Nationalism, racism, authoritarian leaders: more and more warnings are being given that democracy is at risk. But the truth is that authoritarian politicians suffered severe setbacks in 2022. And at the end of the year, despite the war, crises and inflation, there are a few important stage victories to report.
The narrative of many media outlets and think tanks is that the world lives in constant danger of being overwhelmed by nationalism, racism and authoritarian leaders. More and more studies seem to show that the western lifestyle is unpopular and that liberal democracy is on the wane.
The International Institute for Democracy recently published a report according to which democracy is in decline worldwide. The Washington-based “Freedom House” speaks of the “global expansion of authoritarianism”. And the Tagesspiegel in Berlin asked yesterday: “How stable is US democracy?”
In truth, 2022 was a really bad year for authoritarian politicians. They suffered setbacks in all major countries. The battle for liberal democracy is not won because there can be no finality in a world of cultural, economic and political contradictions. But the following stage victories can be reported:
China: The no-Covid policy, enforced without consultation with civil society, has weakened China’s strongman. The economy is groaning, the majority is grumbling, and in many cities there have been public protests despite the martial security presence. Xi Jinping had to learn: the people tick differently than the party. His authority will not be broken at the end of this year, but will be questioned for the first time.
Russia: If you look behind Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin villages, you will see a proud nation in despair. No one wants to voluntarily fight their war in Ukraine. Thousands of academics have left the country. Putin made Russia dependent on China, while his democratically elected adversary Zelenskyy was able to forge a global freedom alliance. You can literally watch Putin’s authority erode.
Iran: The protests in Tehran and other cities in the Islamic Republic have shown the mullah regime the limits of its power. The death of the young Iranian Mahsa Amini in police custody was one repression too much for many. The radical Islamists have lost the country’s youth. It’s no longer just about headscarves and dress codes, but about freedom of expression and democracy.
USA: Joe Biden’s election victory in November 2020 was already an indication that even a sparsely staffed Democratic Party can prevent an authoritarian politician from marching through. The trend was confirmed in the midterm elections, where almost all Trump candidates failed. The checks and balances built into the constitution work, as can be seen from the legal treatment of the storming of the Capitol and Trump’s business dealings.
Brazil: The 4-year tenure of Bolsonaro (“Brazil above all, God above all”) led to the re-emergence of Lula (“Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in our country”), who won the October 30 runoff with 50.9 percent who could win votes. The signal that is being sent all over South America is not good for friends of political authoritarianism: right-wing populism whips things up, but doesn’t fill you up. The authoritarian sounds good because it is energetic – until the day you come into contact with it.
France: Marine Le Pen is the perennial bogeyman of the media. But so far it hasn’t been enough to win the presidential election or the elections to the National Assembly. Again and again the voters of all other parties come together to form an anti-Le Pen coalition. And she has already dimmed her aggressive European rhetoric. But that doesn’t catch on in the eyes of voters. She remains the eternal wolf – even if she eats chalk for breakfast.
Germany: The cool and history-forgotten address by Alice Weidel and Björn Höcke plus the curious goings-on of the Reich citizens do not fail to have an effect: the middle-class knows what democracy and everyday liberalism they have. Some may growl and grumble, but when in doubt it is better not to vote than to vote on the right. Merz, Söder and Wüst, but also the Liberals under Lindner are guarantors that the firewall is in place. The right-wing populists can ignite. But today’s Germany is not flammable.
Conclusion: We shouldn’t let ourselves be frightened again and again. A successful year is coming to an end for the Friends of Democracy. It is possible that the routinely presented catastrophism is more dangerous for our state of mind than populism. We have every reason to think much more positively about our democratic resilience. Or to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: “Humans are the only creature that thinks badly of themselves.”
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.