Government & Governance – Ideology, Autocracy & Democracy

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Governance and good governance
Council of Europe
Centre of Expertise for Good Governance

The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict
International IDEA
Difference between Tyranny and Dictatorship

Freedoms Denied as the World Enters a Consequential Year of Elections
Freedom in the World 2024 finds that global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023. The breadth and depth of the deterioration were extensive—political rights and civil liberties diminished in 52 countries and improved in only 21.

11 May
The West’s multi-racial societies cannot survive woke doctrines being promoted on campuses (Pay wall)
Intolerant and illiberal, the identity politics that has taken root in our universities will ultimately have to be stamped out
Daniel Hannan (Lord Hannan of Kingsclere)
(The Telegraph)

7 May
Putin sits at the heart of the West’s illiberal axis
Vladimir Putin’s sympathizers share an aversion to the West’s perceived liberal establishment, and see a positive vision in the Russian president’s rejection of it.

5 May
Just How Dangerous Is Europe’s Rising Far Right?
Anti-immigration parties with fascist roots — and an uncertain commitment to democracy — are now mainstream.
Roger Cohen
(NYT) Across Europe, the far right is becoming the right, absent any compelling message from traditional conservative parties. If “far” suggests outlier, it has become a misnomer. Not only have the parties of an anti-immigrant right surged, they have seen the barriers that once kept them out crumble as they are absorbed into the arc of Western democracies.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who has political roots in a neo-fascist party, now leads Italy’s most right-wing government since Mussolini. In Sweden, the center-right government depends on the fast-growing Sweden Democrats, another party with neo-Nazi origins, for its parliamentary majority. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, who has called Moroccan immigrants “scum,” won national elections in November at the head of his Party for Freedom, and center-right parties there have agreed to negotiate with him to form a governing coalition.
… This year the far-right surge across the continent looks dramatic. The latest polls show the National Rally with a clear lead, set to take some 31 percent of the vote in France compared with about 16 percent for the centrist Renaissance coalition of President Emmanuel Macron. Mr. Bardella is the only politician among France’s 50 “favorite personalities,” according to a recent ranking in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
The result is that anti-immigrant parties may win as many as a quarter of the seats in the 720-seat European Parliament. This could lead to a hardening of immigration regulations Europewide, hostility to environmental reform, and pressure to be more amenable to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

8 April
Why Is Biden Struggling? Because America Is Broken.
By Damon Linker, a former columnist at The Week, writes the newsletter Notes From the Middleground.
(NYT) In January 2021, Alana Newhouse published an essay in Tablet, “Everything Is Broken,” that gave voice to this incredibly widespread (but underreported) sentiment. Why did so many people in the United States believe that, as Ms. Newhouse put it in a follow-up essay, “whole parts of American society were breaking down before our eyes”?
The examples are almost too numerous to list: a disastrous war in Iraq; a ruinous financial crisis followed by a decade of anemic growth when most of the new wealth went to those who were already well off; a shambolic response to the deadliest pandemic in a century; a humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan; rising prices and interest rates; skyrocketing levels of public and private debt; surging rates of homelessness and the spread of tent encampments in American cities; undocumented migrants streaming over the southern border; spiking rates of gun violence, mental illness, depression, addiction, suicide, chronic illness and obesity, coupled with a decline in life expectancy.
That’s an awful lot of failure over the past 20-odd years. Yet for the most part, the people who run our institutions have done very little to acknowledge or take responsibility for any of it, let alone undertake reforms that aim to fix what’s broken. That’s no doubt why angry anti-establishment populism has become so prominent in our politics over the past decade.

2 April
For all its faults, democracy is still better than autocracy
All the evidence shows that despotism cannot consistently deliver the economic goods for developing countries
By Martin Wolf
(Financial Times) Freedom in the World 2024, a report from the independent think-tank Freedom House, asserts that “global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023”. Over the past decade, big declines in political and civil rights have occurred in many developing countries. Under Narendra Modi, India is, alas, one of those countries.
Are such declines perhaps a price worth paying for faster economic development? At the broadest level, this seems quite implausible.
… In a brilliant recent piece, the historian Timothy Snyder argues that “strongman rule is a fantasy. Essential to it is the idea that a strongman will be your strongman. He won’t. In a democracy, elected representatives listen to constituents. We take this for granted, and imagine that a dictator would owe us something. But the vote you cast for him affirms your irrelevance. The whole point is that the strongman owes us nothing. We get abused and we get used to it.”
… Democracy is always fragile. It is fragile because some people want to be tyrants and too many people want to trust them. This is also more likely if democracies fail to deliver the goods that people desire — a sense of belonging, of security, of being valued. As Yascha Mounk argues in The Identity Trap, democracies are more fragile in more unequal and more diverse societies, not least because would-be tyrants will play on such divisions. Indeed, it is hard to create liberal democracies in such societies in the first place, as Warwick’s Sharun Mukand and Harvard’s Dani Rodrik argue in The Political Economy of Liberal Democracy.

18 – 21 March 2024
Chair’s Summary of the Third Summit for Democracy
The Republic of Korea, together with the Kingdom of Denmark and the Republic of Kenya, co-chaired the third Summit for Democracy under the theme “Democracy for Future Generations” on March 20, 2024.
The Summit was preceded by a Ministerial Conference and a Multistakeholder Roundtable focusing on “AI/Digital Technology and Democracy”, co-hosted by the Republic of Korea, Ecuador, the United Kingdom, and the United States on March 18. This was followed by a day dedicated to cohorts, civil society, and the youth on March 19.
Amid global concerns about the state of democracy, participants recognized that the Summit for Democracy is a crucial platform in bringing together governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector to renew their collective commitment to democracy worldwide. The Summit highlighted the significance of promoting the long-term sustainability and resilience of democracies to ensure a promising future for future generations.
The Republic of Korea anticipates that this Chair’s Summary, encapsulating the three-day discussions, will contribute to the promotion of democracy as a solid foundation for freedom, peace and prosperity around the world.
The 3rd Summit for Democracy is scheduled to take place on 18 to 20 March 2024 in Seoul, the Republic of Korea. The theme will be ‘Democracy for Future Generations’.
International IDEA, in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Open Government Partnership, and the Community of Democracies, is an integral part of the Platform for Engagement with Civil Society (PEC). Together, the PEC organizations are supporting the government of the Republic of Korea to organize the second day of the Summit, the Cohorts, Civil Society and Youth Engagement Day.
Building on the momentum of the second Summit for Democracy in 2023, the third Summit will be held in Korea this year, with a primary focus on fostering democracy for future generations. Around 300 delegates including government officials, representatives from international organizations, academia, and civil society, will gather in Korea to discuss policy enhancements and strategic pathways to shape a better future for future generations.
6 March
Anti-corruption progress at the Summit for Democracy is essential to safeguarding democracy
(Brookings) The third Summit for Democracy (S4D3) in March must turn the tide on autocratic inroads by leveraging anti-corruption tools to strengthen resilience and take measurable steps to prevent democratic backsliding.
Democracy is at risk globally—partly fueled by corruption—and young people have lower satisfaction in democracy than other generations.
Roughly trillions of dollars in corruption-related damages unfairly tilt the scales of economic opportunity by diverting needed resources for education, healthcare, and employment.
Providing increased opportunities, including at S4D3, for youth political participation multiplies global efforts to combat corruption and ensures the next generation flourishes in a secure democratic world.

