Europe, Journalism, Review, Top Stories, UK, World Affairs

Twilight of Democracy—A Review

A review of Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum, Doubleday (July 2020), 224 pages.

Historian and journalist Anne Applebaum’s new book The Twilight of Democracy sees a democratic world, as Rupert Brooke saw his world at the onset of World War I, “grown old and cold and weary.” So weary of democracy’s institutions and processes, so coldly contemptuous of the liberals of the Left and Right who administered them, that many of those who previously supported these central pillars have instead embraced one or another form of right-wing fundamentalism. This may manifest as nostalgic yet virulent nationalism, or reactionary Catholicism, or an invocation of Great Leader-ism which is, she writes, “at once serious and unserious.” Illustrative of the last of these types, she says, is Santiago Abascal, the leader of the Spanish anti-immigrant party Vox, who was filmed riding a horse to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings—unserious, because plundering popular culture for the purposes of rousing self-glorification is so obviously crass; serious, because it is rousing, nonetheless.

The title of Applebaum’s book communicates the seriousness of its own message that democracy’s sun is now setting in the West. She elaborates on this claim when she writes that, for this development, “there is no single explanation, and I will not offer either a grand theory or a universal solution. But there is a theme: Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.” [emphasis mine] That’s as large a statement about our liberal democratic future as any in this time of large statements about our liberal democratic future. Since this is the work of a serious commentator—previously for the Washington Post and now as a staff writer on the Atlantic magazine—it should be taken seriously. The more, since, in her 30s, Applebaum wrote The Gulag: A History of the Soviet Concentration Camps, a magnificent and deeply felt work of extensive research, which showed how “prisoners were treated like cattle, or lumps of iron ore.”

Which is to say that, on the subject of illiberalism, Applebaum is more familiar with the topic than most popular commentators. She is surely correct to note that authoritarianism is a protean “–ism,” expressing itself in both right-wing and left-wing forms. Of the world’s two leading authoritarian or despotic states, Russia inclines to the Right and China (ostensibly) to the Left. In the Western world, the right-wing form is presently more evident in opposition, holding power in only Poland, Hungary, and the United States. The left-wing variant, meanwhile, tends to dominate in South America (excepting Brazil), especially in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Anyone as familiar with Stalinism as she is through her researches into the dictator’s mass incarceration system knows the difference between old-fashioned dictatorship and modern authoritarianism. Where Italian fascism, Stalinism, and Nazism were governed by big lies, the new authoritarians rule by what Timothy Snyder calls the “medium sized lie,” of which Donald Trump’s assiduously repeated claim that Barrack Obama was not born in the United States is the best known example—shameful in its implicit racism as it was in its manifest mendacity (but one which forced the former president to demonstrate documents to sink the claim—though not with all in Trump’s support base.)

Applebaum believes—following the psychologist Karen Stenner—that the authoritarian allure is most popular among those who dislike complexity, since it provides easy answers, and relieves people of choice. In this, she slips, for she does not show this to be the case. The various examples of those she introduces, who have switched from liberal anti-communist conservatism to dour anti-European nationalism, may have adopted false conspiratorial simplicities. Yet they are without exception clever, politically active, and used to working with complexities of various kinds. The masses who would be assumed to dislike complexity are absent.

*     *     *

Applebaum’s Gulag is arguably the definitive account of the Soviet prison camp system by an outsider. In Twilight of Democracy, however, she offers an insider’s account of Western conservatism’s populist turn as she chronicles its effect on the elite journalistic and political circles in which she has moved during her career. The book opens with a New Year’s Eve party on the cusp of the new millennium, held in the family mansion she and her Polish husband Radek Sikorski had renovated. Between 2007 and 2014, Sikorski would serve as deputy foreign minister in Poland’s liberal-centrist Civic Platform government, and the guests at that party—politicians, journalists, artists, sundry professionals—generally shared the values of their hosts: moderate conservatism, attachment to free markets and free trade, anti-communism, enthusiasm for the European Union, and cultural openness. Spirits were high, and amid the general exuberance, one of the guests shot her pistol into the air.

