U.S. Now ‘Exhibit A’ Among Imperiled Democracies At Summit, Thanks To Trump

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WASHINGTON ― As President Joe Biden opens a long-ago-promised “democracy summit” Thursday with over 100 nations participating, he finds himself in charge of “Exhibit A” among the world’s imperiled democracies.Among the major industrial powers that make up the Group of Seven, only the United States has suffered an attempt to overthrow representative democracy since the group’s creation a half century ago, in the form of Donald Trump’s efforts to void the 2020 election and remain in power. Among the 17 democracies in the G-20, the U.S. is one of just two, along with Turkey, to have seen its chief executive abuse that power to in an attempt to remain in office.Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council analyst and United Kingdom native who was among the first to describe the Trump-incited insurrection on Jan. 6 as a coup attempt, said the idea that it could ever happen in this country had been unthinkable.“Not in a million years did I imagine that the United States would be exemplifying this crisis in democracy,” she said.“Biden has to be candid upfront about the U.S. being the latest battleground of democracy versus autocracy,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor and authoritarianism expert at New York University. “And use the summit to send a message to democrats and autocrats that the U.S. will pursue anti-democratic forces with vigor and resolve.”A barbed-wire fence surrounds the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 14, a week after a crowd of Donald Trump supporters attacked the building on Jan. 6.SAUL LOEB via Getty ImagesIronically, Biden specifically citied Trump’s anti-democratic tendencies when he first mentioned the need for a summit to rally the world’s democracies in a July 11, 2019, campaign speech.“Today, democracy is under more pressure than at any time since the 1930s,” Biden said at the City University of New York. “While the world’s democracies look to America to stand for the values that unite us and truly lead the free world, Donald Trump seems to be on the other team.”At the time of Biden’s 2019 speech, Trump’s affinity toward autocrats was well established. He repeatedly praised leaders such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and even North Korea’s murderous dictator, Kim Jong Un. A year earlier, Trump had stood beside Russia’s Vladimir Putin and told the world that he believed Putin’s statements about his 2016 election interference over the analyses of U.S. intelligence services.In 2020, as Trump began laying the groundwork for claiming a reelection loss could only be the result of Democrats’ cheating, Biden’s campaign began contemplating the possibility that Trump might attempt to overturn a Biden victory.“He continues to sow doubt and undermine our democratic institutions even now that he’s out of office,” TJ Ducklo, the Biden campaign’s press secretary, said of Trump. “It’s ironic that the U.S. is now ‘Exhibit A’ among Western democracies who face a legitimate autocratic threat from within.”Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of U.S. elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.Despite this, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.“It’s ironic that the U.S. is now ‘Exhibit A’ among Western democracies who face a legitimate autocratic threat from within.”- TJ Ducklo, press secretary for Biden’s 2020 campaignBiden has repeatedly condemned the Jan. 6 mob’s attempt to block the election certification proceedings as an attack on democracy itself, and White House aides say he will address that day again during the summit.“It is unquestionable that as people around the world, countries around the world looked at the events of Jan. 6, looked at what happened here in the United States, it was clear that when the president came into office, this was going to be front and center on his agenda, and it has been,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week.One senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Biden will emphasize a message that he has been pushing his entire time in the White House to date: that democracies have to show that they are better than the alternative. “The president sees the challenge of our time as demonstrating that democracies can deliver,” the official said. “And that’s by improving the lives of their people and addressing the greatest problems facing the wider world.”Ben-Ghiat, though, said a more forceful stance against would-be autocrats may be more useful at this moment. “The summit is meant to send a message to the world that the U.S. is still a democratic leader, and show his strength,” she said of Biden. “If he can back that up with action, including from the Department of Justice, that will help a lot.”

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