12 March
Democracy declined in 42 countries in 2023, new V-Dem report says
The V-Dem Institute based in Gothenburg in Sweden has presented its annual report on the state of global democracy for the 8th consecutive year, gathering information from 202 countries and measuring over 600 different attributes of democracy. The report has become one of the most prominent sources in the state of democracy around the world.
The V-Dem Democracy Report 2024, titled “Democracy Winning and Losing at the Ballot”, highlights the continuity of an autocratization trend in the world, noted by previous reports from V-Dem and other organizations such as Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit or International IDEA.
According to V-Dem, the share of the world’s population living in autocratizing countries since 2009 has exceeded the proportion living in democratizing countries, with 71% of the world’s population or 5.7 billion people currently living in autocracies. This constitutes a 48% increase compared to ten years ag

5 March
Freedom in the World report: 2023 was 18th consecutive year of decline
Since 1973, Freedom House has published its annual report that assesses the level of political rights and civil liberties around the world, gathering data and information from around 210 countries and territories.
The “Freedom in the World 2024” report was released on February 29th, titled “The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict”. According to the report, 2023 marked the 18th consecutive year of global freedom decline, with a concerning scale of deterioration. Political rights and civil liberties were undermined in 52 countries, affecting one-fifth of the world’s population, while only 21 showed improvements. The downturn in rights and freedom was mostly due to attacks on pluralism, with flawed elections and armed conflicts being the main causes, as the title suggests.
The manipulation of elections contributed to the decline of freedom scores in 26 countries and took various forms. Incumbents attempted to control electoral competition, hinder their political opponents, or prevent them from assuming power after election day in countries such as Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey, and Zimbabwe. Elections were disrupted by violent criminal organizations in Ecuador, and military coups occurred in Niger and Gabon.

29 February
The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict
Flawed elections and armed conflict contributed to the 18th year of democratic decline. But by drawing strength from diversity, protecting dissent, and building international coalitions to support their own norms and values, democratic forces can still reverse the long decline in global freedom.
(Freedom House) Global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023. The scope and scale of deterioration were extensive, affecting one-fifth of the world’s population. Almost everywhere, the downturn in rights was driven by attacks on pluralism—the peaceful coexistence of people with different political ideas, religions, or ethnic identities—that harmed elections and sowed violence. These intensifying assaults on a core feature of democracy reinforce the urgent need to support the groups and individuals, including human rights defenders and journalists, who are on the front lines of the struggle for freedom worldwide.
52 countries saw “severe” declines in freedom last year, report finds
Global freedom receded for an 18th consecutive year in 2023, according to an annual report from watchdog group Freedom House.
(Axios) Why it matters: The report found that political rights and civil liberties deteriorated in 52 countries, accounting for one-fifth of the global population.
Only 20% of the world’s population lives in countries considered “free,” while a majority of people live in “partly free” (42%) or “not free” (38%) countries.
Freedom House struck an optimistic note last year that global freedom was approaching turning point, but those hopes were dashed in 2023.
What they’re saying: “2023 was a relatively grim year,” Freedom House’s Cathryn Grothe, a co-author of the report, told Axios.
Grothe said regressions in freedom affected around 22% of the world’s population, while only around 7% experienced improvements.
Election manipulation, attacks on political pluralism and warfare were the primary drivers of last year’s decrease, she said.
Zoom in: The report highlighted attempts by incumbents in Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey and Zimbabwe to control elections, hinder their political opponents or prevent transfers of power.

25 February
Why People Fail to Notice Horrors Around Them
By Tali Sharot and Cass R. Sunstein
Dr. Sharot is a neuroscience professor at University College London and M.I.T. Mr. Sunstein is a law professor at Harvard.
The miraculous history of our species is peppered with dark stories of oppression, tyranny, bloody wars, savagery, murder and genocide. When looking back, we are often baffled and ask: Why weren’t the horrors halted earlier? How could people have lived with them?
The full picture is immensely complicated. But a significant part of it points to the rules that govern the operations of the human brain.
In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel: “We must learn how to be surprised, not to adjust ourselves.” We can learn to become surprised by corruption, deaths from opioids, abuse of animals in food production or gun violence. After learning about how people habituate, more of us may be able to follow Heschel’s advice — to detect and focus on not-so-great, or even terrible, features of our lives and societies that we have come to take for granted.

17 February
Populism and partition? Europe’s bleak forecast for the year ahead (video)
Tony Maciulis joins Mujtaba Rahman, Eurasia Group’s Managing Director for Europe, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to discuss the pressing political and economic situation in Europe. Rahman looks ahead to the EU Parliament’s upcoming elections, highlighting concerns over populist party performance. “[Populists] will certainly be better represented” Rahman tells Maciulis, “but that being said, the impacts on policy will be marginal at best.”

30 January
The Rise of Techno-authoritarianism
Silicon Valley has its own ascendant political ideology. It’s past time we call it what it is.
By Adrienne LaFrance
(The Atlantic) The new technocrats claim to embrace Enlightenment values, but in fact they are leading an antidemocratic, illiberal movement.
To worship at the altar of mega-scale and to convince yourself that you should be the one making world-historic decisions on behalf of a global citizenry that did not elect you and may not share your values or lack thereof, you have to dispense with numerous inconveniences—humility and nuance among them.
… The new technocrats are ostentatious in their use of language that appeals to Enlightenment values—reason, progress, freedom—but in fact they are leading an antidemocratic, illiberal movement. Many of them profess unconditional support for free speech, but are vindictive toward those who say things that do not flatter them. They tend to hold eccentric beliefs: that technological progress of any kind is unreservedly and inherently good; that you should always build it, simply because you can; that frictionless information flow is the highest value regardless of the information’s quality; that privacy is an archaic concept; that we should welcome the day when machine intelligence surpasses our own. And above all, that their power should be unconstrained. The systems they’ve built or are building—to rewire communications, remake human social networks, insinuate artificial intelligence into daily life, and more—impose these beliefs on the population, which is neither consulted nor, usually, meaningfully informed. All this, and they still attempt to perpetuate the absurd myth that they are the swashbuckling underdogs.


25 December
The Only Thing More Dangerous Than Authoritarianism
The forces of Christian nationalism are now ascendant both inside the Church and inside the Republican Party.
By Tim Alberta
(The Atlantic) Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than authoritarianism is authoritarianism infused with religious justification. It hardly matters whether the would-be tyrant is personally devout; Vladimir Putin’s lack of theology didn’t stop him from partnering with the Russian Orthodox Church to frame the bloody invasion of Ukraine as God’s ordained conquest of a satanic stronghold. To believe that it couldn’t happen here—mass conflict rooted in identitarian conviction and driven by religious zeal—is to ignore both 20th-century precedent and the escalating holy-war rhetoric inside the evangelical Church.

