Does that mean the decline of civilization is on the decline?... the rise of barbarism and brutality are on the rise.
Any time my questions are all fully answered, I know I'm asking the wrong questions. - Bernard Samson
New York Times OpEd - Timothy Snyder
The Cowardly Face of Authoritarianism
First we see the face. The face of America’s Donald Trump, or Hungary’s Viktor Orban, or Russia’s Vladimir Putin, or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the face of men who wish to transform democracies into personality cults.
The face is the oldest mark of leadership, the mark that works for clan or tribe. If we see only the face, we are not thinking about policies or politics; instead, we are accepting the new regime and its rules. However, a democracy is about the people, not a single mythicized person.
People need truth, which a cult of personality destroys. Theories of democracy, from the ancient Greeks through the Enlightenment to today, take for granted that the world around us yields to understanding. We pursue the facts alongside our fellow citizens. But in a cult of personality, truth is replaced by belief, and we believe what the leader wishes us to believe. The face replaces the mind.
The transition from democracy to personality cult begins with a leader who is willing to lie all the time, in order to discredit the truth as such. The transition is complete when people can no longer distinguish between truth and feeling.
The cult of personality functions the same everywhere; it rests on the inaccurate notion that the face somehow represents the nation. Cults of personality make us feel rather than think. In particular, they make us feel that the first question of politics is “Who are we, and who are they?” rather than “What is the world like, and what can we do about it?” Once we accept that politics is about “us and them,” we feel like we know who “we” are, since we feel that we know who “they” are. In fact, we know nothing, since we have accepted fear and anxiety — animal emotions — as the basis of politics. We have been played.
Vox - Zack Beauchamp
The Republican Party versus democracy ...
These acts go well beyond the normal democratic give and take, where parties battle over the rules of elections at the margins. They violate basic democratic principles, revealing the modern GOP to be a threat to the American political system itself.
Today’s Republicans aren’t ideologically opposed to democracy in the way that, say, fascists and Islamists are. It’s that they care more about power than they do about basic democratic principles and are willing to run roughshod over the latter if it helps them win the former. This Republican attitude is more democracy-indifferent than anti-democratic, reflecting a party so caught up in partisan combat that it can’t recognize the authoritarian road it’s traveling down.
The GOP’s authoritarian streak predates Trump but intersects with his autocratic political instincts. The president’s rhetoric about illegitimate elections is the kind of language that, in some countries, has caused political crises — where a leader who loses an election then refuses to admit defeat. But the institutionalized Republican Party is unwilling to check Trump and in fact backs his play, because he’s on their team against the Democrats.
The result is a mutually reinforcing cycle. Republicans’ indifference to democracy allows Trump to behave in a wild and dangerous fashion; in turn, Republicans defend Trump and further weaken the fundamentals of the democratic system.
VOX - Sean Illing interview with Edward Watts, author of Mortal Republic.
What America can learn from the fall of the Roman republic
The Roman republic destroyed itself. Are we on a similar path? ...
I think the erosion of norms really starts when Roman politicians convince themselves that their personal ambitions and the good of the republic are one and the same. In other words, they started acting in their own self-interest but deluded themselves into thinking that it was really for the betterment of Rome.
The other thing you see is that Roman politicians, much like American politicians today, started to believe that all they needed was 51 percent of the people to support them, and that the other 49 percent didn’t matter. But that’s not how the Roman system was supposed to work, and it’s not how the US system is supposed to work.
Representative democracies are designed to cool down the passions of a pure democracy and find representatives who can think more long-term and craft policies that solve problems in ways that also have broad support.
"“The story of Rome shows that once you reach that breaking point, that point of no return, you cannot unwind the clock”" ...
I think that’s definitely a way to read the political moment in the United States right now, where people who need things from the system and from the government are not getting them, whether it’s healthcare or job training or economic opportunities or infrastructure. You see this in the late Roman republic too — it simply got too big and lacked the infrastructure to support its population.
What the Roman story shows is that in a republic that’s old, where people have a lot of faith in that republican system, people like Donald Trump pop up every generation or so when things reach a tipping point. You have these cycles where the system reboots, and people are shocked by what happened, and they step back and allow things to fall back into some sort of normal rhythm before they get frustrated again.
And I think this is the cycle that is perhaps most scary. If the decline of a republic is something that doesn’t take five years, but instead takes 50 years, or 70 years, or 120 years, Trump is likely not the last of these kinds of figures.
