Supporting Democratic Values
January 7th, 2021
Dear members and friends of the World Affairs Council,
The World Affairs Council will be celebrating its seventieth birthday this year. The year we were founded, 1951, was a disquieting one in American politics, defined by McCarthyism, its hysterical anti-communism, and its attacks on core American values and principles. The Council was founded to contribute to informing public opinion on foreign policy in the firm belief, to quote our foundational by-laws, that “only an informed public opinion can safeguard American principles and freedom.”
I was planning my first note of this new year to you, our friends and supporters, to reflect on those seventy years while looking forward to 2021, after a trying and tragic 2020. Instead, like many of you, I am struggling to comprehend what happened in the U.S. Capitol yesterday. The storming of that building, the citadel of liberty as President-elect Biden called it, by a mob intent on preventing the United States Congress from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to certify the legitimate results of a presidential election was the culmination of years of a presidential-led assault on our democratic institutions and our democratic values. The insurrectionists were able to walk past Capitol security, wreak destruction, and pose triumphantly for photos. The confederate flag was paraded through the halls of Congress, a profound symbolism that weighs heavily at home and was not lost on the world. In stark contrast, those who peacefully protested racially-charged police violence this past summer, in Seattle and around the country, were met with police and National Guard in full riot gear who did not hesitate to use force.
The World Affairs Council is a non-partisan organization, and proudly so. What happened yesterday, and what has been enabled for the past four years, is not a partisan issue. Fundamentally, it is an issue of democracy versus demagoguery; of rule of law versus chaos; of principle versus mendacity. Yesterday, the attacks on American values of free and fair elections and the peaceful transition of power moved from words to violent action. Congress ultimately did its duty, and there will be a new president on January 20. But the challenges for the new president will be formidable. And let’s not forget that while the Capitol was being ransacked, more than 3,800 Americans died of COVID-19. Last night, in the midst of the chaos in Washington, D.C., we welcomed former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for a long-planned discussion. In responding to the day’s events, he reminded us that our institutions have held, we have faced previous challenges, and we will be alright. But the insurrection in D.C. is a blunt reminder that in order to credibly promote democracy abroad, we must also work to bring order to our own house. There is much to do.
As we celebrate our seventieth year, the World Affairs Council recommits itself to being a constructive voice promoting dialogue, debate, and discussion to inform public opinion on global issues. Our goal remains to create opportunities to engage globally, to promote greater global understanding, and to support democratic values at home and abroad. We are deeply appreciative of the support from our members and friends, and look forward to a new year and a new chapter of international relations.
Jacqueline Miller, President and CEO
World Affairs Council