At the American Interest Larry Diamond is alarmed at Russian and Chinese threats to liberal democracy:
The most profound shock to democracy, however, occurred not in Europe but in the United States, with the Russian hacking of the 2016 American presidential election. For the first time, a hostile foreign power not only deeply intervened in the American electoral process but tipped it toward its preferred candidate. Russia’s authoritarian regime hacked into the emails of the Democratic Party and some of its key campaign leaders. It then “weaponized” this information, leaking it with exquisite timing and tweeting and posting it with surgical precision, socially and geographically, to inflict the maximum damage on the party and its presidential candidate. The effort employed a vast social media army of machines (“bots”) and paid agents (“trolls”) to pretend to be real Americans venting their political cynicism, disgust, and provocative extreme views.
None of this would have worked if the American public had not already become deeply polarized and distrustful. But Vladimir Putin found a deep vulnerability in his adversary, and—as with all forms of asymmetrical warfare—used a limited expenditure of resources to deal a devastating blow. We still don’t know what the Russians did or learned when they hacked into the voter registration databases of more than twenty American states. What we do know about the overall attack, as former FBI Director James Comey testified in June, is: “They did it with purpose, they did it with sophistication, they did it with overwhelming technical efforts.” And: “They will be back…. They’re coming after America.”
China’s ruling Communist Party has been taking a very different, more incremental and subtle approach. Analysts are only now beginning to piece together the full scope of this strategy, but it involves:
- The relentless global expansion of Chinese state media enterprises, such as Xinhua News Agency, the People’s Daily, and CGTV, which—unlike the BBC, CNN, or Deutsche Welle—offer a uniformly rosy view of China, its government, and its intentions.
- The aggressive expansion of Confucius Institutes and other initiatives to promote the study of Chinese language and culture while conveying the Chinese state’s political line.
- Growing efforts to penetrate U.S. movie, media and information companies, as with the recent purchase of the second largest chain of movie theaters in the U.S., AMC.
- The rapid expansion of Chinese ownership of vast tracts of farmland and critical industries and infrastructure worldwide.
- Opaque flows of support to American institutions and individuals to fund sympathetic studies of China.
but I think he has the wrong end of the stick. Nothing in the balance of my comments should be construed as a defense of Russian hacking or Chinese mercantilism or expansionism.
Quite to the contrary I don’t think that either of these efforts are any sort of threat to liberal democracy. They are a blow to the vitals of our system as it is right now but that has little or nothing to do with liberal democracy.
Our present economic system has correctly in my view been characterized as a blend of cronyism, neo-mercantilism, and free markets, those generally arranged to benefit a few while hurting far more. Our present political system is a mixture of tribalism, phony technocracy, hereditary aristocracy, and bureaucracy. You really need to squint to see liberal democracy in that melange.
That system is highly dependent on lies. It’s easier to put a finger on the Republicans’ lies because they’re so obvious. Regardless of what they say at election time Republicans do not believe in small government. Name an agency Republican administrations have closed. Quite to the contrary Republicans have enlarged government at every turn, cf. the Department of Homeland Security.
Their other lie is that tax cut produce economic growth. I believe that’s completely dependent on other circumstances—where we are on the Laffer Curve, who gets the tax cuts, and what they do with them. To see why we might think that is the case let’s just consider one hypothetical example. Each year Bill Gates pays about $10 million in federal taxes. What would happen if he were exempted from paying federal tax?
I think the answer is obvious. His consumption patterns wouldn’t change at all. His domestic investments wouldn’t change at all. He’d probably spend the $10 mil on his mostly overseas charities. In other words the effect on the domestic economy would be negligible, negative if anything.
My point is not that Bill Gates’s being rich is good or bad, that Bill Gates is good or bad, or that the rich should be taxed more highly. My point is that it depends.
What are the Democrats’ lies? I think their biggest lie is the benignity of government. IMO some government workers are doing the best job that anyone could do, some are doing the best job that they can do, some are just biding their times until retirement, and most are somewhere in between. Is that benign? I don’t think so. At best it’s neutral but because of the irresistible forces on bureaucracies over time any benignity will vanish. That’s just how they work. Every agency’s notional mission is abandoned in favor of organizational expansion and survival.
Another lie is the lie of competence.
The threat posed by the hacking of the Democratic National Committee regardless of who was responsible for it is that it revealed the lies. When you’re incensed about the truth, it reveals the bankruptcy of the system.
Quite to the contrary I don’t think liberal democracy can be threatened by the truth. It also can’t be injured by Chinese mercantilism or expansionism. Our problem is that we need more liberal democracy not more of what we’ve got.