The sacking of the U.S. Capitol by an insurrectionist mob incited by President Donald Trump has exposed the fragility of American democracy and strained the nation’s already diminished credibility to promote freedom and democracy worldwide. That is a problem for Joe Biden. The president-elect, who will be inaugurated Wednesday, has promised to quickly convene an international Summit for Democracy “to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the Free World.”
In the aftermath of Jan. 6, there have been calls for Biden to abandon this idea, insisting that America must get its own house in order before trying to revive democracy globally. That is a false choice, however. Now more than ever, democracy’s champions need to hang together. Rather than jettison his summit, Biden should frame it as a sober gathering where democratic nations can reconfirm their commitment to rule by the consent of the governed, humbly acknowledge that their own democracies remain works in progress, and pledge individually and collectively to stand up for their shared principles at home and abroad.
Biden’s aspirations are noble. He is determined to fumigate the stench of Trump’s cynical foreign policy and rededicate the United States to the defense of democracy. In his four years in office, Trump coddled and aligned himself with a rogue’s gallery of dictators and thugs, among them Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, while bashing the leaders of major democracies—all of them U.S. allies—as “weak.” These actions have helped prolong a global “democratic recession” now well into its 14th year, according to Freedom House.