Democracy demands vigilance

(Photo: AP/John Minchillo)

BWI statement on the attack on democracy in the United States

Democracy and its institutions in the United States are under attack. The country’s election which may have been the most careful and fraud-free election in history, with massive participation from the electorate, has been grossly disrespected and falsely challenged despite certifications by all 50 states and repeated decisions by state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court. And this all came to a head with the Capitol Hill attack on 6 January. 

However, the attack on democracy in the US did not happen overnight. It was the result of years of deliberate deceit and deception. It was inspired and guided by the lies spewed by President Trump and his enablers. That this happened in a country that has been able to maintain the essential democratic tradition of the peaceful transfer of power for over two centuries, even in times of war; is an eye-opener. It shows that democracy can never be taken for granted.

Many Americans fear that the worst is yet to come. Recently, the top command of the military has sent a message to those in service that the US Constitution will be respected, and that the inauguration of the President-elect will take place on 20 January. While this may bring some sense of relief and security, it is disturbing that the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt compelled to issue a statement that there will be a transfer of power. Equally worrying is that the military leadership seems to confirm reports that there may be further violence on 20 January in Washington, DC and in State Capitals.

Democracy demands vigilance amidst threats of more violence. Many, including US trade unions, assert that President Trump should be removed from office. This is perfectly understandable. The single worst assault on American democracy since the Civil War demands an appropriate response. The House of Representatives have voted a second time, for the first time in history to impeach a United States President. The ball is now in the Senate’s court.

BWI believes that the latest attack on democracy in the US is but a symptom of the deeper crisis of democracy worldwide. There is an authoritarian pandemic. Many stable democracies are suffering from extremist, authoritarian forces as well as government restrictions on liberty. Reversing this trend will not be easy nor will it be rapid. Its root causes need to be addressed. 

Trade unions must play a leading role in the pushback against global authoritarianism. Workers and the larger community must find new ways to ensure that disinformation does not crowd out the truth. Education on the values and workings of democracy needs to be enhanced, not just among the young, but among adults. Political education is called for, not indoctrination or propaganda.

We must also ensure that democracy is deliberative. Listening and discussion ought to replace fear and intimidation in the public debate.  Extreme polarisation produces calls for surrender by perceived enemies, not reasoned compromise by political opponents.

Lastly, democratic institutions need to be protected and supported. Gross inequalities that undermine social consensus and fracture society must be addressed. Among those democratic institutions without which there can be no democracy are independent courts, a free and viable press, and free trade unions. 

Trade union defence of democracy is fundamental. Trade unions require the oxygen of democracy if they are to flourish. If democracy is to live and thrive, trade unions will join with others to make that happen.