Democracy fragility and why it needs to be protected

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Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and speaker for UConn 2021 Gerson Foreign Policy Lecture discusses democracy fragility and why it needs to be protected. Photo by author.

Despite the numerous social, political and economic issues America is currently facing, it is important to stand for democracy abroad because human rights are a necessity regardless of culture, according to Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and speaker for the University of Connecticut 2021 Gerson Foreign Policy Lecture.  

“Democratic solidarity begins from the understanding that if we valued universal rights, we must value and support one another’s struggle to realize those rights,” Wittes said. “That support is not a one-way street, it doesn’t go from here (America) to other parts of the world. It goes from other parts of the world to here.” 

Wittes said the Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example showing the power of democratic solidarity. Not just in America but, democratic countries from all over the world stood together to protest against inequalities that Black Americans faced. Wittes acknowledged that other events in the past year like the attack at the Capitol and political divisions in America may have caused concern for democracy. In her speech, Wittes said hypocrisy in democracy is inevitable because there will always be a need to allocate resources to certain groups. America has also faced issues internationally like Russian infiltration, the majority party imposing majoritarian outcomes but these situations are not unique to America; other countries have faced these issues too. 

“Still, we have tools to address those fears and we are using them,” Wittes said.  “Many Americans are devoted as volunteers and in their professional lives to protecting and defending and expanding the use of those tools. Tens of millions of Americans have mobilized this year alone to march for police accountability, to register voters despite obstacles from legislatures, to file lawsuits, to advocate for justice reform, to fund bail fees to elect better leaders and to run for offices themselves.” 

According to Wittes, democracy is a work in progress which is why it is important for democratic nations to stand together. Democracy arises not just from the laws but the values of each individual which is why it is important to help out other democratic countries in need. 

Wittes said people may question America’s involvement in other countries when there are so many domestic issues, but the importance is to recognize that America is not a perfect country.  

“Insisting we (Americans) have it figured out demanding that others emulate us is the least effective way I have ever seen for Americans to make the case for other countries to respect human rights,” Wittes said. “Rather the most effective advocacy begins from the acknowledgment that human rights, including the civil liberties that are central to democracy, are both universal and inherent in one’s humanity, not dependent on one’s form of government.” 

Rather than coming from the view that all democracies are perfect, it would be more helpful to say that democracies are flawed and fragile so improvements can be made, according to Wittes. It is important to not just show democracy’s resilience but use it as a foundation for future achievements.  

“But, we Americans and our democratic government should pay as much heed to our structural advantages as we do to our structural weaknesses and vulnerabilities and we should have confidence in the strength that can come from working together, we have so much work to do and hand in hand across our borders, I’m looking forward to a future of democratic solidarity,” Wittes said.  

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