[There's some undeserved flattery for Canada near the end of this
article. We have just been through a decade of right-wing populist
government, and the new administration's mandate was to undo the damage.
So far, the new team isn't scoring a lot of points, but have spent a
year putting off the tough decisions.
images and links in on-line article]
Goodbye and good riddance to a ghastly year
Will liberal democracy be another casualty of 2016?
By Terry Milewski, CBC News
Posted: Dec 27, 2016 10:12 PM ET Last Updated: Dec 28, 2016 9:51 AM ET
It often seemed interminable, but 2016 has, at last, limped to the
finish line — and, for once, family, friends and pundits seem to agree.
They're all smiling grimly as they say good riddance to a ghastly year.
Was it really as bad as they say? No — it was worse.
After all, who even remembers how the year began? Here's just some of
what happened on New Year's Day: 300 West African migrants in Libya were
slaughtered by ISIS, an Arab-Israeli gunman killed three in Tel Aviv, a
Taliban suicide bomber blew up a restaurant in Kabul and al-Shabaab
militants attacked aid workers in Somalia.
So much for January 1st.
On the 2nd, the Pakistani group Jaish-e-Mohammed killed seven at an
On the 3rd, suicide bombers from ISIS butchered 15 Shia police recruits
near Tikrit in Iraq. By the end of January, hundreds of other victims
were bombed, shot, stabbed and beheaded in Nigeria, Libya, Turkey,
Somalia, Burkina Faso, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria...
Then came February. Let's not even start. In fact, let's also try to
forget the other months of the year — like July, when a crazed jihadist
drove a truck into a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France, and
murdered 86 people.
Can liberal democracy survive this?
Of course, 2016 was not the year when terror became part of life's daily
drumbeat. That happened long ago. But a corner was turned, nonetheless.
The jihadists, after all, are out for a breakdown of order — especially
the democratic and secular order wherever it can be found.
And, inch by inch, they seem to be getting it. One year ago, were we
fretting that the very survival of liberal democracy was in doubt?
We are now.
For one thing, we can hardly look to the incoming president of the
United States to be the champion of democratic institutions. Donald
Trump said the system was "rigged" — unless he won. The chief justice?
An "absolute disaster." The media? "Liars." Protesters? "Knock the crap
out of 'em, would ya? Seriously."
Elsewhere, the omens have been no more subtle. The British turned their
backs on Europe. Populists are chipping away at independent courts and
media in Hungary, Poland, Greece and Venezuela. They're on the march in
France and Austria.
A Philippine strongman brags about killing criminals, due process be
damned. Russia's strongman, Vladimir Putin, has hacked the U.S.
election, tightened his grip on chunks of Ukraine and turned much of
Syria to rubble. China is cracking down even harder on dissent and
stocking the ocean with armed islands. Turkey, a member of NATO, is
locking up judges, journalists, civil servants.
Just as frightening is the creeping loss of faith in democracy within
the democracies. That trend is starkly clear, according to academics
compiling a report to be published in the January issue of the Journal
of Democracy, which has posted a draft version here.
In a nutshell, Yascha Mounk, of Harvard University, and Roberto Stefan
Foa, of the University of Melbourne, suggest that western democracy is
going out of style as younger people — but not just younger people — are
increasingly tempted by the notion of leaders who need not bother with
getting elected. As Mounk told the New York Times, "the warning signs
are flashing red."
Mounk and Foa's paper details how chauvinist, anti-democratic leaders
have trampled on independent, liberal institutions which previously
In Poland, once a model of post-communist enlightenment, Lech
Kaczynski's Law and Justice party won the 2015 elections, then cracked
down on the free press and the constitutional court. In Venezuela, a
well-rooted democratic system of free elections was swiftly torn up
after Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998, and today there is starvation
Couldn't happen here, you say? Mounk and Foa beg to differ.
"Citizens who retain a deep commitment to the core values of liberal
democracy," they say, "must recognize that their countries' past
stability is no reason for complacency.
"The power now wielded by anti-system parties and movements is
unprecedented. So is the deep disenchantment with democracy they exploit
so shrewdly. As a result, the survival of liberal democracy may now
depend on the will of citizens to defend it effectively against attacks."
Instead, they report, those citizens are losing interest. In a U.S.
survey from October they cite, 46 per cent of respondents said they
either "never had" or had "lost" faith in U.S. democracy. And the
younger they are, the less faith they have — and that's not just in the U.S.
We may be forgiven a frisson of self-satisfaction that, for now, Canada
looks like an island of stability as these forces roil the rest of the
democratic world. Perhaps it's also fortunate that Mounk and Foa offer
no figures for Canadian attitudes. They might spoil the moment.
But we do know that instead of joining the nationalist parade, Canadians
elected an internationalist — a leader who calls Canada "the first
Indeed, Justin Trudeau's election is often attributed to a revolt
against what some characterized as the illiberal tendencies of the
previous government. Still, it's debatable whether the Liberals' 39 per
cent of the popular vote amounts to a revolt against anything.
Besides that, Canada is not an island. Even if it were uniquely immune
to the damn-the-elites mood elsewhere, how long will it resist if the
trend continues? Already Trudeau's remarks on the death of Fidel Castro
have led the triumphant American right to paint him as a socialist
loony. It didn't take long for Texas Senator Ted Cruz to take aim at
"Disgraceful," Cruz tweeted. "Why do young socialists idolize
Trudeau beat a retreat and belatedly dubbed Castro "a dictator." But
that episode gave us a taste of what may lie in store for Trudeau if he
stands, or tries to stand, in Trump's way.
And the new president will find his fans here, too. Conservative
leadership candidate Kellie Leitch dispatched a fundraising email as
soon as Trump was elected saying that American voters had sent "an
exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well."
We shall see if an anti-immigrant, anti-elite, anti-due-process mood
becomes more popular north of the border when the new American
administration takes power.
But face it: authoritarianism had a very good year, all over the globe.
Who's to say that Canada will be stubbornly different as the new year
muscles the old year aside?
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