13 December
Charles M. Blow: America’s Thirst for Authoritarianism
Around the world, authoritarianism is ascendant and democracy is in decline.
A 2022 report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance found that “over the past six years, the number of countries moving toward authoritarianism is more than double the number moving toward democracy” and that nearly half of the 173 countries assessed were “experiencing declines” in at least one metric of democracy.
The United States wasn’t impervious to this trend. The report found that America was “moderately backsliding” on its democracy.
But I fear that we’re now on the precipice of fully turning away from democracy and toward a full embrace of authoritarianism. The country seems thirsty for it; many Americans appear to be inviting it.

Heather Cox Richardson December 7, 2023
Democracy, FDR reminded Americans again and again, was the best possible government. Thanks to armies made up of men and women from all races and ethnicities, the Allies won the war against fascism, and it seemed that democracy would dominate the world forever.
But as the impulse of WWII pushed Americans toward a more just and inclusive society after it, those determined not to share power warned their supporters that including people of color and women as equals in society would threaten their own liberty. Those reactionary leaders rode that fear into control of our government, and gradually they chipped away the laws that protected equality. Now, once again, democracy is under attack by those who believe some people are better than others.
The once-grand Republican Party has been captured by the right wing. It has lined up behind former president Donald Trump and his cronies, who have vowed to replace the nonpartisan civil service with loyalists and to weaponize the Department of Justice and the military against those they perceive as enemies. They have promised to incarcerate and deport millions of immigrants and children of immigrants, send federal troops into Democratic cities, ban Muslims, silence LGBTQ+ Americans, prosecute journalists, and end abortion across the country. They will put in place an autocracy in which a powerful leader and his chosen loyalists make the rules under which the rest of us must live.

6 December
Blood and Iron: How Nationalist Imperialism Became Russia’s State Ideology
Andrei Kolesnikov
(Carnegie) The nationalist-imperialist worldview that the Putin regime is imposing on Russians is intended to feed on the past and exploit historical memories and concepts to reshape and manage the mass consciousness of the Russian people.
The war in Ukraine created an entirely new political reality for the Kremlin and prompted the enshrining of a revamped ideological foundation for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule. According to a presidential decree, this ideology is rooted in “traditional spiritual and moral values.” These ideas are fleshed out in a new history textbook for high schoolers and a compulsory new course for all first-year college students entitled “The Fundamentals of Russian Statehood.”
The Putin regime today is essentially a type of hybrid totalitarianism that combines mature authoritarianism with totalitarian practices. This model requires a certain degree of self-justification. The political system can better affirm itself and its reason for existing in the first place if it can find the proper words to artificially describe the ideological reality it has created. The harsher the regime, the harsher the words. The more repressive practices are introduced, the more active the industry of inventing, producing, and implementing the building blocks of its ideology in the public consciousness.

Heather Cox Richardson: December 2, 2023
On Wednesday, November 29, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) delivered a landmark speech on American antisemitism, inspired by the fact that protests against Israel’s assault on Gaza after the October 7 attack by Hamas have descended into an embrace of Hamas’s stated goal of the complete destruction of Israel. From there it has, for some people, been a short step to attacking Jewish people in general.
“I feel compelled to speak because I am the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America; in fact, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official ever in American history,” Schumer said. “And I have noticed a significant disparity between how Jewish people regard the rise of antisemitism, and how many of my non-Jewish friends regard it. To us, the Jewish people, the rise of antisemitism is a crisis—a five-alarm fire that must be extinguished. For so many other people of good will, it is merely a problem, a matter of concern. Today, I want to use my platform to explain why so many Jewish people see this problem as a crisis.”
In his speech, Schumer tied into that history, saying that “bigotry against one group of Americans is bigotry against all” and noting that he had worked to protect Asian-Americans and Arab-Americans, as well as to protect houses of worship for all religions from extremists. He also noted, at some length, that it is possible both to abhor Hamas and to deplore the destruction that has rained down on the Palestinian people.
But Schumer expressed dismay that as hatred toward American Jews is rising dangerously…some Americans, people that Jews believed were “ideological fellow travelers,” are celebrating the October 7 attack as an assault on “colonizers.”
“Not long ago,” Schumer said, “many of us marched together for Black and Brown lives, we stood against anti-Asian hatred, we protested bigotry against the LGBTQ community, we fought for reproductive justice out of the recognition that injustice against one oppressed group is injustice against all. But apparently, in the eyes of some, that principle does not extend to the Jewish people.”
“Many, if not most, Jewish Americans, including myself, support a two-state solution,” he said, “We disagree with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and his administration’s encouragement of militant settlers in the West Bank, which has become a considerable obstacle to a two-state solution.” But “the most extreme rhetoric against Israel has emboldened antisemites who are attacking Jewish people simply because they are Jewish.”

30 November
Report: Authoritarianism on the rise as democracy weakens
(AP) — Democracy is being degraded around the world because people are losing faith in the legitimacy of elections and see freedom of expression being stymied, among a range of other problems, according to a global body founded to promote democracy worldwide.
The 34 member-country International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA, said in a report that the decline in democratic rule is being fueled by efforts to undermine credible election results, widespread disillusionment among youth over political parties and their out-of-touch leaders as well as the rise of right-wing extremism that has polarized politics.
The Stockholm-based organization said in its annual Global Report on the State of the Democracy that the number of countries moving toward authoritarianism is more than double those moving toward democracy and that authoritarian regimes worldwide have deepened their repression, with 2021 being the worst year on record.

15 November
The new axis of evil is attacking democracies worldwide
By Irwin Cotler, international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada; and Noah Lew, special adviser to Mr. Cotler and a director of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
There is a war being waged. No, not just a war between Russia and Ukraine, and not just a war between Israel and Hamas. Both of these battles are part of the same struggle – the war being waged against liberal democracies by the worst authoritarian regimes in the world today. Russia, China, Iran and its terrorist proxies – Hamas and Hezbollah – and North Korea: together they comprise a new authoritarian “axis of evil.” …
The co-operation between these autocrats toward repressive and violent ends is sadly not new. As one example, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s murderous campaign against his own people, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands dead and millions of refugees, has long been supported by Ayatollah Khamenei’s Iran and its terrorist proxies, and aided by Russian air strikes.
In recent months, however, the co-ordination between these authoritarian states has deepened and become increasingly brazen and threatening. In October, Russia’s Vladimir Putin – the subject of an international arrest warrant – was welcomed in Beijing by Xi Jinping for the Belt and Road Initiative forum. At the forum, they publicly expressed their commitment to co-ordinating their increasingly pernicious foreign policy aims, amidst their respectively intensifying domestic repression. A week later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Tehran to meet with the Iranian leadership, which has also recently deepened the horrific repression of its own people in response to the courageous Woman, Life, Freedom demonstrations. …
It is not just those democracies that have the misfortune to neighbour a member of the axis of evil that are under threat. While for Israel and Ukraine the war being waged is a bloody and existential one, the rest of the world’s liberal democracies are also under attack – only covertly. In these countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and many European nations, authoritarians are waging their war through three primary methods – electoral interference, transnational repression, and the spreading of harmful disinformation.

