The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden warns against ‘backward slide’ in democracy around the globe at outset of two-day summit

President Biden delivers opening remarks at the virtual Summit for Democracy in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on Thursday.
President Biden delivers opening remarks at the virtual Summit for Democracy in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on Thursday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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President Biden warned world leaders Thursday of a “backward slide” in democracy around the globe and urged them to champion a form of a government that he said needs concerted work to be sustained through an “inflection point in history.”

“In my view, the choices we make … in this moment are going to fundamentally determine the direction our world is going to take in the coming decades,” Biden said. “Will we allow the backward slide of … democracy to continue unchecked, or will we together have a vision … and courage to once more lead the march of human progress and human freedom forward?”

Biden’s remarks came at the outset of a two-day, virtual “Summit for Democracy” that he convened with the goal of rallying 110 invited nations against the forces of authoritarianism.

His rallying cry came 11 months after a deadly attack on a democratic institution at home: the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that interrupted Congress’s count of electoral votes from the November 2020 presidential election.

Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’ includes countries that hardly seem to qualify

In his remarks, Biden acknowledged that the United States is among the nations that needs to work to nourish its democracy, and he pledged to lead by example.

“Here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort,” Biden said.

He cited voting rights as an example, urging Congress to pass legislation to counter restrictions that have been enacted in many Republican-led states since last year’s election.

Biden said the Justice Department would double the number of lawyers defending and enforcing voting rights laws, adding: “We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

Biden also listed a handful of foreign aid initiatives that the United States is undertaking to foster democracies, including steps to bolster independent media and combat corruption. Other initiatives aim to advance the role of women and girls in civic life and bolster the availability of an open Internet.

Speaking from a table where he was joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden addressed world leaders displayed on large screens in front of him.

“In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time,” he said. “Democracy — government of the people, by the people, for the people — can at times be fragile. But it also is inherently resilient and capable of self-correction and is capable of self-improvement.”

In later remarks, Vice President Harris alluded to the insurrection as she argued that democracy is “marked by both its strengths and its fragility.”

“Here in the United States, we know that our democracy is not immune from threats,” she said. “January 6 looms large in our collective conscience, and the anti-voter laws that many states have passed are part of an intentional effort to exclude Americans from participating in our democracy.”

The three overarching themes of Biden’s summit are defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. Attendees are asked to make meaningful commitments to furthering democracy in their countries.

According to the White House, Biden will host an in-person summit next year, with invitations going to countries that live up to the commitments this week.

Countries not invited to this year’s summit include China, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.

The summit has its origins in Biden’s rebuke of his predecessor during the presidential campaign. As a candidate in 2020, Biden outlined in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs the ways in which he said Donald Trump had diminished the credibility and influence of the United States.

In an article titled “Why America Must Lead Again: Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump,” Biden promised, if elected, to “take immediate steps to renew U.S. democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world.”

Ashley Parker and John Hudson contributed to this report.

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