By Jennifer Crall and Jerry Hartz
In today’s media-saturated culture, it sometimes seems as though the chief characteristic of the world is dysfunction and democratic backsliding.
Countries like Syria are being consumed by perhaps the worst organized atrocities since Bosnia, Sudan and Rwanda. Former Soviet states are increasingly fearful of Russian encroachment after the occupation of territory in Georgia and Ukraine. Even in Europe — frequently taken for granted as a post-war democratic success story — economic stagnation and the migrant crisis are undermining faith in democratic institutions and adding to the appeal of extreme parties of the right and left.
Faced with these global crises, and in the wake of a particularly bruising presidential election in our own country, the temptation to turn inward is growing. The world seems more intractable just as our own political divisions appear unbridgeable. Yet the argument that the U.S. should step back as leader of the free world is misleading at best.
In fact, it’s a false narrative that has no place in the traditions of either the Republican or Democratic party. The globalized nature of our era means that what happens on the far side of the world won’t stay there, as we are reminded again and again at great cost.
The brutal 2016 election cycle has distracted too many Americans from an important truth: Our shared values outweigh by far our differing ideas on how to achieve them. The tremendous challenges that the United States and the world face can only be confronted through a mixture of vigorous democratic debate, as well as relearning the art of bipartisan cooperation and compromise.
It was in this spirit that the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) came together last month to host a bipartisan celebration of our common quest to help build the architecture of democracy worldwide.
We had the privilege of listening to a spirited panel discussion between IRI’s chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and NDI’s chairman, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as they covered issues ranging from the Iraq War to Russian disinformation. Yet for all their policy differences, McCain and Albright displayed a warm, collegial relationship underpinned by their mutual experience working to protect and extend the benefits of democracy worldwide.
It was a powerful reminder of the core values that underpin these two dedicated public servants and statesmen, a position reflected in strong bipartisan support for democracy by the two parties.
Both IRI and NDI were founded in 1983 in response to a landmark speech by President Ronald Reagan to the British Parliament, in which he expressed his conviction that “freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.”
These words ring as true today as they did 30 years ago, and it is our task to remain committed to that conviction — in good times and bad.
Recent years have shown that democratization is not a permanent nor irreversible process, and we must remain vigilant in fighting backsliding and supporting our allies in the struggle to remain free. It is the only way to ensure a peaceful, humane and prosperous world.
As the New Year stands before us, let us resolve to work together to stand in solidarity not only as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans determined to protect and support the inalienable and universal rights of all people.
Jennifer Crall is the senior director for external affairs at the International Republican Institute. Jerry Hartz is the director of government relations and communications for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and served as a Democratic leadership staffer for nearly three decades before joining NDI.