That guest, Applebaum reports, now “appears to spend her days as a full-time Internet troll, fanatically promoting a whole range of conspiracy theories, many of them virulently anti-Semitic.” This is a pit into which a number of her guests that night have since fallen (Applebaum is Jewish and lost not only those she thought were friends, but watched as they embraced doctrines that consider her an enemy). They also grew hostile to the EU and aggressively nationalistic.

They turned coats as, it seemed, the country did. The Law and Justice Party, created by the brothers Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński in 2001, had grown fast enough to form a coalition government between 2005 and 2007, and then a majority administration from 2015 to the present. Founded as a rightist Christian Democratic party, “its radicalism immediately became clear” when it assumed office for the second time. This time around, the administration packed the constitutional court and the civil service with its supporters, turned the public broadcaster into a propaganda channel, marshalled museums and galleries into patriotic displays, and began to openly advertise its dislike of gays. Very few migrants are allowed to enter Poland, and the most conservative kind of Catholicism has been willingly enrolled into national service, its tenets broadcast by the popular Radio Maryja.

Lech Kaczyński became Poland’s president in 2005, and was killed five years later, along with his wife and many leading officials and military officers, when their jet crashed as it tried to land at Smolensk air base. The party onboard was bound for a ceremony held in remembrance of the 1940 Katyn massacre committed by the Soviet NKVD, and a conspiracist cult has since grown up around the accident. The surviving brother, Jarosław Kaczynski, head of the Law and Justice party and the most powerful political figure in the country, has repeatedly alleged that the crash was a Russian plot, although evidence supporting this theory has yet to be produced. One of Applebaum’s former journalist friends has spent the past decade “investigating, over and over again, a set of conspiracy theories involving the death… each time postulating a different explanation.”

Lech was considered more flexible than Jarosław, and the latter’s politics have only hardened in office. It may be that authoritarians in power produce, of necessity, an “ideology” of sorts as a means of retaining and consolidating support. Jarosław’s favoured pitch seems to be a cocktail of nationalism and reactionary Catholicism (not at all of Pope Francis’s stripe), and he has even declared that every Pole must be a Catholic.

*     *     *

Applebaum is particularly good on her British friends, including the present prime minister who, though highly ambitious and in some things brilliant, was never wholly serious. His misleading dispatches from Brussels for the Daily Telegraph, she says, blazed a trail for tendentious tabloid Euroscepticism and helped to inculcate myths about the EU’s overweening power over British democratic life. “His specialty,” she writes, “was amusing, half-true stories built around a grain (or sometimes less than a grain) of fact that poked fun at the EU and invariably portrayed it as a font of regulatory madness. His articles had titles like ‘Threat to British Pink Sausages.’ Although they were laughed at by those in the know, these tall tales had an impact.”

Johnson’s journalistic career, which continued through his periods as mayor of London and MP, was marked by extravagance of language and an adolescent urge to provoke. He had multiple affairs, and (it is said) fathered several illegitimate children. As foreign secretary, he was a mediocrity, but he was very keen to be prime minister even so, and in the end, he succeeded in spite—or maybe because—of the fact that his evident unseriousness had led very few people to take him seriously. But he is taken seriously now and, as one who contracted the coronavirus and nearly died, must take himself more seriously too. It’s still too early to pass a definitive judgment on his ability, although Britain’s response to the pandemic has not been especially distinguished on present evidence.

Applebaum once moved in these circles, too—her husband had been prominent on the Tory Right since Oxford, where he had belonged to the select Bullingdon Club, and she was a journalist, mainly for British centre-Right publications. She uses her experience to identify the curious emergence of a kind of upper-class postmodernism (of which Johnson is the main exemplar). She became deputy editor of the Spectator magazine in the mid-90s and was a participant at lunches and meetings where “the tone of every conversation, every editorial meeting, was arch, every professional conversation amusing; there was no moment when the joke ended or the irony ceased.” She catches the mood well, in which commentators like Johnson could casually employ racial slurs and anachronistic imperial language to satirical effect and everything could be waved away as a mischievous rebellion against the strictures of political correctness.

Applebaum sees her old journalistic friends turning away from liberal pro-Europeanism and towards a nostalgic nationalism-imperialism. Not, she reassures, because they want India back, but because there nevertheless still exists “a nostalgia for something else: a world in which England made the rules.” The Brexiteers, she argues, “believed that it was still possible for England to make the rules—whether the rules of trade, of economics, of foreign policy—if only their leaders would take the bull by the horns.” She adds that she has “come to suspect that ‘democracy,’ as an international cause, was far less important to a certain kind of nostalgic conservative than the maintenance of a world in which England continued to play a privileged role… in which England is special [her italics], and perhaps superior.”

