Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron secured a second term — the first time that a French president has won re-election in 20 years. Macron’s opponent: Marie Le Pen, a Trump-like ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Le Pen would have been a real threat to the EU, NATO and Muslims living in France. Winning with 58% of the vote is certainly a decisive victory, but Liberals shouldn’t let their guard down. Although Le Pen lost, she gained a 7.5% higher share of the vote compared to 2017. Given another election cycle, Le Pen — or someone like her — could take power in France.
While in the spotlight for now, Le Pen’s beliefs are not unique. In fact, she represents a worrying rise in global authoritarianism. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the world is facing a democracy crisis: “The number moving in the direction of authoritarianism is three times the number moving towards democracy.” Even domestically, the United States is reaching troubling new lows. Many Americans are now distrustful of democratic institutions, or even reject democracy outright. IDEA now lists the United States as a “backsliding democracy” for the first time ever.
Democracy often seems like an abstract concept. Almost everyone says that they care about democracy, but a Yale study indicates that only 3.5% of U.S. voters would change their support for an undemocratic candidate who they would otherwise support. This democratic apathy manifested itself best in the January 6th insurrection. Political violence on this scale is an unprecedented breach of democratic norms in the U.S. Worse yet, only 21% of Republican voters believe that President Biden won the election. This is deeply concerning for the United States.
There is no better demonstration of these perils than Putin’s Russia. While many countries are democratically “backsliding,” Putin’s Russia barely has a hint of democracy left. While Russia holds elections, they have largely been recognized as fraudulent by international observers. The Russian government controls the news, kills dissidents and criminalizes protests. It’s systems like these that allow for an autocrat like Putin to act without retribution.
Putin’s war in Ukraine is a warning of what can happen if a powerful country is led through these undemocratic systems. Putin has justified his claim on Ukraine through “blood and soil” rhetoric, even harkening back to Tsarist Russia. Globally backed up by many in the far-right, including the United States Congress, Putin is not alone. Democratic backsliding is in full force, and it should be fought everywhere.