It’s International Day of Democracy. Do you know where your republic is?
The day, marked by the United Nations every Sept. 15, arrives right on time in these United States of America. Surely, the system the Founders set up, though brilliantly innovative at the time, was deeply flawed: The Electoral College is plain stupid, the Senate makes little representative sense, and then there was the small matter of enslaved people and women having few rights for a couple of centuries.
But the current historical moment brings profound challenges of its own.
The last president, decisively defeated in 2020, encouraged the use of violence to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to his successor. And now Donald Trump, under four felony indictments, is the dominant force and the likeliest next nominee of the Republican Party. Ignoring the will of the people, he salivates about returning to the presidency so he can pardon others who sought to overturn the elections — and then resume shredding the laws and norms that have held the union together since the start.
As retiring and understandably disgusted Republican Sen. Mitt Romney understands well, tyranny is not just on America’s doorstep. It’s inside the house, squatting.
Among Trump’s targets now and should he get back behind the Resolute Desk is the independent press. Practitioners like us must admit that reporters and editors have blind spots and make plenty of mistakes, but the Trumpian project is to cynically and thoroughly discredit the entire media so that disinformation and divisive, demagogic propaganda can fill the void. And then there is the economic pressure of Google siphoning off billions in ad revenues from the press. Someone has to pay to keep reporters reporting.
Democracy depends on a reasonably well-informed public with healthy skepticism of its government, but also some shared understanding of what is happening in their country.
A hopeful note came a week ago, when a series of foundations announced a $500 million plan to help revitalize local journalism. If the initiative, Press Forward, succeeds, it will help bolster the democracy from the bottom, even as Trump threatens to tear it down from the top.
The world needs the United States to show that government of, by and for the people can work not just in theory, but in practice. The most recent version of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index lists 72 countries with 45% of the world’s population as full or flawed democracies — and 95 countries with 55% of the population as hybrid or authoritarian regimes.
In authoritarian countries like China and Russia, people have no true ability to shape their government. The rights of minorities are summarily trampled. Corruption runs rampant. Critics are prosecuted and locked away.
Democracy is no magic wand for the problems that ail modern societies. Indeed, illiberal republics threaten their people far more than enlightened monarchies.
But as Winston Churchill said well, “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Preserve and protect this flawed experiment and all fellow travelers across the globe.
New York Daily News Editorial Board