ones. This is a man who admires other strong leaders. He actually admired Xi Jinping before he fell into a trade war with him.
One of the things that worries me about this current conflict with China is that he could cut a deal very quickly and turn on a dime if he gets certain concessions or feels that he politically needs to do so without doing the things more deeply and fundamentally that we need to do to protect our national interest.
Anyway, at a minimum there's that. There's an affinity for autocrats and a kind of contempt for "freeloading" democratic allies.
I think, if we ever really get comprehensive access to his tax returns, that the big compromising element of the relationship between Trump and Putin—this is all speculation—that we would find is deep financial dependence and compromise. After all, it was one of his sons, I think Eric, who said, "Yeah, you know, we're doing really well. We get a lot of our funding and purchases from Russians."
First of all, the fact that President Trump has not completely divested himself of all of his assets, all of his real estate, hotels, and things like that, that businessmen and favor seekers in terms of policies can walk into the Trump hotel down the street from the White House or buy a condo in Mar-a-Lago and curry favor with the president, and you think that's not getting back to the president in one way or another who's staying in his hotel, who's buying his property?
The same goes, of course, for his son-in-law Jared Kushner as has recently been reported in The New York Times. I think that is probably the more serious element of compromise, and all this fluff and speculation about possible videos showing compromising things I don't think is an important element, even if it exists.
In terms of the Republican Party, I think that Trump has struck fear and opportunism in the Republican Party. The fear is that anybody who defects from him, who criticizes him, like, in particular—and I quote him in the book with great admiration—Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, is toast, not for the general election reelection but in a Republican primary.
This is the problem with where we're at now, which is why I'm such a big fan of ranked-choice voting. If you have to get reelected in a low-turnout Republican primary where maybe only 15 percent of the whole electorate is going to turn out and vote in the Republican primary and therefore the 8 percent of the electorate that is most vigorously Tea Party or radical left—in this case of Arizona, pro-Trump—those people can veto your reelection, and what are the chances of most people winning reelection as an Independent?
If we have ranked-choice voting, then people can vote for an independent, and they're not wasting their vote. If the Independent doesn't make it and no one gets a majority of first-preference votes, their vote will be transferred to their second preference. I think actually if you did that and got rid of the sore loser rule which prevents the loser in a primary election from getting on the ballot as an Independent in the general election, you'd actually see a lot more backbone in the Republican Party.
QUESTION: Thank you, Professor Diamond. Really wonderful discussion. So many issues brought up on all this.
I would just say the greatest cause of optimism is the miracle that is the Constitution of the United States of America and the checks and balances and the system that underlies all the politics and even Donald Trump.
I'd just like to address Angela Merkel and her quite liberal choice to permit the immigration from Syria and other neighboring areas of I think up to 2 million immigrants. She paid a heavy political price for this. Her party did, too. How do you feel about that?
LARRY DIAMOND: The first part of what I have to say may not be very popular in this room and may seem ironic, given what I said about the Iraq intervention, but one of the reasons why I was in favor of military intervention in Syria—not the introduction of American troops, but serious military assistance to the rebels in Syria when there was a moment early on to really help them, and positioning of assistance on the border, and things we could have done without getting directly entangled in the conflict—is because I think one could predict that if you didn't support an alternative like this and maybe an early end to this civil war or pressure to compromise on Assad, because what pressure has there been on him to compromise really, that you were going to get state collapse. I didn't see the massive refugee flow, but it wasn't hard to anticipate.
Coming more directly to your question, I think she made a mistake. It was a mistake of liberal intent and goodheartedness, and I will say she remains one of the world leaders of the last 10 years that I most admire. I think she has been a remarkable leader for Europe and for Germany. But even remarkable leaders can miscalculate. The reason why I say this is not that Europe or Germany should have just completely closed their doors to all these Syrian refugees, but it is a sociological fact that a country can only absorb so much dramatic influx of very different people within a short period of time before you start getting pretty serious strains and political reaction.
One of the points I make in my book is that if you track one thing, the percentage of foreign-born in the United States, and then look at when it reached its nearly peak levels of 13–14 percent, every time that happened there was a right-wing, illiberal, populist, racist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic political movement against it—the Know Nothing movement, the Ku Klux Klan, Father Coughlin, the John Birch Society. Every peak brought one of those regrettable semi-racist political formations.
You have to be realistic, too. You have to be welcoming and idealistic, but you have to temper it with realism, and I think we now in many of these countries just need a period of time in which we don't shut the door, but we slow immigration, give these immigrant populations a chance to adapt, to learn the language, to be absorbed, of the society to absorb them, and give the people who feel threatened by all of this a sense that the country has control over its borders.
I think if liberals in the United States don't have some sensitivity to the principle I've just articulated they are playing into the hands of the authoritarian, populist, illiberal demagogue who has a serious chance of being reelected in the United States.
QUESTION: I agree with that, too. John Davenport from Fordham University.