11 October
The Hamas horror is also a lesson on the price of populism
By Yuval Noah Harari
(WaPo) The real explanation for Israel’s dysfunction is populism rather than any alleged immorality. For many years, Israel has been governed by a populist strongman, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a public-relations genius but an incompetent prime minister. He has repeatedly preferred his personal interests over the national interest and has built his career on dividing the nation against itself. He has appointed people to key positions based on loyalty more than qualifications, took credit for every success while never taking responsibility for failures, and seemed to give little importance to either telling or hearing the truth.

26 September
American Democracy Requires a Conservative PartyBut so far none is in sight.
By Tom Nichols,
(The Atlantic) …the immediate problem America faces is that it no longer has a center-right party that represents traditional conservatism, or even respects basic constitutional principles such as the rule of law. The pressing question for American democracy, then, is not so much the future of conservatism but the future of the Republican Party, another question our panel will discuss—and one that continually depresses me.
Where the New Identity Politics Went Wrong
Don’t let right-wing culture warriors obscure the fact that some ideas behind this progressive ideology have genuine problems.
By Yascha Mounk
(The Atlantic) In universities and newspapers, nonprofit organizations and even corporations, a new set of ideas about race, gender, and sexual orientation has gained huge influence. Attitudes to these ideas—which are commonly called “woke,” though I prefer a more neutral term, the “identity synthesis”—have split into two camps: those who blame them for all of America’s ills and those who defend them, largely uncritically.

20 September
‘A Perfect Storm for the Ambitious, Extreme Ideologue’
By Thomas B. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.
A forthcoming paper by Pippa Norris, a political scientist at Harvard’s Kennedy School, “Fractionalized and Polarized Party Systems in Western Democracies,” and a paper from 2021, “Cross-Country Trends in Affective Polarization,” by the economists Levi Boxell and Matthew Gentzkow, of Stanford, and Jesse M. Shapiro of Harvard, forcefully raise the question: What’s going on in this country?
While Norris focuses on “ideological polarization” — differences between the parties on issues — the cross-country trends paper concentrates on what has come to be called “affective polarization.”
Five political scientists — Shanto Iyengar, Yphtach Lelkes, Matthew Levendusky, Neil Malhotra and Sean J. Westwood — have constructed a definition of affective polarization:
While previously polarization was primarily seen only in issue-based terms, a new type of division has emerged in the mass public in recent years: Ordinary Americans increasingly dislike and distrust those from the other party. Democrats and Republicans both say that the other party’s members are hypocritical, selfish, and closed-minded, and they are unwilling to socialize across party lines. This phenomenon of animosity between the parties is known as affective polarization.

13 September
Heather Cox Richardson, historian turned viral Substacker, talks threat of autocracy
(Boston Globe) By day, Heather Cox Richardson is a Boston College history professor. By night, she is what the New York Times calls a “breakout star” of Substack with more than 1 million subscribers on the newsletter platform.
The Harvard-trained historian is an expert in 19th-century America, specializing in politics and economics. Richardson’s new book, “Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America”, is out later this month.
Our conversation focused on how political turbulence — even autocratic tendencies — has been part of American history, why former president Donald Trump remains popular among Republican voters, and why she has called President Biden a “transformational president.”

6 September
American Democracy Perseveres—For Now
Antibodies against authoritarianism are still working, but the U.S. system remains under immense strain.
By Tom Nichols
(The Atlantic) Democracy is under attack around the world; in the United States, the summer brought good news and bad news. The institutions of democracy are still functioning, but not for long if enough Americans continue to support authoritarianism
The most important point, and the one that I think bears repeating, is that the failure of democracy in America will not look like a scene from a movie, where some fascist in a black tunic ascends the steps of the Capitol on Inauguration Day and proclaims the end of freedom:
The collapse of democracy in the United States will look more like an unspooling or an unwinding rather than some dramatic installation of Gilead or Oceania. My guess—and again, this is just my stab at speculative dystopianism—is that it will be a federal breakdown that returns us to the late 1950s in all of the worst ways.
We’re already seeing this unwinding in slow motion. Donald Trump and many on the American right (including the national Republican Party) have made clear their plans to subvert America’s democratic institutions.

3 September
Too old to govern? The age problem neither US party wants to talk about
The question of age is one that both party establishments in America have cause to avoid.
(The Guardian) Democrat Joe Biden, 80, is the oldest president in American history. Republican Donald Trump, 77, is the second oldest and current front runner for the party nomination in 2024. The Senate, average age 64, has one of the oldest memberships of any parliamentary body in the world. It is small wonder that dealing with America’s drift into gerontocracy is not top of its agenda.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “It’s like both parties are being led by decrepit leaders. Frankly, if there were people in the wings who could step forward, there would have been an effort.
“But in the Democratic party, if Biden’s not the candidate, it’s a free-for-all and in the Senate, if McConnell’s not the leader, the wings of the party are going to bash each other: there’s the Trump supporters and there’s the let’s-move-past-Trump. That’s what’s keeping Biden and McConnell in place: the venomous battles that would ensue as soon as they step down.”

31 August
Joseph E. Stiglitz: Inequality and Democracy
With the right political reforms, democracies can become more inclusive, more responsive to citizens, and less responsive to the corporations and rich individuals who currently hold the purse strings. But salvaging democratic politics also will require far-reaching economic reforms.
(Project Syndicate) There has been much handwringing about the retreat of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism in recent years – and for good reason. From Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former US President Donald Trump, we have a growing list of authoritarians and would-be autocrats who channel a curious form of right-wing populism. Though they promise to protect ordinary citizens and preserve longstanding national values, they pursue policies that protect the powerful and trash longstanding norms – and leave the rest of us trying to explain their appeal. While there are many explanations, one that stands out is the growth of inequality, a problem stemming from modern neoliberal capitalism, which can also be linked in many ways to the erosion of democracy.

29 August
The rule of law is in more trouble than democracy
Liberals fret too much about dictatorship and not enough about chaos
Janan Ganesh
(FT) Because the emergence of Trump and other demagogues has been such a shock to liberals over the past decade, one consoling thought has got rather lost. As a technical feat, at least in the modern west, a coup d’état is unimaginably difficult to execute. Democratic norms are more entrenched now than in the interwar march-on-Rome era, communications technology more diffused, non-partisan bureaucrats more plentiful, foreign scrutiny more exacting.
As much as Boris Johnson squealed and wriggled last summer, he had no mechanism to remain UK premier in defiance of his own MPs, much less the wider kingdom and its institutions. A coup is, we can hope, just too conspicuous and provocative a crime to last.
A subtler, almost invisible menace is the corrosion of the rule of law. Were Trump to be convicted of one or more of the criminal charges against him, a large minority of Americans either won’t believe in his guilt, or won’t mind it. Tens of millions of citizens who hold the judicial system cheaper than one man: that is a more present threat to the republic than a coup. (The US held fuss-free midterm elections last autumn, remember.) Over time, it might tempt the government to not enforce the law, lest it inflame people or martyr the alleged criminal.
Being above the law is a familiar enough concept. Republicans would cite Hunter Biden. But there also seem to be wrongdoers who are under the law: that is, too expensive or small-time to pursue.
Conservatives aim to restructure U.S. government and replace it with Trump’s vision
(AP) — With more than a year to go before the 2024 election, a constellation of conservative organizations is preparing for a possible second White House term for Donald Trump, recruiting thousands of Americans to come to Washington on a mission to dismantle the federal government and replace it with a vision closer to his own.
Led by the long-established Heritage Foundation think tank and fueled by former Trump administration officials, the far-reaching effort is essentially a government-in-waiting for the former president’s return — or any candidate who aligns with their ideals and can defeat President Joe Biden in 2024.
With a nearly 1,000-page “Project 2025” handbook and an “army” of Americans, the idea is to have the civic infrastructure in place on Day One to commandeer, reshape and do away with what Republicans deride as the “deep state” bureaucracy, in part by firing as many as 50,000 federal workers.

