In 2019 pro-democracy protests occurred around the world: Hong Kong, Chile, Ecuador. Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Russia, Venezuela and others. Why are these protests occurring now? Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization that tracks global democracy, reports that the markers of global democracy have declined for the 13th year in a row. People around the world, particularly young people, are fighting back against this decline. Although each protest deals with issues that are unique to a specific geopolitical situation, they are representative of global push-back against encroaching 21st Century fascism, and all are important in the continuing struggle between democracy and dictatorship. Perhaps global democracy is not doomed to fail after all.
The underlying causes are the same everywhere.
All the protesters accuse small controlling groups at the top of societies and governments of abusing their power and denying people freedoms, rights and the basic necessities of a decent life. Thanks to the internet and social media, each group of protesters is at least somewhat aware of the existence of protests in other parts of the world, and therefore they can encourage each other to carry on. However, given that the various dictatorial governments have all the police and military power on their side, without external help the protests can be easily extinguished.
Enter the United States Congress.
In spite of gridlock and vicious partisan bickering, Congress, both the House and the Senate, has, on a bipartisan basis, passed legislation supporting the protesters and condemning dictators. Right now Congress is in the process of passing the Uighur Human rights Policy Act, legislation that would punish China for its brutal suppression of the Uighur Muslim minority that lives in northwestern China. In November Congress unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Hong Kong protesters. In October, after Trump’s sudden withdrawal of American military forces from northeastern Syria triggered a Turkish invasion of Kurd-controlled territory, Congress voted to rebuke the administration and show support for the Kurds. Earlier in the year Congress passed, for the first time, a resolution labeling the Turkish mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915-16 as genocide, and it also passed a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent United States resident.
President Trump reluctantly signed the Hong Kong resolution, but unfortunately he has or will veto all the others. Although symbolic support from the legislature of the world’s leading democracy is heartening to the protesters, Trump’s opposition tells the dictators that real protest support will likely not be forthcoming. ‘Likely’ for two reasons. It is possible that the Uighur Human rights Policy Act will pass in Congress with a veto-proof majority, making Trump’s veto irrelevant. If this happens Congress may be emboldened to pass veto-proof legislation containing sanctions against countries suppressing democracy.
Nonetheless, President Trump’s opposition to these Congressional resolutions only helps the dictators. Perhaps his worst deficiency as President is his inability to distinguish friends from enemies. In fact, he sometimes seems to go out of his way to treat our friends as enemies and our enemies as friends. President Trump thinks that he can trust the word of dictators like Kim, Putin and Xi, assuming that they will do what they say they are going to do. In reality these men are brutal psychopaths who have spent their entire adult lives lying, cheating, and killing- that’s how they gained power and how they continue to hold power. They perceive Trump’s desire to negotiate with them as a sign of weakness that they can exploit.
It appears that both Congressional Republicans and Democrats are recognizing just how dangerous President’s Trump’s bromances with dictators are. They may be at each other’s throats on most other issues, but on this issue they are coming together for the good of the country and the world. Clearly, the desire for freedom and equality is a human universal, and opportunities to support democracy protests will continue.