It's very rare that I'm in almost total agreement with everything that a speaker says. I even have something about ranked-choice voting on a webpage, a constitutional amendment.
But to the topic of your book, I agree with your diagnosis of what has been happening. I graduated from college in 1989. I never thought that things would be like this at this point in history.
The real question seems to be what to do about it. How are we going to stop China and Russia? How are we going to do this in a way that doesn't terrify our existing and potential allies that the United States is just going to try to dominate the world the way that it did in the Cold War? I think that's why Bill Clinton didn't take that route after 1989. I even talked with him once about this when he was running for election. I'll stop.
QUESTION: My name is Jigar Khatri.
I don't want to take up too much of your time, but I was just curious to get your thoughts on democratic backsliding in South Asia and where you see South Asia moving politically. Do you think there will be continued backsliding, or do you see a swing back toward more democratic norms?
QUESTION: John McAuliff from the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Cuba.
I wanted to throw in two examples—I think the Bush examples are easy to deal with, but in the Obama administration we have Honduras, which, thanks to Secretary Clinton, we were happy to see a democratic government overthrown, and we have Libya where we directly intervened, ostensibly to bring democracy, and have brought far worse.
I think part of the complication of looking at internal democracies is there is also external democracy. The equality between countries, the sovereignty of countries is also very important.
We're going, for instance, if you propose the policy being followed toward Venezuela, essentially it is the Russians and the Chinese that gain, ostensibly because we want to create—
LARRY DIAMOND: Let me deal with that one first since it's fresh in my mind.
Of course, this is why I think we have to use peaceful means and means of cooperation and solidarity and means that are transparent to assist democratic movements and actors around the world. In the case of Venezuela, which is now a humanitarian as well as political tragedy, there are a lot of Organization of American States (OAS) partners who are equally concerned about this. The problem is China and Russia have been intervening financially and geopolitically to shore up the regime, and whenever a regime has an autonomous natural resource, that can sustain a very, very rotten regime at least for a period of time.
The general principle that we should not use military force to impose democracy the way that we tried to do in Iraq—or our own vision of what's the right kind of regime—I agree with. I favor, as I just said, using transparent means, but I do favor active means. Increasingly, Europe has been very proactive in trying to support democratic development by these peaceful means around the world as well.
I think the Honduras situation, if you're referring to the democratically elected president who was paraded out in his pajamas and deported from the country, is regrettable, but it's a little bit more complicated I think than what you portrayed. He was not exactly the most democratic actor in the world. I favor dealing with actors who are violating democratic norms by domestic mobilization to challenge them and not by coercion or by the military coup that General el-Sisi promulgated in Egypt almost six years ago. I accept most of what you said.
On South Asia, I'm really worried. Of course, there are not that many countries in South Asia. I think Pakistan is a military-dominated electoral semi-democracy. If you can tell me how to get the military out of politics in Pakistan, I'll tell you how Pakistan can become a democracy. Bangladesh is a country that is incredibly polarized for reasons I still can't figure out. It's two political parties that are fighting to the death over power basically, but there doesn't seem to be a near-term prospect of full restoration of democracy. Nepal I think has got a chance, and there is a lot of desire for democracy among the Nepalese people.
But the big giant, of course, in South Asia is India. India's still a democracy, but Narendra Modi is a deeply illiberal figure, and now that he has been reelected with an even bigger majority for his own party he feels the wind at his back, and it's the wind at a moment globally as I've said where the authoritarian populist gusts are blowing, and he's infusing it with religion and Hindu chauvinism and a really I'd say much more deeply authoritarian set of political shock troops in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). I think it's really going to be important for other democracies to keep saying to Prime Minister Modi and to the government of India, "We care about democracy in India and India's image in the world," and to stand behind people who are taking risks to defend freedom of the press and civic pluralism.
Finally, what can we do about China and Russia and the whole mess that I was articulating? Well, I've got negative-three minutes to summarize the second half of the book. I will just say that I've mentioned one thing, which is pushing back against the corrupt, kleptocratic flows of money in the world. The most important thing is I think we have to fight for our values and ideas and ideals, which are not Western values, they are universal values. They are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in so many regional instruments that have been accorded I'd say at least semi-legal status over the decades.
We abandoned that effort when we, going back to the 1990s, shut down the U.S. Information Agency under pressure from Jesse Helms. We thought, Well, we don't need that anymore. The Cold War is over. We do need that now, and we need it for a digital age, where there is a hunger for democratic understanding, democratic information, open societies, checks and balances, and the rule of law in defense of liberal values, hunger for knowledge about how to do it, hunger for solidarity in how to defend it, and if you don't believe me, ask 2 million people in the streets of Hong Kong now.
Thank you very much.
JOANNE MYERS: I would just like to say that you use "value" as a noun, but I'd like to use it as a verb to say how much I value your presentation this evening.
LARRY DIAMOND: Oh, thank you so much, Joanne. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here.
JOANNE MYERS: It was really wonderful, and I think it gave us a lot to think about.