Biden said America’s survival depends on proving to China that democracy can outpace autocracy

Biden and Xi Jinping
Then Vice President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a 2012 meeting in California. China now has the lead in 5G infrastructure, but experts say don’t count Silicon Valley out yet.

  • Biden said Xi Jinping is betting democracy can’t outpace China’s autocratic model.
  • He framed overcoming the challenges ahead as key to the survival of democracy and proving Xi wrong.
  • Biden said it was crucial to him to be successful in his first 100 days as part of this effort.
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President Joe Biden on Wednesday said Xi Jinping is betting democracy can’t “keep up with” autocracy, and warned that proving the Chinese leader wrong is key to the survival of the US.

“They’re going to write about this point in history,” Biden said to reporters ahead of his first address to a joint session of Congress, in remarks first reported by CNN. “Not about any of us in here, but about whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.”

“You know, things are moving so damn rapidly,” Biden went on to say. “Things are changing so rapidly in the world, in science and technology and a whole range of other issues, that – the question is: In a democracy that’s such a genius as ours, can you get consensus in the timeframe that can compete with autocracy?”

Biden said that these questions surrounding democracy and autocracy have been at the heart of his debates and conversations with Xi.

The president, who is approaching 100 days in office, said that it was vital to him to hit the ground running after being sworn in as part of a broader effort to prove that democracy still works.

“Because if we go four more years like we had in the last four, I really, honest to God, believe we’re in real jeopardy as a nation,” Biden said, portraying the challenges the US faces as an existential threat.

This is why Biden said he pushed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package through Congress, despite having no GOP support.

“Ease the pain, save lives, put people in a position where they have reason to believe that they could actually get back and earn a living and provide for their families. That’s how I looked at the first 100 days,” Biden said, underscoring that he couldn’t “afford to lose out of the box.”

The president has made competing with and challenging China a top priority. And since his inauguration, which came just two weeks after a violent insurrection at the US Capitol, Biden has repeatedly emphasized the importance of showing that democracy is superior to China’s autocratic model. He’s consistently injected commentary on China into discussions on virtually every major issue, ranging from defense to infrastructure.

Biden came into office at a time when tensions between the US and China were already at historic heights, with experts warning a new Cold War was on the horizon. This was largely fueled by former President Donald Trump’s trade war with Beijing and the COVID-19 pandemic, which Trump blamed on the Chinese government.

The Biden administration has ramped up pressure on China over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and attacks on democracy in Hong Kong, slapping new sanctions on Chinese officials last month for “genocide” against the Uyghurs. Meanwhile, Biden has pushed for more investments in research and development to keep the US competitive with China in technology and science.

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Trump’s final year in office was the worst for global democracy in a decade and a half, watchdog says

Trump bye
Outgoing President Donald Trump waves as leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.

  • Global freedom hit its worst point in 15 years in 2020, according to a new Freedom House report.
  • Freedom House said Trump oversaw “unprecedented attacks” on US democracy.
  • The report warned that Trump provided “ample fodder” for authoritarians to downplay abuses.
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Last year was the worst year for global democracy in roughly a decade and a half, according to the latest iteration of Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” report.

Democracy has been on a downslide for 15 consecutive years, but 2020 stands out in terms of the number of countries experiencing a decline in freedoms compared to those who saw improvements. In 2020, just 28 countries became more democratic while 73 saw a decline in freedoms associated with democracy, Freedom House said, marking “the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.”

“The long democratic recession is deepening,” the report said. “The impact of the long-term democratic decline has become increasingly global in nature, broad enough to be felt by those living under the cruelest dictatorships, as well as by citizens of long-standing democracies. Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration last year.”

Freedom House, a Washington-based non-profit and democracy watchdog established in 1941, analyzed the state of political freedoms and civil liberties in 195 countries and 15 territories for this year’s report.

The 2021 report, which was compiled with the help of over 150 experts, provides global freedom ratings for each country and territory per a scoring system involving 25 indicators on the strength of their democracy. Based on the score the receive (from 0 to 100), countries are then ranked under three categories: Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.