26 August
‘I Have a Dream,’ Yesterday and Today
At the March on Washington, where thousands gathered on Saturday to renew the call for equality, participants reflected on Martin Luther King’s historic speech and its themes in the present.

24 August
Sic Transit Gloria: Isolationism and its Consequences
Bob Rae
(Policy) It was neither a State of the Union nor a major policy address to the Brookings Institution or the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. It was the sort of typical fundraising stop at a private residence that every president tacks onto his schedule when traveling outside of Washington, this one in Freeport, Maine. But on July 29th, Joe Biden’s remarks were not the usual, shaking-the-trees boilerplate.
As duly noted by historian Heather Cox Richardson in her Substack post the next day, Biden’s talk in Freeport was an important statement of the President’s vision of the current global challenges facing America. “If I were writing a history of the Biden administration 150 years from now,” wrote Cox Richardson, who likely has as many followers in Canada as in the US, “I would call out this informal talk as an articulation of a vision of American leadership, based not in economic expansion, military might, or personalities, or even in policies, but in the strength of the institutions of democracy, preserved through global alliances.”
In that articulation, Biden observed correctly that the distinction between global and domestic issues no longer applies. “Name me a part of the world that you think is going to look like it did 10 years ago 10 years from now,” he challenged the gathering. “Does anybody think that the post-war era still exists, the rules of the road from the end of World War Two?”
While reaffirming his commitment to the critical institutions created since the signing of the Atlantic Charter in 1941, Biden emphasized that America needs to re-commit to its global leadership.

The Global Stakes for Human Rights in America’s Election
American leadership impacts human rights globally through the hard power of institutional leadership and the soft power of example — a fact underscored by the contrast on human rights between Joe Biden’s presidency and that of his predecessor.
Executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Kyle Matthews brings his expertise to the question of ‘What if?’
(Policy) In an ever-interconnected world, the political choices made by the United States reverberate far beyond its borders. As discussions about a potential re-election bid by former President Donald Trump emerge as he is battling criminal charges for trying to overturn the 2020 election, it’s crucial to assess the possible implications for human rights on a global scale. Trump’s past actions and decisions, including personal friendships with dictators, withdrawal from international organizations tasked with upholding human rights, attacks on journalists and the media, and threats to established alliances, raise concerns about the future of human rights and stability worldwide. Particularly worrisome is the context of rising authoritarian alliances, where the US’s role as a powerful democracy is essential in countering the threat posed by countries such as China and Russia.

23 August
Civil rights leaders seek energy of original movement at March on Washington’s 60th anniversary
(PBS) The nonviolent protest, which attracted as many as 250,000 to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, helped till the ground for passage of federal civil rights and voting rights legislation in the next few years.
But in the decades that followed, the rights gains feeding the freedom high felt by Young and others came under increasing threat. A close adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Young went on to become a congressman, a U.N. ambassador and Atlanta’s mayor. He sees clear progress from the time when Black Americans largely had no guarantee of equal rights under the law. But he hasn’t ignored the setbacks.

18 August
American democracy is cracking. These forces help explain why.
Behind the sense that the political system is broken lies a collision between forces both old and new
(WaPo) In a country where the search for common ground is increasingly elusive, many Americans can agree on this: They believe the political system is broken and that it fails to represent them.
They aren’t wrong.
Faced with big and challenging problems — climate, immigration, inequality, guns, debt and deficits — government and politicians seem incapable of achieving consensus. On each of those issues, the public is split, often bitterly. But on each, there are also areas of agreement. What’s broken is the will of those in power to see past the divisions enough to reach compromise.
… The state of democracy is not uniformly negative. In moments of crisis especially, elected officials have found common ground. At times, government action does reflect the public will. Under Trump, bipartisan congressional majorities passed and the president signed multiple rounds of relief during the covid-19 pandemic. Biden and Congress came together to pass a major infrastructure package in 2021. Last year, there was bipartisan agreement on legislation to spur production of semiconductor chips in the United States.
At times, protection of minorities and their rights from the will of the majority is needed and necessary. Checks and balances afford further protections that nonetheless can seem to hamstring government’s ability to function effectively. But on balance, the situation now is dire. Americans are more dissatisfied with their government than are citizens in almost every other democracy, according to polling.

13 August
Jeremy Kinsman: A US Election Like No Other
(Policy) This US presidential election prompts in America and abroad unprecedented degrees of anxiety. The stakes could not be higher, including for America’s image and influence internationally.
Despite some polls indicating a dead heat, Trump does not have a decisive majority of the American public behind him. He never tried to broaden his appeal by moderating his message, counting on his core clientele of white, poorer, less educated, mostly older and mostly male and evangelical traditionalist voters in non-urban and non-coastal America, with its disproportionate share of votes in the electoral college, to carry him over the top. It remains hard to see how, when the remnants of more moderate traditional Republicans back away, as 5 to 10 percent of his prior voters also seem inclined to do. The No Labels third-party plan is trying to sequester such refugee centrists to keep them from Biden, but skepticism persists that this will get traction.
Nonetheless, deeply concerned foreigners cannot rely complacently, as they did in 2016, on Americans to do the right thing. Should Trump somehow win, the world will change, and with it, the world’s estimate of America and Americans. On the other hand, should Americans refute Trump’s divisive message, the revalidation of American democratic and judicial institutions will project their exemplary value to an expectant but hesitant world.

14 June
Ian Bremmer: The Next Global Superpower Isn’t Who You Think
What happens when the world is no longer unipolar, bipolar, or even multipolar?
(Foreign Policy) If you’re over 45, you grew up in a world dominated by two superpowers. The United States and its allies set the rules on one side of the Berlin Wall, while the Soviet Union called the shots on the other. Nearly every other country had to align its political, economic, and security systems with one side or the other. That was a bipolar world.
Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving the United States as the world’s sole superpower. The U.S. dictated outcomes both through its dominant role in international organizations and by exerting raw power. That was a unipolar world.
About 15 years ago, the world changed again—and it got more complicated. The United States became less interested in being the world’s police officer, the architect of global trade, and even the cheerleader of global values. Other countries, getting more powerful, were increasingly able to ignore rules they didn’t like and, occasionally, set some themselves. That’s a “G-Zero” world: a nonpolar world without global leaders.

