Montpelier, Vt. – At the invitation of President Joe Biden, Governor Phil Scott today was one of two U.S. governors to address the Summit for Democracy. The virtual Summit, which has brought together hundreds of world leaders, heads of state and other advocates for democracy and human rights, comes at a critical time for democracies around the world, as authoritarianism is on the rise across the globe.
Governor Scott emphasized that, in a well-functioning democracy, there needs to be healthy debates, give and take, and that no one person or one party has all the answers.
“I want to thank the President for convening this critical Summit and for inviting me to speak,” said Governor Scott. “Democracy is only as strong as our commitment to it, and we can’t let our guard down in the face of threats to it, whether at home and abroad.”
A transcript of the Governor’s remarks can be found below. You can watch the Governor’s address by clicking here.
GOVERNOR SCOTT: I want to begin by thanking President Biden and Vice President Harris for inviting me to be a part of this summit; for their commitment to this incredibly important discussion; and to all those participating for your focus on this issue.
Healthy democracies require healthy relationships amongst citizens and their governments.
Keeping these relationships healthy requires a constant commitment to listening, learning, and always working to do better. It needs an authentic effort to reach consensus, compromise when necessary and accept that we will not – and in fact should not – win every debate. And it takes humility to realize that no single party or person has all the best ideas.
Citizens and those elected to serve must also understand the point of view, the goals and the fears of those with whom we disagree.
The health of democratic nations themselves depends on listening to and considering other perspectives.
What we have experienced in the U.S. from both major parties is a steady erosion of the basic civility and respect that is so essential to the health of our democratic republic.
Some of this is by accident, and unfortunately, some of it is by design.
Just 11 months ago, for example, we saw our President fuel a campaign to undermine and try to overturn the results of a free, fair and legal election. The election was overseen by non-partisan officials across the country and validated by governors of both political parties, which proved the system worked and the values of democracy prevailed when tested.
Yet we cannot lose site of the fact that one person’s ego led us to a very low moment in American history. This is a powerful reminder of why we must always guard against authoritarianism and the manipulation of would-be dictators from both the right and the left.
It is critical for our nation to humbly reflect on these events and the many years leading up to them, and learn from it to make our nation, and all democracies, more durable. Because democracy is only as strong as our commitment to it, and we cannot let our guard down.
In his farewell to the nation, Republican Senator John McCain – someone I greatly admired – reminded Americans that the power of democracies is in their relentlessly optimistic commitment to freedom, fairness and human rights.
He warned, however, that these systems are weakened when “we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe.”
Political polarization, what Senator McCain called “tribal rivalries,” is one of the greatest threats to our nations and our ability to protect human rights.
When we stop listening and learning from each other; when we cannot debate issues and find common ground and a path forward; when we refuse to consider another person’s point of view or insist one party or politician is always right or always wrong, we are eroding core democratic values.
And make no mistake: Other nations who do not share our commitment to the fundamental rights of all people use these fractures to destabilize and divide us further.
Now to be clear, a vigorous and healthy debate is a good thing. It ensures the tough questions are asked, ideas are tested, and different perspectives are heard.
Unfortunately, we've reached a tipping point where political debates and activism have turned intensely personal – sometimes downright hateful – at a time when our challenges are in desperate need of more dialogue and understanding.
The words of war like "assault" and "attack" are too frequently used around issues like budget choices or tax policy. Debates are often described as "battles.” And when legitimate policy debates are characterized in the terms of violence and war, people stop listening and become defensive, fearful and angry.
The opportunity for real discussion and compromise slips away. Frustration grows, the divide deepens, the relationship between citizens is poisoned by hyper-partisanship and the destructive cycle of polarization repeats. Worse yet, this divisiveness fuels hate and violence.
But in a democracy, there is always hope.
We know by working together, we can reverse these trends.
Calvin Coolidge, a Republican and America’s 30th president, who grew up in my state of Vermont, wisely said, “The only way I know to drive out evil from the country is by filling it with good.”
Filling the world with good created by healthy democracies is the best way to guard against authoritarianism. By expanding liberty and justice, we show how to engage in complex debates with both conviction and civility and prove the strength of every nation is in its diversity of people and opinion.
Democracies are a beacon of personal and economic freedom and opportunity. They cast a bright, hopeful and optimistic light, in stark contrast to the dark and oppressive regimes elsewhere.
If we follow this path – if we fill the world with good and set the example – we’ll rise above those who seek to dim the bright light of democracy, and democratic societies will flourish across the globe.