She instances two old friends—the commentator and historian Simon Heffer and the late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton. She says that both have submitted to a deep cultural despair about their country—“the idea of merit has gone out of public life,” wrote Heffer, who thinks the UK has become a “banana republic” and that neither Labour PM Tony Blair nor Conservative PM David Cameron had “a scintilla of principle” between them. Scruton, not to be outdone, wrote that “the old England for which our parents fought has been reduced to isolated pockets between the motorways.”

*     *     *

If Applebaum’s account of English liberal Toryism is a story of old friends lost to nostalgic despair, Hungary is a story of old friends now in thrall to a quasi-dictatorship having fallen into a “narrow nationalist trap.” Maria Schmidt is a writer who had celebrated Hungary’s opening to democracy following the collapse of communism in 1989 (a process in which it was a pioneer). Today, Schmidt is wealthy and uses her magazine Figelyo to churn out pro-government propaganda. She is hostile to Applebaum, and participates enthusiastically in the demonization of George Soros, the émigré Hungarian billionaire and funder of the Central European University, now largely forced out of Budapest.

Another Budapest resident and former close friend is John O’Sullivan whose long career has included stints as a Daily Telegraph editorialist, aide to Margaret Thatcher, columnist for the Canadian National Post, and editor of the National Review. A man, in other words, with a conservative career of some distinction, and a mellifluous writing and speaking style which made him good company. Now O’Sullivan is at the Danube Institute, a think-tank “marginal” to the politics of the state but which exists, Applebaum says, to present a picture of Hungary to the world as a fully-fledged democracy.

She reaches O’Sullivan by phone while he is on a cruise, and their conversation is testy. He tells her she is much changed from the anti-elitist woman he once knew—“I was now part,” she reports him saying, “of a ‘liberal, judicial, bureaucratic, international elite’ that was opposed to ‘democratically elected parliaments.’ [O’Sullivan] didn’t really explain how you can even have a ‘democratically elected parliament’ in a state like Hungary, where the government can and does cheat with impunity, where opposition parties can be randomly fined or punished, where a part of the judiciary is politicized, and where the bulk of the media is manipulated by the ruling party.”

There are many other such encounters in the book, and they usually end, and sometimes begin, with a row. One of her conclusions is that the new politics, of division and rapid-fire polemics, is in part a consequence of social media, and the communication universe they create. Applebaum has, with the writer Peter Pomerantsev, conducted some research into this at the London School of Economics, and believes that:

The issue is not merely one of false stories, incorrect facts, or even election campaigns and spin doctors: the social media algorithms themselves encourage false perceptions of the world. People click on the news they want to hear; Facebook, YouTube, and Google then show them more of whatever it is that they already favour… if you click on perfectly legitimate anti-immigration YouTube sites, for example, these can lead you quickly, in just a few more clicks, to white nationalist sites and then to violent xenophobic sites… Anger becomes a habit. Divisiveness becomes normal.

She may be right about this, but the normalcy of division doesn’t seem especially new. In the Scots fishing community in which I grew up, people believed the weirdest and most rebarbative things about one another—my mother, the local beautician and hence the node of gossip, would pass some of what she heard on to me, and indeed shared in some of it herself. A few miles away, in the Fife coalfields, communism and Stalin remained genuinely popular deep into the 1970s (they had a Communist MP, Willie Gallacher, for 15 years between 1935 and 1950). Catholicism was regarded as a foreign cult, and vigorously, sometimes violently, despised. Some of that still lingers in Glasgow and Dundee. All without the benefit of Twitter.

