Anthony Stahelski

Anthony Stahelski

Many Americans think that July 4th, 1776 is the day that the United States became an independent country. Actually the date symbolizes the goal of becoming an independent country, not the achievement. On July 4th, 1776 the Second Continental Congress ratified the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, with the intent of severing our colonial relationship with Great Britain. The Declaration was created near the beginning of the American Revolution, a bloody seven-year war that achieved the intent of the Declaration.

In the first several decades of the new republic the 4th of July was only sporadically celebrated as Independence Day. The widespread celebration of the 4th as Independence Day began unofficially in the 1820s, and Congress officially declared the 4th of July as Independence Day and a federal holiday in 1870. As the 4th became more recognized as the “official” beginning of the United States many of our presidents gave speeches commemorating Independence Day, talking about the benefits of democracy and freedom to Americans.

But as the 1800s progressed into the 1900s many presidents also reflected on the benefits of American independence for the rest of the world. They did this for a significant reason. In 1800 the United States was the only country in the world moving toward full democracy. In the 206 years between 1800 and 2006, 121 other countries became democratic to varying degrees. Many presidents used their 4th of July speeches to essentially say that the United States was the initial spark that ignited this remarkable flame of freedom.

Now this flame seems to be going out. In the last 13 years the number of dictatorial non-democracies has increased, the number of democracies has declined, and freedoms and rights in the remaining democracies are being challenged. There are many causes of this ominous reversal, and the decline in United States support for global democracy is one of those causes. Thanks to the less-than-successful interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, both the Obama and Trump administrations have been reticent to make major military commitments that might have enhanced global democracy. However, there are other ways to reignite democracy, such as the bully pulpit, using consistent public announcements from the United States government.

Various non-governmental organizations, such Freedom House, track specific indices of freedom and democracy in the world, and since our State Department has access to the same data that these organizations access, the department could give monthly press conferences to publicly address global democracy issues. Such as the pro-democracy protests, like the recent ones in Hong Kong, and unexpected pro-democracy results, like the election of an anti-Erdogan candidate as mayor of Istanbul. They should all be publicly noted, praised and encouraged.

The anniversaries of dictatorial suppressions, such as the recent 30 year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, should be mentioned so that no one forgets. Publicly naming and picturing every pro-democracy political dissident or journalist who has been arrested, imprisoned, disappeared, or executed, whenever and wherever it occurs. Publicly announcing every tainted or fake election, every suppression of freedom of assembly, religion, or the press, and of course every occurrence of imprisonments without trial, concentration camps, mass killings, and genocide, at every press conference.

These events are occurring all over the world, all the time, and, in spite of the reach of global media, many of them of them slip by unnoticed, so these press conferences could be quite useful. The power of these press conferences could be enhanced if they were given by the Secretary of State, or even sometimes the President, rather than some low-level bureaucrat. The topics could be repeated by our Ambassador to the United Nations in their various forums.

Public announcements can sometimes create positive change, especially if delivered by democracy leaders. Will this be enough by itself to reverse the current global trend toward fascism and other forms of totalitarianism? Probably not but it’s worth trying. The desire for freedom is a human universal, and therefore the people of the world need a champion to speak for them. If the United States starts regularly speaking out, perhaps we can reclaim our role as leader of the Free World.

Anthony Stahelski is a Central Washington University psychology professor. Left and Right is a feature provided CWU professors to represent a variety of political viewpoints.

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