A TWO-DAY summit organized by Biden “for democracy” is contrary to reality on several key points and may well be achieving political divisions in the world that can lead us closer to the precipice of military conflict and hostile populations.
First, it projects the US as a true advocate of democracy, which it is not in reality. The US has installed many of the world’s most repressive dictatorships; uses assassination regularly; overthrows elected and popular governments in Central Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia; kidnaps journalists like Assange and hounds Snowden in foreign lands; and takes over accounts of nations and takes control of their resources.
It polarizes the world rather than harmonizes. Instead of creating more avenues for peaceful reintegration of relationships among nations, it intensifies divisions.
Second, it assumes that democracy as defined by the US is better and preferred for everyone. But there are unspoken key factors for the US success that are not mentioned and are not enjoyed by any other nation. While their innovation was a factor, much of the wealth of the liberal Western “democracies” was created by militarily taking over the land of the Indigenous peoples and resources of other nations.
Declaring democracy as universally preferred ignores that many authoritarian regimes were the most productive in history and that many democracies were laggards. The turning point and burst of productivity of Germany came at the time of Bismarck, Japan during the Meiji period, Taiwan under the son of Chiang, South Korea under Gen. Park Chung Hee, China under the CCP, and Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew. Even the US buildup was during the time of the founding fathers, the decisions were made by a small group, and many of the progressive programs of the US were established under FDR’s 16 year-presidency — the ordinary peoples, women, native peoples, Blacks were excluded. The individual vote system evolved over 150 years after independence in 1776.
“With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries,” Lee Kwan Yew said in a 1992 speech in Tokyo. “Contrary to what Americans say, I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe that what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development.”
Consequences of excessive democracy?
Killers found not guilty. US crime rates, homelessness, gun violence, racial violence, looting in broad daylight, partisan politics are increasing. Some 38,300 Americans died from guns in 2019 (US CDC). In 2021 alone, there were at least 144 incidents of gunfire on school grounds nationally, anti-Asian hate crimes surged 169 percent, with New York City seeing the sharpest increase at 223 percent. Stop AAPI Hate received 9,000 reports of attacks in 15 months. These cannot happen in Singapore or South Korea. God Bless America.
Most recently, a 15-year-old Michigan boy killed three students and injured eight with a semi-automatic his father James Crumbley bought just days before. The boy made a video the night before talking about killing students. He was treated more gently than unarmed Blacks. Another 17-year-old white man, Kyle Rittenhouse, came to a #BlackLivesMatter rally and killed two persons with an automatic rifle. While some testified that he was attacked, none of the police stopped Rittenhouse, and a jury court found him not guilty on all charges, creating deep division in the US. Some politicians are even calling him a hero, Biden told the emotional public to respect the rule of law. How many of their attackers have been punished under the law?
The Philippines is ranked as “partly free,” due to “autocratization or big declines in freedom of expression”, a hinted reference at Duterte, failing to say that he received overwhelming votes and continues to receive an undisputedly over 80 percent approval rating even during the pandemic. None of the opposition got a seat in the midterm elections despite the years of Western allegations. Even opposition leader Vice President Leni Robredo recognizes the gains under Duterte. This is an outcome of the democratic electoral process whether we like it or not?
Only in the Philippines can a Maria Ressa of Rappler receive millions of dollars from US-NED-led funders, violate the Constitution, be indicted for tax evasion charges and still tell the international media that the Philippines under Duterte is worse than any warzone and claim harassment of the media. Yet the same Duterte government allowed her to travel to the US and to Norway to claim her Nobel Prize Award while her cases are pending.
The “non-democratic” China lifted 800 million out of poverty, billions more worldwide if we include the people whose standards of living improved due to the more affordable products and more business opportunities provided by the China market. In contrast, US territories are experiencing some of the highest poverty rates in the world like Puerto Rico (56.9 percent) and Guam (51 percent).
“Since 1979, China has had zero wars while the US has stayed at war and has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation,” Jimmy Carter shared. He also referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.”
It is true that many authoritarian systems were disasters, what made the difference with the successes? The successes had a council, a brain trust with a mix of competencies in politics and organization, in economics, and had strong implementers as executive arms with experience from other countries. These can succeed despite some level of weaknesses, like corruption and favoritism, as long as the net positive values are sufficient and felt by the people.
Successful individual democracies need the same skills, but the difficult first step of nation-building requires winning elections, in which the main criteria is not based on ability or track record. This allows both great creatives, but the masses cannot be mobilized in the same direction to achieve a national goal the way an authoritarian government can.
Both systems have failed when run by irrational personalities, excessive greed, injustices beyond what the people will accept, or perhaps when pushed out by foreign or domestic powers.
No one system fits all circumstances, geography, culture, resources, luck, to yield a successful nation. To insist that others must follow is arrogance, not reality based, and leads to unnecessary conflicts. Success factors in one stage can be the cause of failure of others. Every failed system or success is a combination of factors.
Austin Ong has helped the Department of Trade and Industry organize programs to help Filipino entrepreneurs and to increase trade and relations with China and Asean neighbors. He also taught global developments in De La Salle University and studied in UP Diliman, Tsinghua and Northeastern Boston.
Also published in Manila Times.