18 April
In Defense of the Fence Sitters -What the West Gets Wrong About Hedging
By Matias Spektor
(Foreign Affairs May/June 2023) As countries in the global South refuse to take a side in the war in Ukraine, many in the West are struggling to understand why. Some speculate that these countries have opted for neutrality out of economic interest. Others see ideological alignments with Moscow and Beijing behind their unwillingness to take a stand—or even a lack of morals. But the behavior of large developing countries can be explained by something much simpler: the desire to avoid being trampled in a brawl among China, Russia, and the United States.
Across the globe, from India to Indonesia, Brazil to Turkey, Nigeria to South Africa, developing countries are increasingly seeking to avoid costly entanglements with the major powers, trying to keep all their options open for maximum flexibility. These countries are pursuing a strategy of hedging because they see the future distribution of global power as uncertain and wish to avoid commitments that will be hard to discharge. With limited resources with which to influence global politics, developing countries want to be able to quickly adapt their foreign policies to unpredictable circumstances.


30 November
Xi Versus the Street
The Protests in China Could Herald a Turbulent New Era
By Ian Johnson, Stephen A. Schwarzman Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
(Foreign Affairs) Just last month, Xi seemed poised to rule unchallenged for years to come. But his frittering away of his first decade in power on control measures instead of forward-looking reforms means that China’s problems have become tangible for ordinary people. This is the real meaning of the COVID protests: they are not simply cries for personal freedom but signal the start of a more turbulent era in Chinese politics.

28 November
The Authoritarian Right Is Regrouping
In Moscow, Mar-a-Lago, and beyond, desperate men are mobilizing anyone they can to help them regain power.
By Tom Nichols
Events of the past few weeks in Russia, Brazil, and America show the global right in disarray. But these are not signs of defeat, as liberals might hope; they are the disorderly attempt by antidemocratic forces to stage a recovery.
It’s been a bad year for authoritarians around the world, and November may have been their worst month yet. The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to disintegrate into a series of disorderly retreats. Brazil’s far-right president was turned out of office. Millions of American voters kept a collection of antidemocratic candidates away from the levers of government.
… I want to believe the optimists will be vindicated. And I do think a collective faith in democracy will prevail. But I worry about the danger of complacency.
Over the past week, the global right has shown signs of trying to regroup after taking a hiding everywhere from the ballot box to the battlefield. Some of it seems little more than disorganized thrashing about, such as Jair Bolsonaro’s election challenge in Brazil and Kari Lake’s refusal to concede in Arizona. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is trying out a bolder version of his 2016 and 2020 race-baiting strategies by hosting a dinner for an anti-Semite and a racist—a pathetic and vulgar event that in a better political environment would be treated as yet another disqualification for participation in our public life.
Overseas, the Russians are not giving up in Ukraine. …
We can be relieved, for the moment, that the right is in disarray. But we should not lose sight of the fact that some of the worst people in national and global politics are reorganizing and retrenching. They will be back.

18 November
Democracy’s Dunkirk
By Tom Nichols
The authoritarians at home and abroad have faced some reversals, but Americans should consider the midterm elections as only a respite. Liberal democracy remains in danger in the United States and around the world.
It’s Not Over

(The Atlantic Daily) November has been a good month for democracy. Brazil’s autocratic president, Jair Bolsonaro, authorized the transfer of power after losing in national elections to a left-wing challenger. Russia’s murderous army is literally on the run in Ukraine. And American voters went to the polls and defied both history and expectation: They left the Senate in the hands of Democrats, gave the House to the Republicans by only a tiny majority, and crushed the electoral aspirations of a ragtag coalition of election deniers, Christian nationalists, and general weirdos.
That’s the good news. But as relieved as I am that some of my darkest worries did not come to pass last week, democracy is still in danger. What happened last week was an important electoral victory that allows all of us to fight another day—specifically, two years from now. Without the defeat of the deniers in 2022, the 2024 elections would likely have fallen into chaos and perhaps even violence. Both are still possibilities. But voters rallied and turned back the worst and most immediate threats to the American system of government.
As I wrote a few days ago, Trump’s 2024 candidacy confronts us, once and for all, with a decision about what kind of country we are. I hope that the Republicans deny him their nomination: A spirited fight within the GOP that ends by flushing Trump out of the American political system would be good for the Republicans and for America. But I have no faith in the regenerative power of a party that has devolved into an anti-constitutional, violent movement led by cowards and opportunists.

14 November
How to Fight Fascism Before It’s Too Late
If you live in a country where democracy is still intact: Don’t wait.
By Maria Ressa
In retrospect, I should have seen that democracy was collapsing around me sooner. I wish now that I’d understood then how quickly it happens. At the time, over the summer of 2016, in the months after the presidential election of Rodrigo Duterte, several things seemed to happen all at once.
What happened in the Philippines in 2016 is a microcosm of every information operation launched in democratic countries around the world. A combination of bots, fake accounts, and content creators—real people doing the bidding of a government determined to mislead its people—infected our citizenry like a virus. Many of those who were infected didn’t even know. This is how disinformation operations work everywhere. Lies that are repeated over and over change the public’s perception of an issue and spread exponentially. This is a tactic that powerful and corrupt forces have long used, but one that has gained terrifying new meaning and pitch in the age of Big Data and social media.
There’s a word in Filipino, talangkaan. It describes the behavior of crabs crawling over one another to get to the top. When I reflect on the surreal events of the past six years—the powerful autocrat determined to silence me and other journalists; the 10 arrest warrants the government issued against me in less than two years; the possibility that I will still go to prison for life; the warping of information across the social web; and the refusal of the powerful men who control social platforms to do anything—this is the word that’s come to me again and again: talangkaan.

World Forum for Democracy 2022
Democracy: A New Hope?
7-9 November 2022
The 10th World Forum for Democracy (7-9 November 2022) will look for the key contributing factors to democratic decline, consider how these might be addressed, and explore what kind of democratic future is desirable, and possible, in the interests of people across the world.

Good Democratic Governance among the key reforms for Ukraine
A High-level Dialogue “Good Democratic Governance in Ukraine: achievements, challenges and the way forward in post-war period” was held in Strasbourg in the Council of Europe Headquarters during the 2022 World Forum for Democracy.
The dialogue, initiated upon the request of the Ukrainian Parliament, was organised and facilitated by the Council of Europe’s Directorate General of Democracy and Human Dignity in co-operation with the Venice Commission, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe.
Within the dialogue, the participants discussed challenges and perspectives of good democratic governance in the post-war period, focusing on the main five areas…

10 October
What Will Happen to America if Trump Wins Again? Experts Helped Us Game It Out.
The scenarios are … grim.
(WaPo) To help game out the consequences of another Trump administration, I turned to 21 experts in the presidency, political science, public administration, the military, intelligence, foreign affairs, economics and civil rights. They sketched chillingly plausible chains of potential actions and reactions that could unravel the nation. “I think it would be the end of the republic,” says Princeton University professor Sean Wilentz, one of the historians President Biden consulted in August about America’s teetering democracy. “It would be a kind of overthrow from within. … It would be a coup of the way we’ve always understood America.”

