At the House Formerly Known as White

I’ve avoided the news for a day and a half (sleeping helps) but someone shared this thread from former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. It’s a nice summary of last week’s authoritarian festivities at the White, sorry, at the Txxxx House:

For those of us who study autocracies, including elections in autocracies, there were a lot of familiar messages, symbols, and methods on display . . .  at the #RNCConvention.

1. Cult of the Personality. This show was all about Txxxx. ( 3 years after the death of Stalin, Khrushchev’s gave his secret speech in 1956, titled “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” I wonder if a future GOP leader will give a similar speech someday?)

2. Administrative resources. Autocrats and semi-autocrats frequently use government resources for personal electoral gain. We have #HatchAct to prevent such behavior in the U.S. It’s obviously not working.

3. Blatant disregard for the law. That Txxxx’s team dared anyone to charge them with violating the #HatchAct is exactly what Putin and others autocrats do all the time. Laws don’t apply to the king & his court, only to the subjects.

4. Blatant disregard for facts. As U.S. ambassador to Russia, I found this Putin regime trait most frustrating. We – the U.S. government- were constrained by facts. They were not. Txxxx obviously was not constrained by facts last night. He usually isn’t . . . 

5. Us versus Them populism. “Elites” versus “the people” nationalism. Autocratic populists use polarizing identity politics to divide societies all the time. Many populist leaders actually have little in common with the “masses.” (Putin is very rich.)

6. The opposition is the “enemy of the people.” Putin & other autocratic populists cast their opponents as radicals & revolutionaries. They don’t focus on their own records – often there is little to celebrate – but the horrors that will happen if they lose power. Sound familiar?

6b. There is one difference between Putin and Txxxx so far. Putin also claims falsely that his political opponents are supported by foreign enemies, the U.S. & the West. Txxxx has not gone there full-throated yet. But my guess it’s coming. “Beijing Biden” is a hint.

7. Law and Order. Autocratic populists all shout about it, even when the opposite is happening on their watch.

8. The good tsar versus the bad boyars. Kings and tsars always blamed bad provincial leaders for national ills. Putin blames the governors all the time… just like Txxxx.

9. Individual acts of royal kindness. Putin, like the tsars he emulates, does this all the time. Txxxx offering a pardon or “granting” citizenship (which of course he didn’t & doesn’t have the power to do) are typical, faux gestures of royal kindness toward his subjects.

10. Homage and fealty. Vassals must signal their complete loyalty and absolute devotion to kings and autocrats. Those that don’t are banished from the royal court or the party. (Where were the Bushes last night?)

11. The royal family. In this dimension, Txxxx acts more like a monarch than even Putin. (but watch Lukashenko and his gun-toting teenage son in Belarus) The many Txxxx family members who performed this week – even a girlfriend got a slot – went beyond even what Putin does.

12. There’s still one big difference. . . .  

Successful autocrats are re-elected, but voting still matters here (if we all vote).