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  • Writer's pictureHenry Edwards

The Bad and Good News About Democracy

Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried ~Winston Churchill

What's the state of democracy in the world? At first glance, it seems to be in bad shape. Venezuela had a democracy for several decades until Hugo Chavez came along and made the country a one-party state. With Maduro now in power in Caracas, democracy exists only in name. Populists have recently come to power in Latin America’s two most populous countries, Brazil (Bolsonaro) and Mexico (AMLO). The US and UK both have populist heads of government. Right-wing parties that eschew multiculturalism and trumpet nationalism are gaining supporters in much of Europe, even in the liberal nordics. Meantime, China remains solidly authoritarian and the rule of Xi Jinping seems to only get stronger. So is democracy on the ropes? Taking the long view provides a clearer picture of the state of democracy. In the late 1970s, only three of the 20 countries in Latin America were democracies. The rest were dictatorships. By 1990 only communist Cuba survived, though dictatorship roared back in Venezuela. While democracy has taken some hits in Latin America, the current state of affairs is a far cry from the caudillos and juntas that ruled Latin American countries for so long. Uncertainty--and the unsavoriness of Bolsonaro and AMLO--is part of democracy. In my lifetime Latin America was ruled by the likes of Pinochet, Stroessner, and Peron. With the growth of the middle class and norms of accountability and inclusivity, democracy--albeit imperfect democracy--is becoming the new normal. And what of Asia? There seems to be little progress, especially in the Middle East and China. But one must remember how things have changed in the past few generations. South Korean is now a thriving democracy. Fifty years ago it was not. Modi is a populist and nationalist, but Indian democracy remains strong and vibrant. Mongolia was once a Soviet-style state; now it is a democracy. And not long ago Myanmar was the hermit state of southeast Asia. The military government closed off the country and ruled with an iron fist. Now Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi rules though the treatment of the Muslim minority mars the progress made. Still, democracy is gaining a foothold in new places. How about Africa?  Corruption and war are rife in many countries, especially in central Africa. But there is hope for the expansion of democracy. Robert Mugabe seemed to be a permanent fixture in Zimbabwe. In 2017 he was ousted, and last week he died. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current leader of Zimbabwe, seems no better than Mugabe, but he fears he will be ousted. In Sudan, there is newfound hope. Once home to some of the worst atrocities in Africa, today the once-dreaded dictator Omar al-Bashir is in jail awaiting trial. Today a joint civilian-military coalition rules. This week the coalition announced the first cabinet in the Sudanese government since Bashir’s fall.   Democracy expanded in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today democracy seems to be stalled around the world. We don’t know what the future holds, but we are not seeing the fall of democracies that Europe witnessed in the 1930s. While populism has become popular in many parts of the democratic world, the bedrock of democracy has not crumbled. Since World War II, and especially since 1990, democracy has made progress...uneven progress, but progress nonetheless. Most people in the world live in democracies, a tipping point that we didn't reach until 2001. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Let us not let the hard-fought expansion of democracy slip away.

And in other good news...

Cambridge scientists reversed the aging process in rat brain stem cells. Let's hope they can do the same with humans. Scientists reverse memory decline using electrical pulses.  

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