Will 2024 Be Democracy's Ghost of Christmas Future?
The U.S. election is the most important geopolitical event in recent memory, and 2 billion people across the globe will get to vote.
The U.S. presidential election this November is likely to be the most important geopolitical event in recent memory. Around 160 million people will be eligible to vote not only on which candidate to elect, but what kind of political system the largest economy and most powerful military in the world will have. Joe Biden is running on a standard set of Democratic Party policies, like expanding access to healthcare and reproductive rights, while Donald Trump — the likely Republican nominee — is running for president on an explicitly authoritarian program.
Trump's plans include enacting Schedule F, which would make civil servants easy to fire and allow him to replace them with a cadre of Trump loyalists. According to the Washington Post, he plans to turn the Justice Department into his personal vehicle to prosecute critics and opponents. Also according to the Post, his advisers have discussed invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy the military to quell protesters on Inauguration Day. According to the New York Times, he plans to conduct widespread raids of undocumented immigrants, detain these immigrants in camps, and deport them back to their home countries. He has referred to his critics as "vermin," said multiple times that immigrants are "poisoning the blood" of the U.S., and told his supporters that he would be their "retribution."
The U.S. election is far more dangerous than others this year -- because of the power of the U.S. and because the election could change the American system of government -- but populist-nationalists are running across the globe. Elections that come earlier in the year may be bellwethers to what path the U.S. takes, just as the Brexit vote in the summer of 2016 augured Trump's surprise victory.
According to the World Economic Forum, 2 billion people in 50 countries will be voting in 2024. In June, around 350 million people in the European Union will vote on a new parliament. It is the first European Parliament election since the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020. Far-right parties are polling better than expected, and could gain an unprecedented large share of the vote, potentially putting themselves in a position to get a significant post on the European Commission. If Germany's traffic-light coalition implodes due to the exit of the libertarian Free Democrats, Chancellor Olaf Scholz -- whose approval ratings hover around 20 percent -- could face early elections, and the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland is Germany's second most popular party. Germany has local elections in three states in September, and in all of them, the AfD is in the lead. India, the world's most populous democracy, is also having an election in May. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has backslid on democracy by cracking down on the free press, NGOs, and civil society, is expected to win another five-year term.
Other elections in 2024 include Taiwan in January, Indonesia in February, Mexico in June, and South Africa before the end of the year. Meanwhile, the center-right Conservative Party in the United Kingdom -- which had three prime ministers in 2022 -- is expected to be voted out by the Labour Party later this year.
Russia is holding what it calls a presidential election for Vladimir Putin in March. However, the vote will be neither free nor fair: the Kremlin decides who will run and there is no free media. As in Putin's past engineered elections, hundreds of thousands of people will likely only be able to register their discontent by spoiling their ballot.
Russia provides a cautionary tale for democracy itself. In 1991, the country held a relatively free and fair referendum and presidential election. In 1996, the vote was counted fairly, but the media and financing was heavily tilted towards incumbent President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin handed over the presidency to Putin at the end of 1999 and subsequent elections were held to validate Putin's rule.
If elected again, it's possible that Trump would make good on his 2016 promise to "open up" libel laws and transform election coverage into something more akin to media in Hungary and Turkey, where incumbents dominate the airwaves. Given that Trump encouraged his supporters to try to overturn the results of a free and fair election in 2021 in the U.S. Capitol, it's easy to imagine him not respecting the results of a future democratic election again.
After the end of the Cold War, many observers hoped that Russia would become a democracy like the United States. But the challenge now for Americans is how to avoid the reverse: the United States becoming more like Russia, which the analyst Fiona Hill has dubbed "America's Ghost of Christmas Future."
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