Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times
US President Joe Biden’s exclusive Democracy Summit, which was even ignored by some US allies, sparked a rare global discussion about what real democracy is and whether the US can still represent democracy . The questions wouldn’t cause much controversy just a few years ago, when the United States was heralded as the “beacon of democracy.” But what the world has witnessed in recent years is the rapid decline of American democracy.
Biden clearly intended to use the summit to cement US dominance in the so-called ‘free world’ and eclipse rapidly growing competitors like China, but the event instead triggered widespread criticism and doubts about the American system, as many around the world, including US allies, and within the United States, have largely focused on the deterioration of American democracy and the serious threats it faces in the future.
As I followed the discussions, a fairly random name came to mind several times: Ashli Babbitt, a 36-year-old American woman who was shot dead during protests at the US Capitol on January 6. 2021. Following his death, many media reports chronicled his journey that led to this deadly day.
An American veteran who spent 14 years in the US Air Force and served in two wars, Babbitt had serious financial problems. She owned a pool cleaning business in California, and to keep her small business afloat, she took out a short-term loan with an interest rate of 169%. She failed to repay the $65,000 loan shortly after signing the agreement and was sued by the lender. Then she started following conspiracy theories online, which led to her death at the headquarters of America’s democracy.
Babbitt’s tragic story is the personification of the failure and false promise of American democracy. She lost her life during a protest against the result of the US presidential election which installed a president she did not choose. She thought it was her right under the American democratic system to choose her own political leader and protest if she disagreed, but she was wrong and paid the ultimate price. His action – and the January 6 protest – were seen by the mainstream media and American elites as an insurrection and an attack on American democracy.
What’s more tragic is that what she died for — stopping Biden from becoming president and re-electing Donald Trump — wouldn’t have solved any of her financial problems. This brings us to crippling American economic governance that fails to satisfy many ordinary Americans like Babbitt and has even forced them to make difficult and sometimes deadly choices.
There is no doubt that the United States is still the largest economy in the world, and its overall economic and technological might is still unmatched. However, the US economy faces a litany of increasingly existential problems – an ever-widening wealth gap that only benefits the richest 1% and leaves the rest in economic despair, a non-existent manufacturing sector , rapidly declining technological innovation, collapsing infrastructure, growing debts, etc.
Many of these issues have been laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the 400 richest Americans added $4.5 trillion to their wealth, a 40% increase, even as most Americans struggled, according to Forbes. Around 2015, the share of total net worth held by the top 1% of Americans exceeded that held by the bottom 90% and this divergence has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Quartz.
Certainly, many countries around the world face similar problems to the United States, including China. However, what sets the United States apart is its crippling system of economic governance that has provided no solutions to these problems, let alone effective and workable solutions that can be implemented. On every issue – from taxes to government spending, US Democratic and Republican lawmakers can’t agree on anything and have been mired in a stalemate for years.
By comparison, China, which also faces many economic challenges, is moving quickly to counter emerging challenges, while listing numerous long-term development goals supported by specific action plans, such as the prosperity goals. community and achieving carbon neutrality. Whether or not these major goals are achieved, the path for China is very clear, unlike the United States, where there are no long-term development plans to speak of.
As we have seen over the past few years, the race between China and the United States is ultimately about the effectiveness of their starkly different systems. It will not be determined by which country is stronger in publicizing its system, as the democracy summit aimed to do, but rather by which country can offer its people.