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The Crisis of Democracy: What’s next?

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The information war that has been unfolding in the world seems to be hopelessly mired in fakes and lies, and, most importantly, it does not struggle for truth, but against it. But more and more often the Western media demonstrates some glimpses of unusual common-sense rhetoric.

The National Interest magazine recently published an article by Professor of the US Naval War college in Newport, RI, Lyle J. Goldstein: From Siberia to Crimea: The Revenge of History in U.S.-Russian Relations. In the article, the distinguished scholar and teacher of the strategy of the Chinese Maritime Studies Institute attempts to shed light on a large number of historical facts forgotten by the United States. The author concludes that during the Crimean War the US and Russia had friendly, but pragmatic relations, largely due to rivalry between the US and Britain, the old imperial enemy.

During the war, commercial contracts were signed between Russia and the United States, an American military delegation visited Russia to advise the army, weapons and ammunition were sent. “This serious enough desire of America to get the rights to Crimea was revealed already then. And it underlines the fact that the American strategy in Eurasia (and also in other parts of the world) is based on challenging Russian claims on this blood-soaked peninsula in the Black Sea” – the author writes. America wanted to get rights to the Crimea, and wants, and it’s no secret that it will want. But Mr. Goldstein quite rationally notes: “We can recall that Russia first received the Crimea in 1783, that is, at the time of the end of the American Revolution. Simply put, the Russians has been controlling the Crimea for a long time, and it is very unlikely that they will refuse it, and therefore let’s not hope for anything and build our strategy on absurd, neoliberal ideas devoid of historical meaning. ”

It should be reminded once again that the events connected to the Crimea are not a precedent. In international political history there are already episodes, which are senseless to interpret, for they are facts. Therefore, the idea of the Americans about the Crimea’s entry into Russia as something unheard of in world history is a simulacrum (an image replacing reality), well orchestrated with the help of the media. The reunification of  East and Western Germany (without a referendum), the reunification of the Ruhr region (or Rurstadt) and West Germany was recognized by the world community. As well as Kosovo, Bangladesh and Pakistan … etc. But the policy of double standards establishes a rule: it is the White House decides who can do what, but not the international law.

The idea of democracy with its egalitarianism, individuality and freedom became the same simulacrum. Trying to give it a world-wide character, the USA automatically canceled it, when, for example, they invaded Iraq. Opposing real violence to invisible dreams of democracy, the US protected its interests, but at the same time kept farther away from the image of the defender and champion of freedom and equality. Some countries at this moment, for example, North Korea and Iran, realized that the rescue of drowning people is the drowning men’s own job.

And they directed their efforts to develop their own nuclear weapons, as the only real guarantee of state  as well as moral sovereignty.

Most recently, the Pentagon published the National Defense Strategy, which offers a new scale of America’s national security priorities: “rivalry with China and Russia is more important for the United States than fighting international terrorism,” the Washington Post said. Two decades of the “war on terror,” which is characterized by losses, casualties, huge costs and never yielding tangible geopolitical benefits, is the  evidence of the utopian nature of US policy. But the new image of the old enemy no longer impresses the Americans themselves. And the country itself is now undergoing  a difficult period. The expectations of Americans about the great America are again clouded by real facts, which the United Nations special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, Philippe Elston, recently shared. UN studies suggest that more than one in eight people in the United States live in poverty, half of them in extreme poverty. Studies also predict the rapid social stratification in the USA, and also note that there is almost no chance for poor citizens to emerge from poverty. According to the UN special rapporteur, the situation will only worsen, the impoverishment of the population and social stratification will only grow. Can this turn the American political establishment from the utopian ideas of world hegemony to facing reality? Even the Freedom House (most of its work is financed by the US government) says this, showing remarkable courage and objectivity.

In its 2018 report on the state of freedom in the world, the Freedom House  concludes that, as in 2017, America’s own democratic standards are being rapidly destroyed more than ever before. The “key institutions” of America, the authors of the report write, “have been attacked by the administration, which rejects established norms of ethical behavior in many areas of activity.” Currently, the total US score (reflecting the degree of freedom and democracy) is 86 – it’s only one point higher than Poland’s. Today, the USA are less free and democratic than Latvia. We can assume that the report is again the result of the rejection of Trump as president. In any case, a very reasonable question arises: how the US, with their rating of 80 points on the scale of Freedom House, will play the role of patron of world democracy? And to what extent is this status justified, in conditions of growing world disintegration and regionalization? As writer Salman Rushdie notes: “America is becoming more and more wounded and fragmented, and these differences are increasing every day.

Eight and a half years ago we experienced a moment of common hope. People like me believed that everything would work out. Instead, we are even more strongly thrown back. ”
I must say that, in addition to taking the journey into the history, the above-mentioned Lyle Goldstein, in fact, is trying to revise the modern neoliberal attitude to reality. And he is not alone. Much the same criticism is heard even from the camp of  his adherents. The Guardian author, Cornel West, writes: “We must testify to the existence of justice. We must justify the truth by our willingness to suffer and make sacrifices when we oppose domination. Thirdly we must remember courageous people like Martin Luther King Jr, who will provide moral and spiritual inspiration as we build multiracial alliances to combat poverty and xenophobia, Wall Street crimes and war crimes, global warming and police abuse – and to protect precious rights and liberties”. Then the author calls for courage, empathy and a mature sense of history, so as not to be afraid of elusive democracy. Further comes a completely disarming frankness: “We must not turn away from the forgotten people of US foreign policy – such as Palestinians under Israeli occupation, Yemen’s civilians killed by US-sponsored Saudi troops or Africans subject to expanding US military presence”.

Some experts call these processes “democratic deconsolidation”, others – “a democratic recession”. These processes can not be slowed down by a simple statement of the diagnosis. Without a conscious review of the political paradigm of the West, they can not be stopped.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Americas

Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Americas

Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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Americas

As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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