According to the 2021 report, less than 20% of the global population “now lives in a Free country, the smallest proportion since 1995.” The proportion of “Not Free” countries is the highest its been in 15 years.

‘Unprecedented attacks on one of the world’s most visible and influential democracies’

Capitol Hill dystopian
An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

The report paints a grim picture of the state of democracy in the US and worldwide. It excoriates former President Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the “unprecedented attacks on one of the world’s most visible and influential democracies” during his final weeks in office.

“The parlous state of US democracy was conspicuous in the early days of 2021 as an insurrectionist mob, egged on by the words of outgoing president Donald Trump and his refusal to admit defeat in the November election, stormed the Capitol building and temporarily disrupted Congress’s final certification of the vote,” the report said.

“Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States,” Freedom House said, adding that Trump “presided over an accelerating decline in US freedom scores” even before 2020. 

The US aggregate “Freedom in the World” score has declined by 11 points in the past decade, Freedom House said, which places it in the company of 25 countries that have “suffered the largest declines” during the same period.

The report underscores that the US still has a major influence over global democracy, warning that events in Trump’s last year as president provided authoritarians “ample new fodder” to downplay abuses in their own countries.

Along these lines, Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, told the Washington Post newsletter Today’s WorldView, “After the events of the Capitol, from a propaganda point of view, we handed a big victory to autocrats.”

Such concerns have been echoed by politicians, diplomats, political scientists, and democracy experts across the world about Trump’s disinformation campaign on the 2020 election and the Capitol riot. 

“Trump has given despots across the world fresh rhetorical ammunition to justify their authoritarian actions,” Brian Klaas, a political scientist at the University College London, told Insider last month. 

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Majority of House Republicans support a lawsuit that aims to overturn the will of voters and hand 2020 election to Trump

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A protester in Pennsylvania holds a sign that reads “Count Every Vote.”

  • A majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives have signed on to an amicus brief asking the US Supreme Court to effectively overturn the results of the 2020 election.
  • The letter asks the Supreme Court to recognize the alleged right of Republican-led legislatures to ignore the popular vote and select electors who will support outgoing President Donald Trump.
  • No evidence of widespread fraud has been presented by the loser of the 2020 election or his allies.
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A majority of House Republicans have formally expressed their opposition to recognizing the democratic outcome of the 2020 election, signing an amicus brief siding with a Texas lawsuit that aims to discard the will of voters in battleground states won by President-elect Joe Biden.

President Donald Trump lost the November election in a relative landslide: 7 million more people voted for his opponent than for him, leaving the outgoing president with 232 votes in the Electoral College to 306 for Biden. But the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeks to undo the outcome, specifically by throwing out the votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia, replacing the will of the people with pro-Trump electors appointed by the states’ Republican-led legislatures.

And at least 106 elected Republicans in the House of Representatives agree with that strategy, submitting a brief with the US Supreme Court that “defends the constitutional authority of state legislatures as the only bodies duly authorized to establish the manner by which presidential electors are appointed.”

Outside of those who are retiring, there are members who signed the letter who were returned to office in an election they now claim is illegitimate.

The litigation is highly unlikely to succeed; under the US Constitution, states administer their own elections, Texas provides no say over how they are run in Pennsylvania and vice versa. However, it signals a willingness on the part of many if not most elected Republicans to subvert democracy and their own commitment states’ rights for sheer partisan gain.

No evidence of widespread fraud has been uncovered, either by Trump’s lawyers, his Department of Justice, or Republican officials who oversaw voting in the states at issue, and certainly none sufficient to justify unprecedented intervention by judges that, as recourse, would effectively rob tens of millions of people of their right to vote – after their vote has already been cast, based on the results of them being counted.

Though in the minority, some elected Republicans have recognized that. On Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn told CNN he was “unconvinced” by what he characterized as the dubious legal arguments put forward by his state’s attorney general, who has since been joined by 17 other states.

Another Texan, Rep. Chip Roy, was more forceful, on Thursday calling the brief filed by his colleagues “a dangerous violation of federalism,” if not democratic values, saying he “cannot support an effort that will almost certainly fail… and is inconsistent with my beliefs about protecting Texas sovereignty from the meddling of other states.”

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