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ICYMI: Why Protests Matter: the Battle Between Authoritarianism and Democracy, a War We Must Win

Nov 12, 2020 | Press Releases

Rubio: “It is painfully clear that the United States should never simply be an impartial observer. Silence and inaction send a deafening signal to corrupt, dictatorial regimes that they can strip away their citizens’ identities and freedoms with impunity. It is morally reprehensible and, as we have seen with Iran, also dangerous for our own nation.”

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
November 12, 2020
Published in Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs 

Last year, protests erupted across the globe as authoritarian rulers fought to maintain their control over freedom-loving peoples from Caracas to Khartoum, Moscow to Hong Kong—a struggle whose outcome will define the 21st century. These protests transcended geographic boundaries and social classes, afflicting our allies, adversaries, and partners alike. 

It is painfully clear that the United States should never simply be an impartial observer. Silence and inaction send a deafening signal to corrupt, dictatorial regimes that they can strip away their citizens’ identities and freedoms with impunity. 

AUTHORITARIAN RESURGENCE 

Today, we see a rise in authoritarian regimes that are both economically powerful and overtly hostile to civil society, with China being by far the most potent and malign example. 

Such behavior is not sustainable. The yearning for freedom is intrinsic to every human being, transcending culture, ethnicity, and socioeconomic conditions. And while a regime can repress it for a time, there are long-term costs and consequences for doing so. 

HOW AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AND OUR INTERESTS

While factors vary by country and region, beneath the surface of [all recent protests]there has been a pervasive theme: the global battle between authoritarianism and democracy. The United States has a tremendous stake in winning this fight, but policymakers must make the case to weary Americans, exhausted by decades of war abroad and suffering from a pandemic-induced recession at home. 

First, there is the morality of rights that only the United States is positioned to champion. Unlike many other countries, Americans recognize that these rights derive not from any man, nor were they granted by the authority of any government. They are God-given. The principles enshrined in our founding documents, which have driven our own struggle for freedom, define who we are as Americans. Our foreign policy must reflect that basic conviction. 

Authoritarian regimes especially do not recognize this fundamental truth. These are regimes that have no mooring in the natural rights of their people. The United States has a moral obligation, embodied in the laws that govern Americans and our institutions wherever in the world we operate, to protect and defend these rights from tyranny. 

But beyond that moral obligation, because authoritarian regimes lack the secure foundation of natural rights, they inexorably move toward instability, which has a direct impact on Americans. 

WHY PROTESTS MATTER 

Protest is vital not only because… it is the essential practice of freedom and dignity itself and a force against tyranny. And while a government has a role to play in nurturing the requisite qualities of civil society, those qualities will necessarily arise from the ground up, not top-down. The state cannot simply mandate the creation of strong, local communities—though it can allow the freedoms required to create the environment in which they take form. As such, authoritarian regimes fear an active civil society, often marked by protest, because it exists outside their control. 

THE NECESSITY OF AMERICAN LEADERSHIP 

The extent of America’s international presence cannot simply be pursuing the most efficient economic outcomes; instead, it must prioritize American security and the pursuit of fundamental rights, including the strengthening of American workers and, through them, our nation’s civil society. 

We cannot accomplish those goals domestically by receding inward and abandoning the mantle of leadership abroad. Free, democratic allies are integral to our way of life at home. Strong international engagement means greater international stability and prosperity, as well as less mass migration, terrorism, and international crime. 

The yearning for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not what makes us American; these desires are inherent to the human condition and can be found all over the world. What makes us American is our unwavering commitment to securing those natural rights through democratic self governance so people can flourish. It is our commitment to ensuring the protection of people’s freedoms to raise families, form communities, and live their lives without the fear of their government.