DEMOCRACIES, if they are to work well, need to function within a broad consensus and with an implicit understanding of the rules of the game: your opponent is not your enemy; compromises often are inevitable; charges of foreign conspiracy never are made lightly. These things rarely are spoken; they are just assumed.
Given the bitterness of politics in the U.S. and United Kingdom, these assumptions seem to have been forgotten. Divisions over globalism, economic dislocation, cultural values, and immigration make it difficult for any government to find middle ground and govern effectively. Britain has been tied in knots over Brex-it, while the U.S. has not seen this level of political division in many generations.
The gap between the white rural and working-class people who support Pres. Donald Trump is at sword's point with the upper middle-class bicoastal suburbanites. Trump is at war with many in the senior bureaucracy who leak presidential secrets at will. Some Democrats in Congress act as if his very existence is grounds for impeachment. Trump himself seems to hate the very sight of his enemies.
These situations are in stark contrast to those countries that despise democracy, free markets, and religious tolerance. The authoritarian governments of China, Russia, and Iran have none of the ills that impair democracies. Political resistance is put down by intimidation or force, if necessary. Immigration is not a problem since few people desire to live in these countries. Economic, political, and cultural life are closely monitored and controlled. Thus, special interest pressure on the state is at a minimum. Corporations, labor unions (if they exist at all), environmental groups, and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities have little independent voice.
If these governments want to build up their military at the expense of neglected domestic needs, who is to stop them? If they decide to annex neighboring territory, support international terrorism, or brutally suppress religious minorities, no serious political group can raise its voice in dissent. The complexities of government by consent are not a problem. There simply is no consent.
How are the divided and strained governments of the West to confront the tenacity of these expansionist states? Iran attacks Saudi oil fields, supports Hamas and Hezbollah, and works to undercut governments in Iraq and Yemen. Russia annexes the Crimea and attempts to destabilize the Ukraine. China extends its...