The US has released the kernel of another intelligence assessment that describes the Kremlin’s global malign influence machine. Following the liberal tradition, it produces facts, allowing the public the make up its mind. This is in contrast to the authoritarian model that relies more on producing narrative. Democracies argue in facts. Authoritarians play with meanings. The voice in the podcast is from the State Department’s Ned Price given in a press conference. What little I know about the 36 star memo is here.
Unlimited complexity, unlimited choice, endless competing interests. How can democracy ever achieve the consensus it needs to advance? One person counting on democracy’s inability to do this is China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping.
This is a point that Joe Biden continues to repeat.
Giving the public a little fly-on-the-wall view of talks with Xi, Biden noted this week: “The leader of China, Xi Jinping just tells me straight up, I’ve spent more time with many other head of state, over 76 hours. And guess what he said? Democracies can’t be sustained in the 21st century because they require consensus and things are moving so rapidly you can’t get consensus. That’s why autocracies are going to succeed.”
It’s a revealing quote. It also, probably, helps illuminate a strategic view from China, and certainly from Russia, that to hasten democracies’ decline, authoritarians should do all they can to increase democracies’ internal divisions and paralysis.
Counting on internal conflict, you can see the value of the United Work Front Group and Russia’s most savvy info warriors in amplifying areas of difference inside democracies.
Then what the democracies need is simply a shared vision to work towards.
Often, these fellas are pasted into photos related to Russia’s war on Ukraine, and shared across social media.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has spurred an outpouring of military and humanitarian assistance from across the democratic world: from the US, the UK, Australia, Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic nations.
Who are these fellas?
The film director Brian De Palma had this to say about director’s careers…
“We don’t plan them out, we happen to be working on one thing, then another happens, then another thing is delayed. Then we do the thing we can do at the time.”
There is a lesson in this for the great debate about whether China or Russia (or Iran or domestic extremism) are the biggest threats to democracy.
The reality is: these nations and forces are all occurring at once.
If democracies are hoping to meet and defeat these challenges and threats, they need to be able to see them in their totality. Democracies can’t afford to become inverse projections of the authoritarianism they oppose.
Rather, democracies need to better frame the whole picture we’re in today. Set up the shot and tell the story for the world to see. They need to do as the old rules around economy and technology fade away.
In just the same ways that New Hollywood directors reinvented filmmaking amid dramatic shifts in the economy of film, the imaginations of people in democracies today need to become more expansive in order to project democracy successfully into the contested and conflicted 21st Century.
*The De Palma quote above comes from his interview in the documentary De Palma by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.
*The full interview with Sino-Russia expert Bobo Lo can be found here.
*Music: Igor Khorkavyy