‘Fresh thinking’ needed to renew democracy


Disturbing global trends, such as populism and authoritarianism, are imperiling the basic tenets of liberal democracy, according to the Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI), an effort to reinvigorate democracy and combat the extremism that deforms public debate.

“The liberal-democratic order is under attack from within and without,” the manifesto adds. “The immediate need is to help restore political confidence and ideological balance to traditional center right and center left parties on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The initiative aims to help generate “fresh thinking about good ideas…. and to convene the best minds from different countries to come together for both broad and discrete projects in the service of liberty and democracy in the West and beyond.” (Join the RDI manifesto signatories – who include the National Endowment for Democracyhere).

RDI’s manifesto isn’t limited to the problem confronting the United States, Max Boot writes for the Washington Post. It addresses a worldwide phenomenon — the rise of authoritarian populists such as Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

In his speech to the U.S. Congress, French President Emmanuel Macron issued a full-throated defense of liberal democracy and called on the U.S. to maintain its role as a global defender of democracy and human rights.

Credit: Pardee School

The prospects of it doing so will be enhanced if news reports of plans to nominate a former senior Bush official, Paula Dobriansky, (left), a veteran foreign affairs expert, to the State Department’s top policy post.

One of the clear lessons of the past two years is that our system is based on norms as well as rules, notes Gregory Koger, a professor of political science at the University of Miami.

The U.S. Congress can promote democratic norms is by providing an example of appropriate discourse. Indeed, these norms are built into the rules of Congress, so legislators simply have to live by their own rules, he writes for Vox:

  • Discourse: Focus on policy, not personalities or motives. Both chambers of Congress require that members address their comments to the chair and not each other, and prohibit insults. However, legislators could go further and ensure that all of their public discourse is focused on trying to craft policies that will improve the country.
  • Truth: Legislating is an uncertain business. In the best of times, it can be hard to accurately assess a problem, and it’s even harder to predict the effects of policy proposals. In this atmosphere, legislators should be able to at least agree on basic facts, such as official statistics and scientific consensus, and to acknowledge expert projections of predicted policy effects such as Congressional Budget Office budgetary scores. When legislators ignore these shared facts, slander experts, and assert lies and opinions as if they are facts, they provide a poor example to the country.
  • Transparency: Congressional actions should gain legitimacy when citizens can observe their development and understand the justification for new policies. Several Congress watchers have suggested that transparency can be taken too far, since it may be more difficult for legislators to compromise or shift positions when they are being watched. But the regular process of debating a bill in committee and the floor — with adequate time for discussion and a real opportunity to offer amendments — serves a purpose. When party leaders craft a bill behind closed doors and rush it through both chambers, they invite suspicion of their motives and misunderstanding of their policies.



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