In a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Laura Thornton, the senior vice president for democracy at the U.S. taxpayer-funded German Marshall Fund, published a sweeping polemic attacking The Heritage Foundation, its Project 2025, and democracy itself.

Project 2025 (which I have contributed to) brought together over a hundred conservative organizations to make policy suggestions for the next conservative presidential administration. Among those were recommendations on foreign aid policy. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news and commentary outlet.)

Thornton is particularly triggered by Project 2025’s call to end the U.S. Agency for International Development’s “divisive political and cultural agenda that promotes abortion, climate extremism, gender radicalism, and interventions against perceived systemic racism.” She calls the recommendation “illiberal.”

The truth is that these issues are divisive and should be subject to contestation in the political sphere; and to suggest that political opposition to this agenda should be suppressed is itself illiberal. Project 2025’s “radical” position is that the American people support foreign aid for those in real need and that the far Left’s use of foreign assistance to promote an ideological agenda damages and undermines public support for foreign aid.

She notes that if former President Donald Trump is elected, he will dismantle all diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, initiatives (which many view as institutionalized racism) at USAID and fire the chief diversity officer and all advisers and committees.

She implies this is somehow undemocratic or illiberal but then goes on to state that the Obama administration mandated the DEI ideology in government agencies through an executive order in 2016, which the Trump administration scaled back in 2017, and President Joe Biden reintroduced on his first day in office.

Clearly, this type of action is within a president’s purview, and if Trump is reelected in 2024, he will have a mandate to roll back policies of his predecessors and implement new ones. To suggest otherwise is undemocratic.

According to Thornton, Project 2025 will “eliminate the word ‘gender,’ full stop.” She goes on to state, “Removing a gender lens would take us back in time to programming that often harmed women, inadvertently, by failing to analyze the varying effects of programming based on gender and power dynamics in different environments.”

Her passage cites a report on ending female genital mutilation, which is ironic. What the Project 2025 team objected to was not programs aimed at empowering marginalized women but the modern use of the word “gender” to describe an ideological worldview that denies the fundamental (at the cellular level) differences between men and women and promotes castration and mastectomy as palliative treatments for mental illness.

Thornton objects to the recommendation to end programs that promote abortion and the LGBTQ+ agenda overseas. We believe that secretly using taxpayer money intended for humanitarian relief and development to promote a divisive ideological agenda is dishonest and that forcing this agenda on to poor countries by providing or withholding aid funding is “cultural colonialism” at its worst, and profoundly undemocratic.

Thornton criticizes the New Partnership Initiative, which was an attempt by the Trump administration to move beyond just providing assistance through massive Washington-based contractors (colloquially called the aid-industrial complex), and support smaller, locally based organizations, including faith-based organizations.

Thornton suggests that all of the funding cut from abortion and LGBTQ+ organizations will be redirected to support religious organizations. The truth is that in many countries (including in Muslim countries), religious organizations are the strongest and most authentic civil society organizations and are often the most effective actors in promoting both development and democracy.

During Democratic administrations, support for faith-based organizations has been de-emphasized in favor of donor-created, AstroTurf, client organizations that can be relied on to reliably parrot the leftist party line. Renewing relationships with faith-based organizations and redressing this imbalance is not about promoting a religion. It is intended to improve the quality of development assistance and thus improve the lives of the poorest and most marginalized peoples.

Thornton works for the German Marshall Fund, a publicly funded foreign policy organization that claims to be nonpartisan, yet its publications don’t include lively debate among politically diverse contributors. Instead, all of its content and programs promote an extreme left-wing agenda and attack any government or policy not deemed “progressive.”

The German Marshall Fund is also a leader in the development of the “disinformation” strategies that have been used in opposition to political speech in Europe and the United States.

You would also think that an organization that purports to support multiparty democracy would model that conviction internally, but a review of political contribution data collected by the Federal Election Commission shows that of the $100,000 the organization’s employees contributed from 2019 to the present, just one contribution for $208 went to a Republican (Nikki Haley). Instead of modeling multiparty democracy, the German Marshall Fund actually models a one-party state.

Thornton supports the position that any policy implemented by a Democrat can only be changed by a Democrat, and that any Republican that dares to alter a Democratic policy is illegitimate and illiberal, regardless of any mandate from voters. She applauds USAID employees who undermined the policy initiatives of the Trump administration by hiding programs the administration sought to cancel by “slight renaming of initiatives or cleverly filing them under more favorable, broader categories like ‘human rights.’”

Although Thornton is vice president for democracy at the German Marshall Fund, it is clear that she and her organization, like many progressives, don’t understand the word “democracy.” It is also clear that if she did understand the word, she would be against it.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.