Applebaum’s portrait of the Tory Brexiteers misses a good deal of nuance, too. Johnson’s default mode of expression is ebullient optimism, not declinist despair. And while he may have engaged in puerile postmodern race-baiting as a commentator, in power he has appointed the most ethnically diverse cabinet ever seen, especially to the most senior posts. The head of his policy unit, Munira Mirza, is the daughter of a working-class Pakistani immigrant; his first chancellor, Sajid Javid, was the son of one. Javid’s replacement Rishi Sunak is the Hindu son of a Kenyan father and a Tanzanian mother, and the home secretary Priti Patel is the daughter of parents who came to the UK from Uganda. Politically, meanwhile, Johnson has shifted his party to the Left not the Right, and become (at least, as of this writing) a working peoples’ Tory and an enthusiastic advocate of pumping money into the neglected provinces of the UK.

*     *     *

Applebaum has crafted a book of great readability, helped by an easy and uncluttered explanatory writing style and anecdotal use of her own experiences, likes and dislikes. Her personal judgments make it vivid and—on a higher plane than that of a beauty parlour—enjoyably gossipy. But at times, this narrow perspective causes her analysis to become myopic. By peopling her gallery with friends and acquaintances who occupy positions of relative prominence, she excludes the very people whose support of populist movements she considers a threat to democracy. Indeed, these are the people who justify the title of her book.

However, the reactionary turn among some of Applebaum’s Polish friends doesn’t mean that Poles have rejected liberal democracy. Indeed, in the presidential election in July, the incumbent Andrzej Duda barely scraped a victory over Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski by 51 to 49 percent on the second ballot—and this was with state media working overtime on Duda’s behalf. Trzaskowski had won the mayoralty of the country’s capital in October 2018 with nearly 57 percent of the vote. He comes from a well-known musical family, was educated in Oxford and Paris and elected to the European Parliament. Last year, he signed a declaration in support of the Polish LGBT community. In other words, he is exactly the kind of cosmopolitan liberal Law and Justice love to hate, but who many Poles stubbornly seem to like. When Poland broke with communism 30 years ago, for a public figure to support homosexual rights would have been bizarre. The country has come a long way down a civil path since then.

And when Brexit is assumed to be a matter of nostalgia, there has to be evidence drawn from those who actually voted for it, and not just from those members of the elite who worked or wrote in its support. Data from three separate pollsters—YouGov, Ashcroft, and the British Election Study—identified “sovereignty” (a desire for laws to be framed by the British parliament) as the most important reason leavers voted as they did, followed by a wish to see greater control exercised over immigration—which is, in a sense, the same thing. A preference for a democratic parliament over a not particularly democratic institution like the EU isn’t a sinister choice. One might argue—as I did and so voted—that the UK’s longterm position of remaining a member while opposing further integration was the better option. But the Brexiteers had a perfectly defensible position of their own which doesn’t seem to owe much to nostalgia, still less to imperialism.

Lisa Nandy, a Labour MP for the former mining town of Wigan and now shadow foreign secretary, is one of the few Remainers who recognized the strength of popular anger produced by repeated attempts to reverse the (narrow) vote for Leave by holding a second referendum. Writing in the New York Review of Books, she observed that “to seek to overturn a democratic referendum looks like tyranny to those who fought hard, using that vote as their only tool, for the security, dignity, and hope that was denied to their parents and grandparents.”

The languid, long-lunching layabouts at the Spectator arrived, in some cases, at the same conclusion as the former miners of Wigan, and probably for the same reasons. They decided that a clearly understood democratic parliament was a better forum for preserving them from tyranny in a world where national parliaments remain, for good and ill, the only reliable institution over which the mass of people can exercise a little power. So long as these remain vigorous and their parties free and combative —as they do in most of Europe and North America—then democracy’s sun won’t settle into twilight yet.

 

John Lloyd is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and co-founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. His latest book is Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot: The Great Mistake of Scottish Independence (Polity Press).

Image: US Embassy, Kyiv (Flickr).

Comments

  1. Ugh, that was vacuous. It didn’t say anything, except the usual nonsense about how Trump is bad (ah yes, Hitler had his Big Lie but Trump has "medium-sized " lie about Obama not being a US-born citizen, not as bad as killing around 10 million people, but it’s close folks!) , Brexit is bad (what decent democracy would allow people to vote for such a thing?), but EU is good (no dictatorship there, folks!) Nothing, absolutely bugger all, pertinent is said. There is just name-dropping
    We are told we should take Applebaum most seriously indeed (as she is staff writer on The Atlantic), and yet everything reads like breathy gossip ("He had multiple affairs, and (it is said) fathered several illegitimate children.) Also, the reviewer is unbelievably sycophantic (“Applebaum’s Gulag is arguably the definitive account of the Soviet prison camp system by an outsider.”) and I kept wondering if he was hustling for a job or an invitation to Applebaum’s family mansion.

