Ill Winds | Larry Diamond

Summary of: Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency
By: Larry Diamond

Introduction

In an age marked by dirty politics and rising authoritarianism, ‘Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency’ by Larry Diamond exposes the underlying threats to democracy worldwide. The book dives into key issues such as polarization, intolerance, and populism in Europe, while shedding light on the declining state of democracy in the United States. Furthermore, it reveals how countries like Russia and China seek to extend their influence and undermine democratic processes globally. By examining the challenges we face, Diamond outlines potential remedies that can help to safeguard democracy and ensure a just and equitable global society.

Democracy in Crisis

Democracy, as a governmental system, is facing a crisis around the world. The election of Donald Trump as the US President marks a low point in global efforts to secure freedoms. The assaults on truth, science, the news media, the judicial system, and minorities, deliberately unleashed by Trump, are undermining democracy in America. Democracy is also in danger in Europe where illiberal populism is growing. Democratic legitimacy relies on individuals’ commitment to democratic ideals, compromise, civility, and restraint. Liberal democracy rests upon the protection of human liberties, equitable treatment of minorities, equality under the law, reliable law enforcement, institutions to keep leaders in check, and a civil society that allows citizens to hold their government accountable.

American Democracy’s Decline

American democracy has always been flawed, due to corruption, racism, and slavery. However, the current political landscape is experiencing a new challenge of polarization. The country has seen a decrease in party moderates in Congress, a growing divide between urban and rural communities, and an increase in non-party affiliated voters. The divide between Republicans and Democrats has also grown deeper. While President Trump is not the sole cause of this issue, his presidency has worsened it. His leadership displays a lack of commitment to democratic ideals and leaves room for white supremacist ideas to gain mainstream credibility. If the United States continues to decline in democracy, autocratic regimes may become the driving force of the new century. Citizens, along with government institutions such as Congress, courts, and the media, have an essential role in preserving democracy and preventing further decline.

Russia’s Subtle Warfare

Following the collapse of USSR in 1991, Russia’s promise of democracy was short-lived as Vladimir Putin rose to power in 2000. Putin boosted Russia’s military spending, fomented social discord, and worked to provoke Western powers. During the 2016 US presidential elections, Russia targeted and leaked emails to support Trump’s campaign while hampering Clinton’s. Russian troll factories generated disinformation to pit Americans against each other. Furthermore, Russia has undertaken efforts to meddle in European politics, including the Brexit vote and Catalonia’s separatist efforts. Russia’s underhanded campaigns against democracy are acts of warfare.

China’s Ambitions in Asia

China is challenging the US for global leadership and wants to assert its influence in Asia, shaping policies in countries like Singapore. Its economic and technological power is growing rapidly, and it works to silence any criticism of its government. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership benefits Chinese authoritarianism and harms democracy in Southeast Asia. China is spending over $1 trillion solidifying strategic ties across Asia, Europe, and Africa by providing loans to autocratic leaders for infrastructure projects in over 70 countries. It invests aggressively in state-controlled media, universities, and businesses while restricting academic freedom. China’s philanthropic donations also open up less obvious paths for government influence. The country is playing a long game, and its ambitions and overreach are challenging to manage.

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