Adding:What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency
From seizing control of the internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of extraordinary things.
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump reached deep into his arsenal to try to deliver votes to Republicans.
Most of his weapons were rhetorical, featuring a mix of lies and false inducements—claims that every congressional Democrat had signed on to an “open borders” bill (none had), that liberals were fomenting violent “mobs” (they weren’t), that a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class would somehow pass while Congress was out of session (it didn’t). But a few involved the aggressive use—and threatened misuse—of presidential authority: He sent thousands of active-duty soldiers to the southern border to terrorize a distant caravan of desperate Central American migrants, announced plans to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship by executive order, and tweeted that law enforcement had been “strongly notified” to be on the lookout for “ILLEGAL VOTING.”
These measures failed to carry the day, and Trump will likely conclude that they were too timid. How much further might he go in 2020, when his own name is on the ballot—or sooner than that, if he’s facing impeachment by a House under Democratic control?
More is at stake here than the outcome of one or even two elections. Trump has long signaled his disdain for the concepts of limited presidential power and democratic rule. During his 2016 campaign, he praised murderous dictators. He declared that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would be in jail if he were president, goading crowds into frenzied chants of “Lock her up.” He hinted that he might not accept an electoral loss. As democracies around the world slide into autocracy, and nationalism and antidemocratic sentiment are on vivid display among segments of the American populace, Trump’s evident hostility to key elements of liberal democracy cannot be dismissed as mere bluster.
Brennan Center: A Guide to Emergency Powers and Their Use
Analysis: How The Rise Of The Far Right Threatens Democracy Worldwide
A new president is elected. Within days of being sworn in, he pulls his country out of a U.N. migration pact. His path to power has been pockmarked by disparaging comments about women, including a congresswoman. His preferred choice for top posts are members of the armed forces. When he appoints a fifth military official to his cabinet, he makes the announcement via Twitter, his favored means of communications.
These are the tactics of Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who was sworn in to office on Jan. 1, 2019.
On Tuesday, Bolsonaro will headline the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an annual gathering that attracts heads of state — 65 of them this year — corporate CEOs and billionaire investors. Bolsonaro's nationalistic rhetoric is in sharp contrast to a gathering that has long stood for globalization and has pushed to strengthen international ties.
His tactics may remind many of the American president's. But it is actually symptomatic of a global wave that started almost a decade ago and has only strengthened in recent years. From Turkey and Hungary, to India and the Philippines, the voices of nationalism and the far right have become dominant forces that begin with the election of a charismatic, influential and powerful man.
Around the globe, Trump’s style is inspiring imitators and unleashing dark impulses
BUDAPEST — They make a show of putting their own countries first and breezily dismiss concerns about international law or human rights. They seek to bend the rules to their will, excoriating “the deep state” for getting in their way. And when they are challenged by the press or other critics, they have a two-word rejoinder: fake news.
In countries around the globe — from Brazil to the Philippines, and in many less prominent places in between — a generation of leaders who resemble President Trump in both style and substance is rising, consolidating power and growing bolder in its willingness to flout democratic principles and norms.
The strongman style of leadership is not new, of course, and it is not always obvious who is inspiring whom. Trump himself climbed to power amid a surge of nativist and nationalist politics worldwide, and his chief campaign guru, Stephen K. Bannon, borrowed themes and phrases from European populists to rally the make-America-great-again faithful.
But in interviews on four continents, diplomats, rights activists and foreign officials said that after two years of Trump using the world’s most powerful megaphone to cheer authoritarians, bully democratic allies and denigrate traditional American values, the impact on how others govern is becoming clear. ...
“We have for the first time in American history an administration that actually prefers authoritarians over democrats,” said Yascha Mounk, a Johns Hopkins University professor who focuses on the erosion of liberal democracy worldwide. “That provides cover for autocrats, because they don’t have to pay any price for what they do. And it encourages others to go in that direction.”
The U.S. Has Slipped out of the Top 20 Countries in a Worldwide Corruption Index
The U.S. has plummeted in an annual corruption index, falling out of the top 20 countries for the first time since 2011, watchdog Transparency International said in a new report that links the global erosion of democracy and tidal wave of autocrats to an uptick in graft.
“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption,” said Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International (TI).
The Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, found overall that the failure to control corruption is contributing to a “crisis of democracy around the world.”
Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. slipped four points to 71 on a 0-100 scale, the lowest score its registered in seven years. ...
Where democratic norms struggle, corruption flourishes and populists tend to take advantage, according to TI. And in most of the world, the diagnosis is not good: More than two-thirds of the countries scored below 50.
Adding:Axios: The "ominous" decline of democracy around the world
The slow, steady erosion of democracy around the world continued for the 13th consecutive year, according to the latest annual "Freedom in the World" report by Freedom House, a watchdog group that advocates for democracy and human rights.
Think Progress: Want to know the real state of the union? Read this new report on how U.S. democracy is in decline
The Freedom House report shows a dangerous shift in the United States — one that is amplified under the Trump presidency.
WaPo - Robert Kagan
The strongmen strike back
Authoritarianism has reemerged as the greatest threat to the liberal democratic world — a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge. And we have no idea how to confront it.
Of all the geopolitical transformations confronting the liberal democratic world these days, the one for which we are least prepared is the ideological and strategic resurgence of authoritarianism. We are not used to thinking of authoritarianism as a distinct worldview that offers a real alternative to liberalism. Communism was an ideology — and some thought fascism was, as well — that offered a comprehensive understanding of human nature, politics, economics and governance to shape the behavior and thought of all members of a society in every aspect of their lives.
We believed that “traditional” autocratic governments were devoid of grand theories about society and, for the most part, left their people alone. Unlike communist governments, they had no universalist pretensions, no anti-liberal “ideology” to export. Though hostile to democracy at home, they did not care what happened beyond their borders. They might even evolve into democracies themselves, unlike the “totalitarian” communist states. We even got used to regarding them as “friends,” as strategic allies against the great radical challenges of the day: communism during the Cold War, Islamist extremism today.
Like so many of the theories that became conventional wisdom during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, this one was mistaken. Today, authoritarianism has emerged as the greatest challenge facing the liberal democratic world — a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge. Or, more accurately, it has reemerged, for authoritarianism has always posed the most potent and enduring challenge to liberalism, since the birth of the liberal idea itself. Authoritarianism has now returned as a geopolitical force, with strong nations such as China and Russia championing anti-liberalism as an alternative to a teetering liberal hegemony. It has returned as an ideological force, offering the age-old critique of liberalism, and just at the moment when the liberal world is suffering its greatest crisis of confidence since the 1930s. It has returned armed with new and hitherto unimaginable tools of social control and disruption that are shoring up authoritarian rule at home, spreading it abroad and reaching into the very heart of liberal societies to undermine them from within.
We in the liberal world have yet to comprehend the magnitude and coherence of the challenge. We do not know how to manage the new technologies that put liberalism at a disadvantage in the struggle. Many of us do not care to wage the struggle at all. Some find the authoritarian critique of liberalism compelling; others value liberalism too little to care if the world order that has sustained it survives. In this new battle of ideas, we are disarmed, perhaps above all because we have forgotten what is at stake.
Talking Points Memo - Josh Marshall
The American Right Gets Tired of Democracy
Like many others I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of liberal democracy over the last three years. I have many thoughts, as they say. But for now I want to share a few articles with you about the future of the American right and particularly a wing of the American right which seems increasingly soured on pluralism and democracy itself. ...
The ideas this group is pushing basically go back to what is often called “Catholic integralism”. (Most of the players are Catholic, though Hawley comes from the Protestant side of this traditionalist grouping.) This is a form of anti-pluralist Catholic political ideology most associated with quasi-fascist governments in Spain and Portugal and political movements in France (Vichy being the example in power) and other European countries. The basic thrust is a political vision that prioritizes hierarchical social cohesion and has the government takes a leading role enforcing traditionalist cultural and social values and keeping conservative Christianity as the taproot of the state. Church and state are both on the same team and working, collaboratively, toward the same end. The pluralist vision of the state most of us are familiar with, in which it is a semi-neutral arbiter between lots of different visions of how people should live their lives, is anathema.
How this would all play out in an American context which is based on significantly different ideas about government is anyone’s guess. But the more immediate impetus and focus of these writers is a bit different. As others have noted, the idea is that the culture war and the related battle for an ethno-nationalist identity are simply too important, immediate and dire to have any time to worry about things like the rule of law or even democracy. Read through these different pieces and you’ll also get a strong feel for the priority of fighting, that these folks are driven by a desire to fight their liberal enemies on all fronts at all times and that this is the core of political action.