  2. Well said, Kapeth.

    What a shallow and stupid article.

    But what I find most amusing with these people is that they cry that “democracy is in danger,” whilst referencing democracy in action proudly defeating the anti-democratic. Brexit has to be the classic example of this. There was a vote and democracy was exercised. The people voted in favour of more democracy, I.e. making their own politicians accountable for all matters of governance and not just the 30% that wasn’t determined in the EU by unelected functionaries. The EU is the enemy of democracy, not the right wingers. When right wingers get power it’s because they are elected.

    But we are never actually told by these “democracy is in danger” types how exactly it is that our votes are going to be withdrawn. Because that is what democracy is, nothing more, nothing less. It is about voting in our representatives. It has no wider application than that. As long as we can vote freely, we are living in a democracy.

    From what I can see these people are mostly disturbed by the fact that democracy doesn’t always give them the answer they want. It also seems that democracy is “populism” if it doesn’t support globalisation of government and worship “the other” as being more important than the ordinary.

  3. This article reminded me of a fantastic party I once attended in a house that had once belonged to Gore Vidal (or maybe Norman Mailer… I can never keep them apart!). We were all gathered about the great room talking in that dizzy sort of cadence one does when one has had a touch too much cocaine and you are trying to listen into simultaneous conversations in French and English (or was it Basque?) at the same time.

    Anyways, Harvey and Jeffrey had come into the room when the conversation turned to the most deadly-dull topic of conversation: politics (or was it movies?). What I wouldn’t have given for just a brief respite from the droll nonsense… alas, George Clooney happened to be standing next to me and so there I was, planted between George and Christiane (Amanpour, of course) and had to just bear it all with the forbearance of what I imagine those poor Pakistani cab drivers must endure when they are forced to carry those hideous Tories about the streets of London all the while barking in their cockney gibberish, never once concerning themselves with goings on in places that are truly horrible… Like Pakistan.

    I dare say, I was positively bored to tears! But when Harvey got rolling on a topic you just had to let him go until someone could divert his attention onto something else. I’ll never forget it though as that night Hill (Hillary, actually be we just call her “Hill”) grabbed Harvey’s arm and pulled him to the side for a tête-à-tête that grew a bit heated. It wasn’t until Jeffrey walked over and made a gesture towards a plucky Filipino girl who had been standing rather demurely in a corner (I thought she was part of the hired help!) that Hill and Harvey broke off the conversation with smiles. Hill made a straight line for Gislaine (sp?) somebody or another and Harvey skivvied off with Jeff for the better part of the evening. Andrew popped in only for a bit before he had gone upstairs as well. (Perhaps another time I can tell the QC of a dreadful encounter with that sweatless loser Andy)

    It was perfectly ghastly the whole evening and it was absolutely distressing to see all the what looked like an Eastern European gym troupe in and about the place and going upstairs. The whole place reeked of scented oils and the air was positively spiced with… well, the less said the better.

    Anyways, long story short, I remember well that after a few hours and likely more cocaine that I’d care to admit we had all come to the conclusion that democracy was most certainly doomed. And what’s more, civil society itself was utterly and hopelessly doomed.

    It was patently obvious to all of us assembled that evening that the common rabble just didn’t know how good they had it and that if we didn’t do something positively “important” the mob might get its way and pollute “common decency.” I can’t remember how it all played out but I remember Hill saying, “Don’t worry dearies, I will get this under control!” (or something to that effect). Everyone laughed and roared and even Donny laughed at the thought. Though it was a sombre occasion, that evening… when democracy and good taste died.

  4. “[D]emocracy’s sun is now setting in the West” because of Authoritarianism, says Ann Applebaum, as the United States continues to burn at night because of Anarchists and Marxists.

    How do intellectuals like Ann maintain their sanity as they throw never-ending hypotheticals about the end of the world because of folk like Trump (“any day now!”), when they can stand up right now, walk to their window, pull back the curtains, and watch America’s cities burn because of the anarchist actions of the Left?

    This cognitive dissonance that they demonstrate is truly baffling.

