Human Rights & Democracy

March 11, 2022: What We Should be Getting from the Media: Biden’s Gift to Democracy

Posted on March 11, 2022 at 12:00 AM

This moment brings in the high relief why the media and its commentators  have been so bad at covering a truly enormous event in global history: the Russian invasion of Ukraine and not only its peoples brave defense of their land and their democratic freedoms but citizens of the world taking to their streets to shout their support of those rights and freedoms too.  Our anchors and commentators cannot get out of wanting to end the news  broadcast with a reminder of what wasn’t done and a segue to what in particular President Biden didn’t do. 

The anchors and commentators cannot get out of casting Biden as weak and not up to the job. This is in face of really big facts.  They cannot understand, or want to understand, that it was Biden who led the international effort to come together in support of Zelensky and Ukraine. Part of the reason was that Biden himself would not boast about bringing NATO together because boasting about it would go against a major goal,  which was for all countries to feel that they were in this together as equals supporting democracy, the best of human values as well as a notabley embedded in international law. Biden would be asked repeatedly, coming out of a meetings,  “why aren’t you doing X or Y?”  Biden would mumble something about “consultations” meaning that he planed to consult with our allies because that was the point of his exercise and his leadership, but whoever the press interlocutor was  would not notice the international meeting (literally) in the background  and would literally not seem to have any idea of what he was talking about, to the extent that I think, at least in the beginning, that most of the press didn’t even know there was an EU (European Union) as well as  NATO much less an OSCE  (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). They didn’t know how to praise the leadership of our President and we are the worst for it. 

The press also doesn’t understand the history of what Biden had done to correct all of the damage that Donald Trump had done to the leadership of the United States in the world.  The first thing that Biden did when he took office was rejoin the Paris Climate Accord which Trump had withdrawn us from. Trump had been against doing anything within alliances. The fact that Biden has been able to reknit our alliances in so short a time is one of his biggest triumphs.

Knitting alliances of democracies together also strengthens democracy. It  doesn’t get asked or pointed out that these organizations Biden is strengthening have democracy as a membership requirement. This is not ancient history. In important ways it all started in what I call the “Decade of Democracy” in the 90s after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those Eastern European countries freed from the collapsed Soviet Union were thrilled to be able to join international organizations including being  required to join as democracies. I was in Oslo working for the US state department and in its embassy as the Political Counselor when the Berlin Wall came down and I saw firsthand what the excitment. As a US diplomat I had been forbidden from inviting my Soviet counterpart over for dinner. Four days after the wall came down he was in my house for dinner along with Norwegian officials and a South African who had been a top leader in the anti-apartheid movement. All of the regional international organizations changed their rules overnight. The Organization of African States, the Organization of Latin American states all added a democracy requirement. This was a triumph we cannot let Putin try to obliterate.

We are individuals whose individuality should be celebrated but we are also a common humanity. And should celebrate the common humility in each of us. That is what is behind the outpouring for protecting Ukraine. It is not some little benefit that we will get in our Inbox it is a large benefit that will unite and elevate everyone. 

— Elizabeth Clark, Chair, Human Rights and Democracy Task Force

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