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Joe Biden’s Democratic Summit threatens to flatter the enemy

Before World War I, there were a handful of democratic countries. In December, US President Joe Biden will convene a hundred or so at a virtual summit. Their numbers have dwindled over the past decade, yes, but from a towering, post-cold war peak has always been a feat to maintain. Even now, after eye-catching lapse and reverse (USA, Turkey), much larger market share of humanity live under a more democratic regime than in 1975.

All that means: don’t do the propaganda of the strong for them. Autocracies tend to live on a sense of historical necessity as a coming force. An unusual assemblage of free nations, with the air under siege, might inadvertently lend bogus credence to the idea. Countries do not worry not to meet each other.

Benito Mussolini said in 1932. Some rational people turned to communism or fascism, even anarchism, because they grudgingly believed in Il Duce’s fiction, not through active choice. So anything that increases autocrats’ motivation is not a mere academic error. It can be self-completed. One-time Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden speak people obey the “strong horse”. That, to be emphasized at all times, is still democracy. Not only does it rule the majority of the world, but it is also the richest place in the world. What powerful players have achieved since a millennium is equivalent to pulling a goal back after conceding five. They should not be allowed to pretend to be the lineup, lest the wavering spectators believe them.

This is not the only way the summit risks making the unfree world comfortable. Its premise, that a competition is going on between democracy and its opposite, is true. But the fault line mainly runs through countries, not between them. By calling nations together and thwarting Russia, Turkey and China, which views a primarily domestic issue as a geopolitical one. It promotes the idea that foreign subversion (real enough) is the cause for Donald Trump in the US, the dark magazine of Brexit, the myriad flavors of Italian populism and the vast mass of anti-liberal vote At France.

Undoubtedly, online programs, state-sponsored news channels, and the political dark money of hostile regimes all help fuel these. In Ukraine, as elsewhere, what democrats have to account for is not only misinformation but also tangible matrix. But the corruption of citizens in most democracies in decline requires little outside help. There is very little that Russia can do to the United States, for example, the United States cannot do to itself. Even the most ingenious outside forces can only ignite the hearth around which a country lies.

So defending democracy against external enemies, not internal enemies, is a bit inaccurate. It also led to the inevitable media coverage of the Trump-Russia dossier, which claimed collusion between the former president and the Kremlin in the 2016 US election. to be indicted this month for lying to federal investigators. Republicans blame liberal bias for the prominence of records from 2017 onward. It would be idle to pretend that they were completely imagining things. But a more innocent force is also at work. For many, it’s comforting to believe that a long-distance coup led to Trump’s presidency. After all, evil infidels can be eliminated, with effort, can be eliminated. Declining endogenous democracy is extremely difficult.

That point risks getting lost in the very concept of an international democratic gathering. Promoting democracy is almost entirely a domestic business. The countries that excel at it are not always the most powerful in their foreign policy or the most sheltered from external pressures. For example, Germany is exposed to Russia and Turkey by geographical and historical differences. In Poland, Italy and France and Germany have allies and neighbors where illiberal movements flourish. With all of this up for debate, German politics remains an almost boring one portrait in moderation. If other democracies are proving weak, it’s hard to see how a common front against foreign dictatorships makes any sense. It’s easier to show international solidarity than to include irresponsible politicians and trusted voters at home.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin is among those who have reinterpreted Mussolini’s line in the 21st century. It shows how much autocrats crave a sense of historical dynamics. Whether by exaggerating its crisis, or crediting it with their efforts, the democratic world risks giving this to them at too cheap a price. There is a kind of vigilance that is indistinguishable from the person facing it.

janan.ganesh@ft.com

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