  5. Conversely, many of us find it staggering how many Quillette readers are seemingly oblivious to Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. It’s an extraordinary blindspot. It’s difficult to name a single democratic institution that Trump has not attacked or attempted to undermine. He expresses his personal admiration for despots and dictators. He makes inflammatory statements to deliberately divide the community. He publicly contradicts his own advisors without evidence or preparation. He’s wilfully ignorant of science and political processes. He lies and fabricates on an almost daily basis. He publicly endorses unhinged conspiracy theories. He uses false information and false “facts” to present arguments. The list goes on. And yet, according to so many contributors to this forum, he is exempt from blame - which lies solely on the left.

    This might sound bizarre to you. However, it’s quite possible to be both highly critical of the lunacy of the identarian left, and still consider Trump a dangerous threat to democracy.

    You’re right. The cognitive dissonance is truly baffling.

  6. the new authoritarians rule by what Timothy Snyder calls the “medium sized lie,” of which Donald Trump’s assiduously repeated claim that Barrack Obama was not born in the United States is the best known example
    Trump tells little lies, lots of them. It is the media, who tells medium sized lies, like Russia, Russia, Russia.

    The first time I thought deeply about trust, I was tagging along with my father when he went shopping for a car. We had just stepped onto a notorious used car lot, when a guy in a plaid sports jacket clamped an arm around my father’s shoulder and pointed to a weary old station wagon.

    “She’s a runner,” he proclaimed.

    I was only in second grade but I could spot oil leaks, bald tires and rust with the best of them. I didn’t believe a word coming out of his mouth.

    “Dad,” I said once the salesman was out of earshot, “do you believe that guy?”

    “Sure,” he said.

    “Why?”

    “Because he doesn’t lie about the important stuff.”

    And therein is the perfect metaphor for the 2016 election. Trump bragged, bloviated, huffed and puffed about a junker while Hillary swore that the wreck had only 2,000 actual miles.

    I don’t know what it is, but there is something in the human mind that can quickly spot and differentiate the seriousness of a lie.

    If we could not, we would feel a deep sense of betrayal after every new and improved soap commercial.

  7. Welcome to Quillette. I understand your criticism of Trump. Yet, from my point of view, pretty much every part of the Govt. has, over the decades, blossomed into a host destroying parasite.

    He’s the demolition crew on a renovation that is long overdue.

  8. I’ll take the authentic rhetorical bluntness of the construction worker, any time and every time, over the slick talking phoniness of Washington-speak. Trump is not a systematic thinker, he is an instinctive entrepreneur. He cannot make the argument philosophically, but his instinctual sense of what is wrong with the republic is mostly sound.

    This republic was not founded on democracy worship. Quite the opposite orientation actually. There is no more blinding delusion in public discourse today than democracy worship.

  9. The dishonesty of the gaslighting media would be one. The self serving corruption of the DC swamp would be another. The debilitating wastefulness of perpetual foreign wars would be a third.

    A constitutional republic as envisioned by the Jeffersonians. Where most decisions are made locally, and the federal government concerns itself primarily with common defense, and not at all with social and cultural questions. Where the purpose of government is understood to be the protection of the rights and liberties of all. Not pandering to the puerile whims of the idiotic segment of voters while plundering the economy ruthlessly into bankruptcy.

  10. Sounds like Applebaum’s title should have been Twilight of the Self-styled Elitists. If I want to read a book about the political posturing of cocktail party liberals, I’ll choose Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flakcatchers— much more in keeping with the current taste for Vichy-saucing the likes of BLM and the Antifa toy throwers.

  11. @Elgordo, do you realize you just described most high-level politicians?

    Many on the Right could make a list and show how Obama is everything you claim Trump is. I have friends who are fully committed to either the Right or the Left, and they sound exactly the same.

    The reality is that one needs to be a narcissist (maybe even an egomaniac) to become the President of the United States.

    But I digress.

    You prove my point for me.

    You say Trump “tendencies”, “expresses”, “attempted”, “makes inflammatory statements”, “publicly contradicts”, “endorses”, “presents arguments”, etc, ad nauseam.

    In other words, you refer to words, hyperbole and hypotheticals – but the institutions of America still stand with ease. The Constitution was set up with checks and balances precisely to place checks over powerful positions and not rely on a President being some magnanimous spiritual advisor.