6 October
American Christianity Is on a Path Toward Being a Tool of Theocratic Authoritarianism
As nonevangelical faiths lose adherents, it won’t be too long before the vast majority of Christians in America are seriously right wing. This is not good.
(The New Republic) having conservative religions joined at the hip with an authoritarian single-party state can only end badly. There are two awful examples literally in the headlines today.
First there is the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Kirill. He’s been one of Vladimir Putin’s most loyal allies and has been willing to put the church’s blessing on virtually anything Putin does. This includes supporting Russian actions in Ukraine in the name of stamping out the corrupting Western influence of homosexuality and protecting the Russky mir (Russian world).
What we’re seeing in Iran is what happens when a sclerotic, gerontocratic, authoritarian theocracy tries to impose its will on a younger population that no longer accepts the legitimacy of the government and also rejects some of its core religious teachings. Protests erupted over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini being tortured and killed by “morality police” for wearing her hijab the “wrong” way. Women have responded by tearing off their head scarves and burning them. Men have attacked police, and riots have racked the country for weeks. The internet has been shut down, and at least 75 people have been killed so far. The Iranian regime has reportedly lost control of a predominantly Kurdish town on the border as well.
This is what the U.S. has in store if we continue along the path we’re going down: Christianity is becoming primarily a political identity in service of an ideology dedicated to creating a single-party theocratic state.

30 September
What the new Italian government means for Europe
Brussels should not accept everything the new Italian government proposes, but a fair and honest relationship is what Italy and Europe needs.
Manuela Moschella, Associate Fellow, Europe Programme
(Chatham House) There is a spectre haunting Europe these days. No, it’s not communism but the rise of far-right parties. In less than a month, far-right parties have been swooped up big chunks of popular votes in countries as different as Sweden and Italy.
However, it is the large electoral victory of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, and the likely designation of Meloni as prime minister of the new Italian government, that has so far attracted the most serious concerns. Her party’s ambivalent relationship with its fascist roots has indeed sparked anxiety about the prospect of Italian democracy and the country’s loyalty to the European project.

29 September
On the front lines of the fight against strongman politics
(CBC Radio Ideas) Looking at a map of the world, it’s clear in the last 30 years the presence, demise, and return of authoritarian governments has contracted and expanded like an accordion.
Despite this decades-long turn, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States came as a shock and signalled that even the longest-standing democracy of modern times was not safe.
The strongman, long associated with the dictators and tyrants of the postcolonial world, had now found his way to the rich west.
Strongman politics are nothing new but its embrace among democracies — new and old — feels confusing and overwhelming. There are similarities among these leaders in the use of a muscular, exclusionary rhetoric, strident nationalism, the invocation of a more glorious but mythical past, and the abandonment of the long-held liberal ideal of equal rights for all.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance — International IDEA — authoritarianism is expanding not just in terms of the presence of autocratic government but also in terms of democratic governments engaging in similar repressive tactics including restricting free speech and weakening both the rule of law and democratic institutions.
The institute points out that “over a quarter of the world’s population now live under democratically backsliding governments, including some of the world’s largest democracies, such as Brazil, India and three EU members — Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. Together with those living in non-democratic regimes, they make up more than two-thirds of the world’s population.”

Anne Applebaum: The Bad Guys Are Winning
If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.
(The Atlantic) Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip, and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources—the troll farms that promote one dictator’s propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another—and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America. (15 November 2021)

September/October 2022
Spirals of Delusion
How AI Distorts Decision-Making and Makes Dictators More Dangerous
By Henry Farrell, Abraham Newman, and Jeremy Wallace
(Foreign Affairs) …thinking about AI in terms of a race for dominance misses the more fundamental ways in which AI is transforming global politics. AI will not transform the rivalry between powers so much as it will transform the rivals themselves. The United States is a democracy, whereas China is an authoritarian regime, and machine learning challenges each political system in its own way. The challenges to democracies such as the United States are all too visible. Machine learning may increase polarization—reengineering the online world to promote political division. It will certainly increase disinformation in the future, generating convincing fake speech at scale. The challenges to autocracies are more subtle but possibly more corrosive. Just as machine learning reflects and reinforces the divisions of democracy, it may confound autocracies, creating a false appearance of consensus and concealing underlying societal fissures until it is too late.
… What is much less well understood is that democracy and authoritarianism are cybernetic systems, too. Under both forms of rule, governments enact policies and then try to figure out whether these policies have succeeded or failed.

23 August
The autocratic world will split before the west does
The US must act in a patient, even cynical way that stokes divisions among its illiberal adversaries
Janan Ganesh
(Financial Times) Autocrats tend to fall out. The chauvinism that turns them against the west doesn’t suddenly dissolve in their relations with each other. From Operation Barbarossa to the Iran-Iraq war, what saved the liberal cause in the 20th century, besides American power, was the elusiveness of a common front against it.
The west must ensure the same thing happens in the 21st century. This means cultivating rogue regimes at times. It means teasing out the tensions between them. Autocracies are no less prone to quarrel than they were 50 years ago, when Richard Nixon shook Zhou’s hand amid the Peking-Moscow rift. The question is whether the west still has the art and cynicism to exploit the fact.
This summer, Joe Biden bumped fists with the Saudi crown prince that he wasted 18 months shunning as a brute. The displeasure of US liberals was loud. But it will be as nothing next to the rage of the right if he makes a similar overture to Iran. Gingerly, the White House is testing domestic opinion in advance of a potential revival of the nuclear pact.
There are sound enough arguments against either or both of these rapprochements. But they must be weighed against the fact that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have alternative suitors in China and Russia. Both also have the wherewithal to ease the west’s energy problem. Even if, adjusting for all that, it is still right to freeze them out, the US will have to form relations of convenience with other unpleasant regimes in future. Or maintain existing ones. It cannot do so if it commits to a “democracies versus autocracies” framing of the world.
Fears abound of western exhaustion with the Ukraine war. The historical record suggests the authoritarian world will fracture first: if not over this, then something else. While liberal countries tend to be liberal in much the same way, there are flavours of autocracy, and they pair badly. The ethnic chauvinist hates the universal Marxist. The cleric hates the colonel. Two theocracies of different denominations hate each other. “Axis” was a kind word for a group of second world war belligerents — Germany, Italy and Japan — that rarely viewed each other as racial or civilisational equals.

13-14 August
As Right-Wing Rhetoric Escalates, So Do Threats and Violence
Both threats of political violence and actual attacks have become a steady reality of American life. Experts blame dehumanizing and apocalyptic language
(NYT) The armed attack this week on an F.B.I. office in Ohio by a supporter of former President Donald J. Trump who was enraged by the bureau’s search of Mr. Trump’s private residence in Florida was one of the most disturbing episodes of right-wing political violence in recent months.
But it was hardly the only one.
In the year and a half since a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, threats of political violence and actual attacks have become a steady reality of American life, affecting school board officials, election workers, flight attendants, librarians and even members of Congress, often with few headlines and little reaction from politicians.
Several right-wing or Republican figures reacted to the search of Mar-a-Lago not only with demands to dismantle the F.B.I., but also with warnings that the action had triggered “war.”

