America’s democracy, once seen as a shining light and inspiration to democrats across the world, was pushed to the brink by Donald Trump’s presidency. In the aftermath of last month’s storming of the Capitol by right-wing extremists, some commentators declared that the United States’ own troubles mean it must now back away from promoting liberal values in the rest of the world. But in fact, the opposite is true: Having repelled a major challenge to its own democracy, America is now better positioned to promote democratic norms and values abroad.
Recent events in the U.S. are a powerful reminder that American democracy is highly imperfect and a work in progress. The voices of too many citizens are being stifled by voter suppression and gerrymandering. Violent right-wing militias are an increasing danger to public safety. Misinformation, often peddled by Trump himself, remains rife. It is a sad but indisputable fact that the U.S. does not always live up to its lofty ideals.
The insurrection of Jan. 6, in particular, was met with glee by autocrats and their enablers around the world, especially in Africa. “Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy,” tweeted Emmerson Mnangagwa, the authoritarian president of Zimbabwe who cheated to win an election in 2018. Since then, Mnangagwa has locked up many of his political opponents and media critics, or else subjected them to intimidation and harassment at the hands of his security forces.