Like many Americans, I was horrified by the sight of desperate Afghans scratching and clawing to leave Afghanistan after American troops withdrew and the Taliban took over. But I’m more outraged that we lost 2,448 troops and spent trillions of dollars fighting to bring democracy to Afghanistan when we don’t have true democracy in America.
I know there are those who claim that America is a shining example of democratic ideals. But if America were staunchly committed to democracy, the right-wing efforts to disenfranchise African Americans and others would have been halted long ago, and our country’s political system would garner more international respect. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
» READ MORE: The local lesson from Afghanistan’s fall | Editorial
The Economist annually examines the world’s democracies using measures such as the electoral process, government function, and political participation. This year the publication ranked America as only the 25th most democratic nation out of 167, categorizing America as a “flawed democracy” after being demoted from the “full democracy” category in 2016. I think describing our system as flawed is being too kind.
If America was a highly functioning democracy, Republicans in Texas wouldn’t dream of attempting to arrest Democrats for trying to stop the passage of voter suppression laws. Nor would we have seen a violent mob storming the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the results of a free and fair presidential election. We also wouldn’t have seen 48 states proposing at least 389 bills to restrict access to voting as of this May — bills that disproportionately affect Black voters and other voters of color.
If this were a new phenomenon, perhaps America would have more room to criticize the Taliban for its repressive views toward women, its typically violent response to political dissidents, and its reliance on terrorism as a tool of governing. But America has traditionally allowed comparable tools to be used to maintain white supremacy in our own country.
Domestic terror organizations like the Ku Klux Klan spent decades lynching Black people, including for voting, and at times murdered white people who tried to help. Perhaps if this kind of political violence were a thing of the past, we could simply view it as a historical truth and move forward. But as we saw when thousands of mostly white people attacked the Capitol after Black votes in key cities helped to deliver the presidency to Joe Biden, the right-wing threat of political violence remains firmly in place today.
That’s why I’m giving the proverbial side-eye to many of those who are wringing their hands about the fall of democracy in Afghanistan. I wonder how many of those people spoke out with the same passion as all but two states proposed voter suppression laws that could further hinder democracy right here in America — or about federal voting rights legislation that is currently languishing in Congress.
We will see in the coming days if America is truly a democracy. And it won’t be measured by our ability to convince groups like the Taliban to adopt our political philosophies. It won’t rest on our ability to airlift desperate people out of Kabul. It won’t be tied to our willingness to frankly assess our missteps during America’s sloppy exit from Afghanistan.
No, the strength of America’s democracy will be measured by our ability to address what we must change at home.
Americans cannot comfort themselves by denouncing the Taliban for its treatment of women while at the same time downplaying or forgetting incidents involving Black women like Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor who are killed or brutalized by the police. America’s right-wing leaders cannot continue to decry the Taliban’s terrorism while giving white supremacists a pass, or, as one did in Charlottesville, Va., calling them “very fine people.” Our left-wing leaders can’t condemn the Taliban’s authoritarianism while simultaneously failing to stand up for Black voting rights.
America has much work to do, and that includes assuring that the Taliban won’t use Afghanistan as a breeding ground for terrorism. But as a member of a community that has faced terror right here at home, there is another job we must complete. We must bring true democracy to America.