10 August
Most Americans support using the popular vote to decide U.S. presidents, data shows
There have been five presidents who won the electoral vote, but not the popular vote — John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
(NPR) Most Americans support using the popular vote and not the electoral college vote to select a president, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
Opinions on the systems varied sharply according to political party affiliation. 80% of Democrats approve of moving to a popular vote system, while 42% of Republicans support the move. Though, many more Republicans support using the popular vote system now than after the 2016 election, when support was at 27%. There is also an age divide: 7 out of 10 Americans from ages 18 to 29 support using the popular vote, compared to 56% in Americans over 65 years old.

9 August
F.B.I. Search Ignited Violent Rhetoric on the Far Right
Some pro-Trump media figures reacted to the search at Mar-a-Lago with talk of ‘war,’ the clearest outburst of such language since the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
the reaction this week to the F.B.I.’s court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Fla., went far beyond the usual ire and indignation. Pro-Trump influencers, figures in the media and a Republican candidate for office employed the language of violence to rally opposition.
“Tomorrow is war,” Steven Crowder, a conservative commentator with 1.9 million Twitter followers, wrote on the site within hours of the search. “Sleep well.”

3 August
Nobody Wants the Current World Order
How All the Major Powers—Even the United States—Became Revisionists
(Foreign Affairs) Major powers exhibit what may be called “revisionist” behavior, pursuing their own ends to the detriment of the international order and seeking to change the order itself. Often, revisionism takes the shape of territorial disputes, particularly in the Indo-Pacific: China’s friction with its neighbors India, Japan, Vietnam, and others in maritime Asia comes to mind. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a violation of international norms and a further rebuke to the notion that Russia could find a comfortable role within a U.S.-led order in Europe. Revisionism also manifests in the actions of a plethora of other powers, including the growing skepticism about free trade in the United States, the military build-up in once-pacifist Japan, and the rearmament of Germany. Many countries are unhappy with the world as they see it and seek to change it to their own advantage. This tendency could lead to a meaner, more contentious geopolitics and poorer global economic prospects. Coping with a world of revisionist powers could be the defining challenge of the years ahead.
The United States has turned away from international institutions it built, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. It has stepped back from its commitments to free trade by withdrawing from agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The view from Washington has grown darker, with great power threats looming on the horizon: not only China but also Russia, which has in many ways been expelled from the international order that sought to remake it in the image of the West.
China was the greatest beneficiary of the globalized order led by the United States. It now wants, in President Xi Jinping’s words, to “take center stage.”
geopolitics grows more fractured and less cohesive. A world of revisionists is one in which each country goes its own way. The globalized world economy is fragmenting into regional trading blocs, with partial decoupling attempted in the areas of high technology and finance, and ever fiercer contention between the powers for economic and political primacy. In the process, a much more dangerous world is emerging.

31 July
Kevin Boyle: We Are Living in Richard Nixon’s America. Escaping It Won’t Be Easy
(NYT) Not the America of Nixon’s last years, though there are dim echoes of it in the Jan. 6 hearings, but the nation he built before Watergate brought him down, where progressive possibilities would be choked off by law and order’s toxic politics and a Supreme Court he’d helped to shape.
Nixon’s version of law and order has endured, through Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs, George H.W. Bush’s Crime Control Act of 1990 and Bill Clinton’s crime bill to broken windows, stop-and-frisk and the inexorable rise in mass incarceration. The ideological vetting of justices has increased in intensity and in precision.
… Nothing matters more, though, than shattering Nixon’s fusion of race, crime and fear. To do that, liberals must take up violent crime as a defining issue, something they have been reluctant to do, and then relentlessly rework it and try to break the power of its racial dynamic by telling the public an all-too-obvious truth: The United States is harassed by violent crime because it’s awash in guns, because it has no effective approach to treating mental illness and the epidemic of drug addiction, because it accepts an appalling degree of inequality and allows entire sections of the country to tumble into despair.
Making that case is a long-term undertaking, too, as is to be expected of a project trying to topple half a century of political thinking. But until Nixon’s version of law and order is purged from American public life, we’re going to remain locked into the nation he built on its appeal, its future shaped, as so much of its past has been, by its racism and its fear.

29 July
Bureaucratic commitment to local government service: Lessons from Zambia
(Brookings) Globally, local governments have significant responsibilities for delivering agriculture, education, and health services, and they increasingly are forging their own strategies for
tackling climate change, supporting sustainable food systems, and promoting gender equality. In fact, over the last three decades, most regions of the world have experienced progressively greater decentralization, a trend sometimes christened the “silent revolution.” Despite this broader trend, decentralization faces various challenges that hinder its intended effectiveness. For example, high turnover and low retention of skilled civil servants at the local government level undermine continuity in service provision, reduce public sector accountability to communities for project implementation, and often necessitate additional outlays in scarce resources for training new staff. In our new journal article [Organizational commitment in local government bureaucracies: The case of Zambia], we examine the factors affecting bureaucrats’ continued commitment to local government service in Zambia, which has a long tradition of pursuing greater decentralization.

25 July
Paul Wells: Winning is easy. Governing’s hard.
Is it too much to hope for a better government?

23 May
Governance for Resilience: How Can States Prepare for the Next Crisis?
Frances Z. Brown
(Carnegie) Trend lines around a series of domestic and multinational governance issues, including climate change, migration, rising geopolitical tensions, and citizen alienation from governing institutions, suggest that complex, interlinked crises will be features of the future. While national and multilateral policymakers should work to alleviate the drivers of such crises, they must also strive to prepare their countries to adapt and recover from complex shocks. In short, they must try to build resilience.


17 June
Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine
Politicians around the world are borrowing Trump’s “Stop the Steal” tactics. These false fraud allegations are profoundly dangerous.
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) … Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate?

14 January
Everything Is Broken -And how to fix it
by Alana Newhouse
(The Tablet) For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”—conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. This wasn’t a set of factories pumping out identical widgets, but rather a broad and messy jazz band of disparate elements that together produced something legible, clear, and at times even beautiful when each did their part.
But, beginning in the 1970s, the economic ground underneath this landscape began to come apart. Michael Lind explains this better than anyone else (see below)
Flatness is the reason the three jobs with the most projected growth in your country all earn less than $27,000 a year, and it is also the reason that all the secondary institutions that once gave structure and meaning to hundreds of millions of American lives—jobs and unions but also local newspapers, churches, Rotary Clubs, main streets—have been decimated. And flatness is the mechanism by which, over the past decade and with increasing velocity over the last three years, a single ideologically driven cohort captured the entire interlocking infrastructure of American cultural and intellectual life. It is how the Long March went from a punchline to reality, as one institution after another fell and then entire sectors, like journalism, succumbed to control by narrow bands of sneering elitists who arrogated to themselves the license to judge and control the lives of their perceived inferiors.
Flatness broke everything.
7 January
The Five Crises of the American Regime
By Michael Lind
The mob assault on the Capitol is simply another entry in the catalog of American decline
“Fictive nationalisms, fabricated by intellectuals and cynically manipulated by rich, well-educated, ambitious elites who have more in common socially with each other than with their own followers, provoke and empower one another.”

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