A timely article, as originally shared with The Hamilton Lugar School community, following the January 6 insurrection.
By Lee A. Feinstein, Founding Dean of the Hamilton Lugar School
In the space of 24 hours we have witnessed the expression of people power in a history-making election in Georgia, followed by a mob’s insurrection at the Capitol. Our neat theories about the one-way trajectory of consolidated democracies have been shaken by democratic backsliding. A longstanding democratic recession is now a global anti-democratic wave.
The world reacts with a mix of schadenfreude and fear. For authoritarian systems in places like Russia and China, the breaching of the doors of the House chamber is an opportunity for gloating, to further suppress forces for democratic change, and to strengthen their hold on power. In longstanding democracies, there is criticism of the idea of American exceptionalism and, also, fear and solidarity. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
There are many signs of hope: a record turnout of American voters in the presidential election; the political mobilization of excluded and marginalized voters; the largest protests in U.S. history for racial justice; and vaccines that bring the promise of an eventual end to a cruel pandemic. These are signs of change and renewal and they are naturally shaking things up.
At our global school, these events bring into relief the connection between the quality of our democracy at home and our attitude toward the world. Foreign policy begins at home. That was the theme of our December conference on America’s Role in the World, and it has never been truer. For the United States to have a competent foreign policy, we need to build confidence in the fairness of our political system. That includes economic, social, and racial justice, including making quality education affordable and accessible to all.
Renewal at home is also fundamental to the ability of the United States to play a principled and effective role globally. Without basic agreement that active U.S. support for a more just world is in the interest of average Americans, no foreign policy can work.
At this time of head-spinning change, when a generation’s worth of history is crammed into a 24-hour news cycle, we pause to think about our role as members of this community, about our responsibility to one another, and to our aspirations for a more just and secure nation and world.
Be well, and stay healthy.