Global cynicism about democracy will expose media to attack

“China’s and Russia’s global influence operations won’t need to resort to fake news to exploit the genuine dysfunctions in the American system.”

Xi Jinping will stroll into the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th Congress to extend his decade-long tenure as leader of the world’s most populous country, to the uniform acclaim of its media. Meanwhile, the United States will show what Chinese citizens are missing. At its midterm elections, challengers will take on incumbents without fear, media will observe and opine without official hindrance, and voters will get to decide.

In a different era, that contrast would have been a globally impactful advertisement for liberal democracy over authoritarianism. In 2022, not necessarily.

True, most freedom-loving people in the world will shudder at the sight of China’s direction. After all, never has so much unaccountable power been bestowed by so many to so few. But the respect denied to China won’t automatically head America’s way. Not when the U.S. can’t seem to fix its own inexcusable flaws, like the systematic, scandalous campaign to disenfranchise Black citizens. China’s and Russia’s global influence operations won’t need to resort to fake news to exploit the genuine dysfunctions in the American system.

As mass cynicism and doubt about democracy grows, so will apathy, allowing autocrats the world over to continue lashing out with impunity at their critics. Independent journalists and other human rights defenders will have another troubled, thankless year.

Cherian George is a professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Xi Jinping will stroll into the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th Congress to extend his decade-long tenure as leader of the world’s most populous country, to the uniform acclaim of its media. Meanwhile, the United States will show what Chinese citizens are missing. At its midterm elections, challengers will take on incumbents without fear, media will observe and opine without official hindrance, and voters will get to decide.

In a different era, that contrast would have been a globally impactful advertisement for liberal democracy over authoritarianism. In 2022, not necessarily.

True, most freedom-loving people in the world will shudder at the sight of China’s direction. After all, never has so much unaccountable power been bestowed by so many to so few. But the respect denied to China won’t automatically head America’s way. Not when the U.S. can’t seem to fix its own inexcusable flaws, like the systematic, scandalous campaign to disenfranchise Black citizens. China’s and Russia’s global influence operations won’t need to resort to fake news to exploit the genuine dysfunctions in the American system.

As mass cynicism and doubt about democracy grows, so will apathy, allowing autocrats the world over to continue lashing out with impunity at their critics. Independent journalists and other human rights defenders will have another troubled, thankless year.

Cherian George is a professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Zizi Papacharissi

Mandy Jenkins

Jesenia De Moya Correa

Tom Trewinnard

Cristina Tardáguila

Alice Antheaume

Errin Haines

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Tamar Charney

Robert Hernandez

Ariel Zirulnick

Francesco Zaffarano

Burt Herman

A.J. Bauer

Moreno Cruz Osório

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Matt DeRienzo

Kerri Hoffman

Paul Cheung

Stephen Fowler

James Green

Simon Galperin

Richard Tofel

Rachel Glickhouse

Mario García

Matthew Pressman

Gabe Schneider

Joanne McNeil

Kristen Muller

Cindy Royal

Meena Thiruvengadam

Jody Brannon

Anita Varma

Chase Davis

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt

Joshua P. Darr

Izabella Kaminska

Wilson Liévano

Daniel Eilemberg

Cherian George

Candace Amos

Joni Deutsch

Victor Pickard

Gordon Crovitz

David Skok

Sarah Stonbely

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Parker Molloy

Shalabh Upadhyay

Jesse Holcomb

Doris Truong

Natalia Viana

Christina Shih

Laxmi Parthasarathy

Christoph Mergerson

Catalina Albeanu

John Davidow

Julia Munslow

Tony Baranowski

Whitney Phillips

David Cohn

Julia Angwin

Joy Mayer

Sarah Marshall

Janelle Salanga

Sam Guzik

Melody Kramer

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

S. Mitra Kalita

Gonzalo del Peon

Anthony Nadler

Jennifer Brandel

Matt Karolian

An Xiao Mina

Mary Walter-Brown

Jennifer Coogan

Jessica Clark

Joe Amditis

Eric Nuzum

Stefanie Murray

Nikki Usher

Chicas Poderosas

Simon Allison

Ståle Grut

Brian Moritz

Amara Aguilar

Jim Friedlich

Michael W. Wagner

j. Siguru Wahutu

Juleyka Lantigua

Millie Tran

Jonas Kaiser

Don Day

Raney Aronson-Rath

Mike Rispoli

Megan McCarthy

Anika Anand

Andrew Freedman

Kristen Jeffers

Larry Ryckman