Canary in the coal mine of democracy. Graphic by DonkeyHotey.
A GLOBAL problem
by Bernie Sanders
One of the great crises facing the global community today is that democracy, the right of ordinary people to control their own lives, is on the defensive while authoritarianism is growing stronger.
And at its root is the fact that a handful of incredibly wealthy people are exerting enormous economic and political power over the planet. Unbelievably, in the global economy today, the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 99 percent, and a handful of billionaires own more than the bottom half of people around the world — that’s 3.7 billion people.
That is the reality.
People in our own country, and around the world, are angry and betrayed, and they feel that nobody is listening to their pain.
And one of the results of that reality is that in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to achieve and hold on to power.
Next week, Donald Trump is set to welcome one of those leaders into the White House: Hungary’s far-right authoritarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán.
Now, I have always found it very strange that Trump has such a hard time getting along with leaders of the world’s major democracies but feels very comfortable with authoritarians like Orbán, Putin, Xi Jinping, Bolsonaro and Mohammad bin Salman.
But the truth is, while they all differ in some respects, they share a number of key attributes: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit their own selfish financial interests.
This trend certainly did not begin with Trump, but there’s no question that authoritarian leaders around the world have drawn inspiration from the fact that the leader of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy seems to delight in shattering democratic norms.
Other authoritarian states are much farther along this kleptocratic process.
In Russia, it is impossible to tell where the decisions of government end and the interests of Vladimir Putin and his circle of oligarchs begin. They operate as one unit. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, there is no debate about separation because the natural resources of the state, valued at trillions of dollars, belong to the Saudi royal family. In Hungary, far-right authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán is openly allied with Putin in Russia. In China, an inner circle led by Xi Jinping has steadily consolidated power, clamping down on domestic political freedom while it aggressively promotes a version of authoritarian capitalism abroad.
So the question is: Where do we go from here?
To effectively oppose right-wing authoritarianism, we cannot simply go back to the failed status quo of the last several decades. In order to fight this trend, we need to strengthen the global coalition of progressive democrats.
While authoritarians promote division and hatred, we promote unity, inclusion, and an agenda based on economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.
The people of the world must come together to end the absurdity of rich and multinational corporations stashing over $21 trillion in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and then demanding that their respective governments impose an austerity agenda on their working families.
It is not acceptable that the fossil fuel industry continues to make huge profits while their carbon emissions destroy the planet for our children and grandchildren.
It is not acceptable that a handful of multinational media giants, owned by a small number of billionaires, largely control the flow of information on the planet.
It is not acceptable that trade policies that benefit large multinational corporations and encourage a race to the bottom hurt working people throughout the world as they are written out of public view.
It is not acceptable that, with the Cold War long behind us, countries around the world spend over $1 trillion a year on weapons of destruction, while millions of children die of easily treatable diseases.
In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need a global progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people and that addresses the massive inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power as well.
Such a movement must be willing to think creatively and boldly about the world that we would like to see.
We must take the opportunity to reconceptualize a genuinely progressive global community based on human solidarity, that recognizes that every person on this planet shares a common humanity, that we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water, breathe clean air, and live in peace.
Our job is to reach out to those in every corner of the world who share these values and who are fighting for a better world.
In a time of exploding wealth and technology, we have the potential to create a decent life for all people. Our job is to build on our common humanity and do everything that we can to oppose all of the forces, whether unaccountable government power or unaccountable corporate power, who try to divide us up and set us against each other.
We know that those forces work together across borders. We must do the same.
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