Resolute Square

Biden is the Democracy Defender We Need Now

"Biden is taking on the GOP's efforts to sour Americans on liberal democracy and condition them to see autocrats such as Vladimir Putin in a positive light," writes Ruth Ben-Ghiat.
Published:September 20, 2023

Published with the generous permission of Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Read all of her outstanding writing in her Lucid newsletter.

By Ruth Ben-Ghiat

“I predict to you, your children and grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral theses on the issue of who succeeded - autocracy or democracy?" declared President Joe Biden at his first press conference in March 2021. "We've got to prove democracy works." Protecting democracy at home, and serving as a defender of democracy abroad have been the pillars of Biden's presidency.

Biden stands as the bulwark of our freedoms, and his administration has undertaken an astonishing number of actions to protect democracy now and in the future. Investing in job creation and social infrastructure, and wiping out tens of billions of dollars in student loans carried for 20 years or more can help to alleviate the economic hardship and atomization that can lead people to attach themselves to demagogues who promise to fix their problems and relieve their suffering.

Biden is taking on the GOP's efforts to sour Americans on liberal democracy and condition them to see autocrats such as Vladimir Putin in a positive light. That makes them less inclined to approve of U.S. aid to countries those autocrats target. Republican efforts to shift public opinion on this issue with regard to Ukraine seem to be bearing fruit. In the spring of 2022 17% Republican voters surveyed by Pew thought the U.S. was doing too much for Ukraine. That number has now increased to 44% (more than half of Republican voters are still in favor of aid to Ukraine, as are many Republicans in Congress).

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 19, 2023. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Biden also must counter information warfare, diplomatic, espionage, and other efforts by Russia and China to weaken American influence in the world so it can no longer be as persuasive in organizing responses to autocratic aggressions. Russia and China hope to become the patrons and partners of countries in the Global South and elsewhere.
Here, too, the autocratic camp has made inroads, most notably with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose progressive and anti-authoritarian politics at home have not prevented him from cozying up to China. Lula’s "active nonalignment" stance reflects a reluctance to rely on America, a country that helped to wreck Brazilian democracy during the Cold War.

Today’s authoritarian states leverage this continuing animosity to America in spreading the idea that the U.S. is the enemy of freedom and present themselves as the protectors and beacons of liberty. This was the gist of the Nov. 2021 diatribe by those countries’ ambassadors on the occasion of Biden's Summit for Democracy (Russia and China were not invited).

The article demands that the U.S. "respect people's democratic rights" and stop creating global conflict. It is part of a massive propaganda effort to create the international climate of opinion they need to have support for their imperialist actions, whether it is Russia invading Ukraine, which happened just months after the publication of this essay, or China invading Taiwan in the future.

Biden's powerful speech at the United Nations General Assembly responded to all of this. It repeatedly emphasized the need to consider the war against Ukraine as an emergency of global import rather than as a regional or local conflict. "If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? The answer is no. We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow," Biden stated.

History bears this out. When one autocrat gets away with imperialist and genocidal actions, others are emboldened. Every day Putin’s war on Ukraine continues is a day of victory for all autocrats who are invested in crushing democracy and solidifying a new world order based on repression, plunder, and chaos.

On that note, Putin did not attend the United Nations meeting because the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him for crimes against humanity and other charges related to his war on Ukraine. Russia has long been a criminal entity: As a kleptocracy, it is a state that is dependent on repression, corruption, and propaganda for its operation.

As we go into the 2024 election season, we'd best keep this larger picture in mind. The wall of hostility toward Biden and the will to drive him from office through impeachment or any means necessary is proportionate to his strength. Biden is a leader with his eyes on the prize: proving that democracy works in America, convincing people it is worth saving where it is under siege, such as in Ukraine, and encouraging it to return in places it has been vanquished.