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.

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