No B.S Friday: The agility of liberal democracy has been tested, and I don’t think we passed.
It may be the case that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness.
Freedom is what makes little countries like Australia great, but I also fear it is being weaponised against us.
We know that the Russians were running general disinformation campaigns during 2020.
The most basic interpretation of that is that they just really like Donald Trump, and thought Trump would deliver more for their interests.
But I don’t really buy that, and I don’t think the Russians have much interest in short-games played out over 4-year electoral cycles.
Like the Chinese, like all authoritarian regimes, they play a long game.
And I think the long game is the weaponization of freedom, and the weaponization of confusion.
Think about why America has had such a woeful response to the Covid crisis.
Again, if you want to pin this on the Donald, I think you’re missing the bigger picture. Sure, he made mistakes. Sure, some of his decisions and handling was daft. But America’s failure was deep.
Think about it. America, as one of the richest nations on Earth, should have had one of the best Covid responses. Most problems give way pretty quickly to the sustained pressure of lots of lots of cash.
But that didn’t happen. And arguably, Covid hit America harder than any other advanced nation. America accounts for just 4% of the global population. Yet it accounted for 20% of all Covid fatalities.
That’s a long way out of balance.
And why did it happen?
I reckon that a key reason was of the freedoms Americans enjoy – the freedom to express themselves however they want. The freedom to question authority. The freedom to openly challenge the government itself.
These are great freedoms. I hold them dear myself.
But in the case of Covid, when misinformation was rife, it became difficult to organise a unified collective response.
China didn’t have that problem. There was one response and everyone toed the line. And that wasn’t just at the point of a gun. The Chinese people genuinely trust their government – more than any other people on Earth.
Wow. 82%. Are you kidding me?
And personally, if the price of freedom is being a little slower to organise a collective response, I think that’s ok. It’s a price I’m willing to pay.
But I do think it has exposed a chink in the armour of liberal democracies. Countries like Russia and China must be thinking that America’s commitment to democracy makes it weak and slow in a crisis.
That’s a weakness that could be exploited. Set up social media information campaigns that inflame existing divisions (with no agenda but to foster division), and bam, you have weaponised freedom.
It’s that easy.
The key challenge that the West faces now – and I’m thinking about this as we continue to fumble the ball on the vaccine roll-out – the key challenge facing the West is how we build trust in our collective institutions?
How do we maintain our commitment to democracy, while building our capacity to respond to a crisis?
This is the point that the long road to freedom has come to. This is the challenge for our generation.
What do we do with this?