This is heady and scary stuff. But reading through it you can see how Trump fits into the contemporary right. The things that far him are probably congenital and characterological – the need to dominate, the fidgety and febrile need to fight at all times to keep enemies off balance, the love for tough guys and violence. A lot of this is about Trump’s own personal psychodrama. But they fit like hand in glove for many ideological trends in the American right. He exists politically because he fit into that mindset and he’s in turn catalyzed it.
New York Times
The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism
Sweden was long seen as a progressive utopia. Then came waves of immigrants — and the forces of populism at home and abroad. ...
Fueled by an immigration backlash — Sweden has accepted more refugees per capita than any other European country — right-wing populism has taken hold, reflected most prominently in the steady ascent of a political party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats. In elections last year, they captured nearly 18 percent of the vote.
To dig beneath the surface of what is happening in Sweden, though, is to uncover the workings of an international disinformation machine, devoted to the cultivation, provocation and amplication of far-right, anti-immigrant passions and political forces. Indeed, that machine, most influentially rooted in Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and the American far right, underscores a fundamental irony of this political moment: the globalization of nationalism.
The central target of these manipulations from abroad — and the chief instrument of the Swedish nationalists’ success — is the country’s increasingly popular, and virulently anti-immigrant, digital echo chamber.
A New York Times examination of its content, personnel and traffic patterns illustrates how foreign state and nonstate actors have helped to give viral momentum to a clutch of Swedish far-right web sites.
Russian and Western entities that traffic in disinformation, including an Islamaphobic think tank whose former chairman is now Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, have been crucial linkers to the Swedish sites, helping to spread their message to susceptible Swedes.
No surprises here... unfortunately.
America the Mediocre
Americans think they’re No. 1. They’re wrong in so many ways.
https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/15/am ... -mediocre/
America the Mediocre
Americans think they’re No. 1. They’re wrong in so many ways.
https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/15/am ... -mediocre/
By many measures, the United States looks like a decidedly middle-of-the pack country or even one at the bottom of the set of rich countries. Consider the classic three American goals: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” On measures indicating the quality of life, the United States often ranks poorly. The U.N. Human Development Index, which counts not just economic performance but life expectancy and schooling, ranks the United States at 13th, lagging other industrialized democracies like Australia, Germany, and Canada. The United States ranks 45th in infant mortality, 46th in maternal mortality, and 36th in life expectancy.
What about liberty? Reporters Without Borders places the United States at 48th for protecting press freedom. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the United States as only the 22nd least corrupt country in the world, behind Canada, Germany, and France. Freedom House’s experts score the United States 33rd for political freedom, while the Varieties of Democracy project puts the quality of U.S. democracy higher—at 27th.
As for happiness: The World Happiness Report places America at 19th, just below Belgium. Belgium!
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WaPo - Ishaan Tharoor
Trump’s impeachment battle is part of a bigger global crisis in democracy ...
Trump’s disregard for long-standing norms leaves U.S. politics in a somewhat unfamiliar place. “Authoritarian regimes have this problem all the time … when all government activity is the product of the id of the leader,” Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, told my colleagues. “But in a republic, that’s unusual.”
If there is central theme to the age of Trump, it’s precisely that: What was unusual in sophisticated republican democracies is becoming increasingly commonplace. And not just in the United States. The impeachment saga convulsing Washington — where an embattled leader is calling into question the very legitimacy of those opponents challenging his conduct — has, to a certain extent, analogues elsewhere.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, complained of a “witch hunt” launched by his rivals as the country’s attorney general pursues possible corruption charges against him. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who came to power this year via the votes of a fraction of a fraction of the British public — smeared members of Parliament thwarting Brexit as agents of “surrender” and “betrayal.” In India, the world’s biggest democracy, the country’s Hindu nationalist leaders routinely cast their rivals as “anti-national” liberals who ought to move to Pakistan.
On both sides of the pond, talk of “deep state” conspiracy theories is rife, often with an all-too-familiar undertone. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, laid the impeachment inquiry at the feet of Jewish financier George Soros — whose support of liberal causes over the years has made him a frequent target of anti-Semites and nativists. On Thursday, Jacob Rees-Mogg, an influential Brexiteer and current leader of the House of Commons, conspiratorially cited Soros as a supposed enemy of Brexit and backer of its British opponents. The remarks led to calls from Jewish politicians in Britain for Rees-Mogg to resign.