    On the other hand, you can open your curtains and see the actions that are happening in the streets of our cities as Leftist Anarchists want to overthrow the entire system.

    Yeah, words and hypotheticals versus actions.

    Furthermore, Trump is hardly alone in using hyperbole. How many times has the Left devalued the atrocities under Nazism and Hitler by referring to Trump as Hitler and saying we have a multitude of Nazis in America. Seeing this display of ignorance did prick me as a lifelong Independent in 2016 when I saw “Trump is Hitler” pop in WaPo. I thought, “where do they go from here now that they’ve gone nuclear with their hyperbole” and I was right. Now the Left says, Trump is really (no really) Hitler (all in CAPS), a Russian Spy, Putin’s poodle, the Worst Authoritarian Ever™️, etc, without much evidence other than words.

    (I didn’t vote for Trump – voted third party because I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either of our candidates – but I do recognize the difference between words versus actions.)

    Your move.

  12. Let me roll out the welcome mat, Elg, and invite you to elaborate on just one of your indictments—that (if I read you right) Trump has undermined virtually every single “democratic institution”. What I’ve watched over the last 4 years is a party of show trials, a praetorian guard, and their organs in the press completely trash the process of free, fair elections and peaceful transition, the process of approval for Supreme Court justices, the idea of a single standard for administration of justice, the impeachment process, and — on full display last week— the exercise of Congressional oversight. So again I invite you to elaborate a bit on just what institutions you see Trump undermining.
    And while you’re at it you might just touch on any moral equivalencies you see between Trump’s “admiration” for dictators and his predecessor’s funding of the mullahs and secretly shipping pallets of cash to them in the dead of night. Or his fondness for the Castros. Or his administration’s relish in using the IRS to target political opponents.
    You can address any “tendencies” you think Obama or Hillary manifest, if you wish. Or Biden?

  13. The problem with Applebaum books seems to be that she believes too much the propaganda spewed by “her side”. I have not read the book, so I can judge only by the review. But in this paragraph:

    “This time around, the administration packed the constitutional court and the civil service with its supporters, turned the public broadcaster into a propaganda channel, marshalled museums and galleries into patriotic displays, and began to openly advertise its dislike of gays. Very few migrants are allowed to enter Poland”

    (1) The Constitutional Court always is packed by the supporters of the parliament majority. The problem here is that the PO (the party of Applebaum husband) wanted to break the constitution by electing five judges “in advance”. The president was then from PiS and he refused to take an oath from those judges and later PiS instead pick their own five judges. PO screamed that this was inconstitutional; the previous CC decided, that out of the five judges picked in advance by PO, three were chosen illegally, two legally. If you can read the law it should be actually clear that from the beginning three were chosen illegally, and two were barely legally (because legality of their pick depended on what would do president Duda in the future; fortunately for PO, PiS has worse lawyers)

    (2) Bceause of PiS strange alliance with leftists, they managed to put some rightwing journalists and programs into public broadcast. PO tried to change that, but when they tried to pass a law allowing that, it was vetoed by Lech Kaczyński. When Lech Kaczyński died in a crash, new president from PO approved the law and with a year, all rightwing journalists critical to PO were cleansed and public broadcast became propaganda tube.

    (3) Number of migrants entering Poland is one of the highest in EUrope. It’s just most of them are from Ukraine and Belarus.

    (4) “he has even declared that every Pole must be a Catholic.” Fake. It’s hard to say what Kaczyński utterances this supposed to reflect; in one case when TVN stated Kaczyński said that, it was false; in other times it was supposedly to reflect what Kaczyński meant, when he said, this is my paraphrase, “we are in the middle of civilisational struggle. THe revolution happening in the west will in the long term endanger existance of our state and, in the long term, of our nation. That’s why every Pole must stand on the side defending traditions”. Earlier he also stated that christianity is an important part of Polish national traditions. While this might be offensive to atheists Poles like me, this is not the same as “every Pole must be catholic”.

    Anne Applebaum represents her side: the people who think that democracy is good only if they are winnnig, because other side is stupid, backward and wrong.

  14. Trump should give VDH the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thomas Sowell, too.

  15. Undermining, is he?

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