A battle between democracy and autocracy, but not as Biden describes
Published: Mar 29, 2021 09:43 PM
Crumbling US democracy. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Crumbling US democracy. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

More than two months into the Joe Biden presidency, it seems that he still uses the outdated Cold War framework to define the 21st century major power relations between China and the US. 

In his first press briefing on Thursday since taking office, he said the US-China relationship "is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies." The truth is, the US is no longer a perfect example of a democracy as has been perceived by some people. 

The current US administration does not excel the previous ones on values, and the political elites of this administration cannot walk out of the narrative that the US is a liberal democracy while China is an "autocracy." The US has nothing to say other than the democracy versus autocracy rhetoric and uses it as the guiding principle in its competition with other major powers. 

Many countries have endorsed the concept of democracy for a long time because the US, under its democratic system, became the world's superpower, and its people have enjoyed a relatively better life. For other countries, especially the developing ones, the US had been regarded as a role model. They would like to follow the US because they believed they could lead their people to live better lives.

Nonetheless, American democracy is in bad shape. Under the two-party system, neither party is held accountable for its inaction or bears any responsibility to the American people. The result is that various social problems keep worsening, yet there is no solution in sight to fix them. Americans arguably can have the freedom of taking to the streets to protest, but that doesn't give them the proper human rights that protect them from gun shootings, racism, widening wealth gap, and lately, the COVID-19 epidemic. 

Waning freedom of speech, less and less room for compromise, and chronic social woes have shown that instead of being a vibrant democracy, the US is run and controlled by authoritarian capitalism. 

China doesn't practice American-style democracy, but China's political system can make effective decisions that conform to the interests of the majority people, instead of a small number of wealthy people. People can voice their opinions and pursue their demands under the legal framework and all walks of life can participate in politics.

The US used to be decent - it is the world's No.1 in terms of military, technology and soft power. So it controlled something called discourse power to define democracy and lecture other countries. By touting democracy, the US has tried to export its ideology and values with the ultimate goal of securing its hegemony. At a time when US discourse power was huge, it was futile for other countries to raise any objections or doubts. 

But the US can hardly be viewed as decent today. From the farce we witnessed during the 2020 presidential election to the systematic racial discrimination sweeping across the country and to the government mishandling of the COVID-19 epidemic that have claimed more than 500,000 lives, the US is experiencing a major democracy Waterloo. What is the use of democracy if democracy results in the above-mentioned situation? 

The US' theories about democracy may be exquisite and appealing, but if it insists that democracy itself can make a country powerful and grant its people a prosperous life, it is laughable. The myth of American democracy is falling apart, and it is just an illusion to win over China with such democracy.