One year ago, the President of the United States called on armed extremists to attack the country’s most important democratic institution and deed: the popularly elected assembly and the recognition of the result of a free election.
The attack on Congress on January 6 2021 marked the beginning of an era in which it has become commonplace to worry about whether American democracy will survive at all. Even if the United States is going to dissolve.
It’s not going in the right direction. The United States is falling on the ranking of world democracies. During the past year, the Congress’ special January 6 committee has revealed that the forces behind it were located centrally and at the very top of the country’s administration. At the same time, a radicalized Republican party has attacked the right to free elections in state after state. In 19 states, laws have now been introduced that suppress the right to vote. This fall, a whole host of top Republican candidates claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald Trump will run for office. Every third American and two out of three Republicans believe the same lie.
And what about QAnon, the spin-off conspiracy theory that states that the government, the media and the financial industry in the United States are controlled by a group of satanic pedophiles who carry out worldwide pedophilia and sex trafficking of children? 18 percent of Americans now say they believe this is happening.
The deep, political conflict in the United States is no longer about a right-wing versus a left-wing, but about a struggle for and against democracy itself. If this fight ends with the authoritarian forces winning, or the United States dissolving into a handful of smaller countries, there are more than the Americans who are bad out.
Throughout the post-war period, Norway and the rest of the NATO countries have built security policy on the American guarantee. We have been safe because we have had the world’s strongest and toughest big brother on our side. It has not always been as comfortable, especially not when the United States has taken over the world in meaningless and brutal wars, but it has been an absolutely necessary condition for our stability and security. Like it or not.
No one has achieved anything special through resignation or denial.
In the 1950s, it made up Europe’s population over 20 percent of the world population. Now we are down to less than ten percent, and the forecasts tell us that we can end up four percent in a few decades. At the same time, new, great superpowers are emerging. China and Russia show no sign of being interested in democratic rights, the rule of law or the other societal values we take for granted, on which free democracies are built. In several EU countries, too, democracy is under pressure. Hungary is the worst example and can no longer be called a democracy. Poland follows suit.
False and conspiratorial allegations that manipulate the public to take destructive positions are depressingly often sown by regimes that do not want us well, and fertilized and watered by media platforms that promote polarization and extreme views. In Norway, QAnon has affiliated forums several thousand members. Conspiracy theorists often use corona resistance and vaccine denial as a gateway to their absurd universe of thought.
We are entering a world where the growing, authoritarian and anti-democratic superpowers are having more and more say, and where they deliberately uses disinformation to harm democratic countries. With a weakened and, at worst, authoritarian United States and a less powerful Europe, we are uncomfortably vulnerable. It can be tempting to lie down to laugh, possibly decide to have one last, desperate party as soon as the bar is lifted, and let it swing the short time we have left before Trump wins the presidential election in 2024 and the world goes to hell for good .
That’s a bad plan. No one has achieved anything special through resignation or denial. So how can we help improve the odds of humanity, democracy and the rule of law surviving? What New Year’s resolutions should we have on behalf of democracy?
A good place to start is to be aware that disassembly always begins right away: Attack on the truth. That is why it is more important than in a long time that we defend it. And that we are not fooled into believing that fighting lies is the same as gagging freedom of speech.
Happy New Year.