After the end of the Trump presidency, it remains to be seen if the Republican Party establishment will break with Trump. A number of conservative parties, but not all of them, around the world will hope that the Republican Party of old – the pro-market, pro-freedom and fully committed to Western democratic institutions – will reestablish itself.
For many conservatives in Europe, Trump was a mixed blessing. Alongside his difficult rhetoric, some important conservative principles have been enacted. A more muscular approach to the threat of China was both welcome and long-overdue, as was the exhortation to European nations to increase defense spending. His tax cuts also turbo-charged the U.S. economy.
A question posed regularly in recent days is: could the same happen here? Few European democracies are as well-established or long-lasting as the US. The Eastern Partnership countries, in particular, remain vulnerable to internal and external shocks that could destabilize the progress made in recent decades. It was heartening, in this context, to see an announcement this week from former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili that he will retire from public life and renounce all of his political positions. Like Trump, Ivanishvili is a billionaire businessman-turned-politician who won an against-the-odds electoral victory back in 2012. It is there, fortunately, that the similarities end.
Ivanishvili has been the driving force in Georgian politics since 2012, serving first as Prime Minister and later as head of the governing Georgian Dream party. His party won a comfortable re-election victory in November of last year. Despite his opponents’ Trump-esque claims of electoral fraud, the EU and other international observers declared that the Georgian elections met international standards and that the results were accurate.
In this context, Ivanishvili’s retirement shows a path forward for emerging European democracies. For so long, it was the United States – the “shining city on the hill” – to which Western Europe looked for democratic inspiration. Today, our friends and partners would be better served ignoring the billionaire now ex-U.S. President who refused to leave office after losing an election, and instead be inspired by the Georgian billionaire in their own neighborhood, who voluntarily transferred power after winning an election.
Since the end of the Cold War, the E.U. and the U.S. have supported the nascent democracies of Europe with financing, education, and a security umbrella. This support should, and doubtless will, continue. What is really needed though, is leadership within the nations themselves. The voluntary giving-up of power by one of Georgia’s most powerful and most wealthy men demonstrates a civic and democratic maturity that bodes extremely well for the new Georgian Dream government’s planned application to join the EU in 2024.
That application deserves to be supported. Georgia has long been a shining light of progress in the region, and its acceleration in recent years under Ivanishvili has outstripped all expectations. The country currently sits 7th in the World Bank’s global ‘Doing Business’ rankings, ahead of 26 of the 27 EU Member States; the Index of Economic Freedom places Georgia 12th globally, again ahead of almost all EU countries; the Fraser Institute’s freedom rankings place Georgia in 8th position just behind the United States.
It is a remarkable story for a country so recently living under dictatorship and oppression, and one that deserves to be recognized by E.U. leaders – in deeds as well as words.
Democracy is not a perfect system of government – not in Georgia, not in the European Union, not even in the United States. Those of us who grew up behind the Iron Curtain know only too well the fragility of these freedoms.
As President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction … it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation”.
It was the state of Georgia that sealed the end of the Trump presidency, as the voters of that state rejected the President’s efforts to undermine the democratic process of a free American. election. 10,000 km away, in the country of Georgia, a less-heralded but even more impressive democratic transition is taking place.