It’s Out in the Open Now

Leading Republicans are holding a conference in Budapest because, as history professor Andrew Gawthorpe explains, Hungary’s authoritarian regime, “unconstrained by an independent media, democratic institutions or racial diversity – isn’t a cautionary tale, but an aspiration”. From The Guardian:

Long a safe space where conservatives [no, the neo-fascists of the radical right] could say what they really thought, this year the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is hosting an event in Budapest, its first ever on the European continent. Attendees will be treated to panels about “western civilization under attack” and be addressed by American [right-wing] luminaries including the former T____ chief of staff Mark Meadows and media figures like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens. That Hungary has become an authoritarian state whose leader, Viktor Orbán, has deconstructed Hungarian democracy and become a close ally of Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to faze anyone involved. In fact, it’s the whole point.

The embrace of Orbán as a role model by many on the right seems at first glance puzzling. . . .  But . . .  for years, Orbán has been playing out the fantasies of CPAC’s attendees, unconstrained by the independent institutions, impartial media and racial diversity which American conservatives see as their foils at home. Where Orbán has gone, American [reactionaries] want to follow. And increasingly, they are doing so.

Central to Orbán’s appeal is that he is a fighter who has turned his country into, according to the organizers of CPAC, “one of the engines of Conservative resistance to the woke revolution”. In some ways Orbán resembles T____, but in the eyes of many [neo-fascists] he’s better understood as the man they wished T____ would be. Where T____ was a thrice-married playboy who boasted of sleeping with porn stars and managed to lose the 2020 election, Orbán seems both genuinely committed to upholding [reactionary] cultural values and has grimly consolidated control over his country, excluding the left from power indefinitely.

Among the terrifying implications of the American right’s embrace of Orbán is that it shows that the right would be willing to dismantle American democracy in exchange for cultural and racial hegemony. Many of Orbán’s admirers . . . see “traditional American culture” as so far degenerated that it may be necessary to wrest power away from a corrupted people in order to make America great again. They count among Orbán’s victories his clampdown on gay and transgender rights and his refusal to allow Muslim refugees to enter Hungary. Upholding a particular set of “Christian” (actually nationalistic and bigoted) values is seen as worth the damage to democracy – the latter might even be necessary for the former.

Things get even more sinister when we consider that America is a vast continent-sized country of enormous cultural and racial diversity. Imposing a conservative monoculture on such a country could only be achieved through one means – governmental coercion. The desirability of doing just that is now openly discussed on the right. Over the past several years, many have been advocating “common-good constitutionalism” – an idea put forward by the [Republican] legal thinker Adrian Vermeule which holds that America should embrace a new interpretation of the constitution focused on, among other things, a “respect for hierarchy” and a willingness to “legislate morality”. As surely as such ideas underpinned the Jim Crow south, such ideas mesh easily with, indeed are required by, any attempt to bring Orbánism to the United States as a whole.

Far from being limited to the trolls at CPAC or obscure writers, such an approach to governing is already being implemented by [Republicans] up and down the country. State laws which ban teaching about race or gender issues in schools have passed in many states, and Republicans have continued their assault on businesses which speak out on these issues. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has moved to use the power of the state to punish Disney for its stance on gay rights. In the face of cultural change which [reactionaries] dislike, the principle of free speech has gone out of the window, and the heavy hand of the state is knocking at the door.

The recently leaked US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade is perhaps the clearest indication of the danger that this trend poses. By removing a fundamental individual right and once again enabling [the radical right] to impose their own moral views on women’s bodies, the decision – if passed as written – will be seen on the right as a landmark in how the power of the state can be used to discipline a degenerated culture and regulate morality. Further crackdowns are sure to follow. Locked out of power on the Supreme Court and facing steep challenges to winning power in America’s unbalanced electoral system, defenders of liberalism will struggle to fight back.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Orbánism, with its rejection of democracy and its willingness to use coercion to enforce a narrow cultural and religious agenda, defines the danger posed by modern American conservatism. The danger is greatest when the two elements come together. Unable to win the approval of the people on whom they wish to force their values, [Republicans] will be tempted to proceed further and further down an undemocratic path. That path has already taken them all the way to Budapest. The fear now is that they will ultimately bring Budapest back to America.

Unquote.

A headline from The Guardian: “Viktor Orbán tells CPAC the path to power is to ‘have your own media’” and that right-wing propaganda like Tucker Carlson’s program should be broadcast ‘24/7’.

From journalist David Roberts on Twitter:

CPAC [is] in Hungary, openly celebrating Orban’s defeat of democracy, openly planning to do the same in the US … it’s just all out in the open now. And still the media can’t seem to convey it clearly to the public. [Unlike the left], the right [with Rupert Murdoch’s money] built a propaganda machine that now effectively immunizes it from consequences no matter what it does. . . . 

It’s important for Americans to understand that Orbán did not defeat democracy with any dramatic police action or coup. There were no troops in the streets. In most ways, the formal *appearance* of democracy is still in place. There are still campaigns; people still vote.

Orbán just gradually exerted more and more control over media, until they are all beholden to him. He ensured that private companies loyal to his regime profited and that those that didn’t suffered. . . .

You might say Hungary still has the body of a democracy, but the soul of democracy is gone. The free flow of information, the level playing field, the fair competition among candidates, it’s all gone, but if you’re not LGBTQ or otherwise marginalized, it can still FEEL normal.

This is the new blueprint for the right: not some dramatic overthrow, but steady erosion of the mechanisms of democracy until only a hollow shell is left and one-party control is, if not inscribed in law, ensured in practice.

In many ways this is *more* dangerous than an explicit bid for autocracy. It deprives opponents of singular, dramatic events around which to rally. It’s incremental, each step a little further than the last, nothing that trips alarms or sparks organized resistance.

Unquote.

Finally, from Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post:

Turnout in midterm elections is traditionally much lower than in presidential years. Voters who are appalled at what the [Republican Party] has become [it’s no longer a normal political party] can send a powerful and definitive message by abandoning their traditional nonchalance this November and voting in huge numbers. We can reject T____ism, both for its cultishness and for its proto-fascism. We can take a stand. It’s up to us what kind of country we want to live in.

What Was Putin Thinking?

Why did he miscalculate so badly? Greg Sargent of The Washington Post asked that question of historian Timothy Snyder, the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century:

Sargent: What is it about Putin’s way of seeing the world, and his understanding of his own mythologies, that made it inevitable that he’d underestimate the Western response?

Snyder: For me the most revealing text here is the victory declaration, which the Russian press agency accidentally published on Feb. 26. What they say is that the West just basically needed one more push to fall into total disarray.

If you watch Jan. 6 clips over and over again, you can get that impression. The Russians really have been fixated on Jan. 6.

They thought a successful military operation in Ukraine would be that nudge: We’d feel helpless, we’d fall into conflict, it would help D____ T____ in the U.S., it would help populists around the world.

Sargent: When you say Russia has been making a lot of Jan. 6 — what do they read into it?

Snyder: . . . T____’s attempt to overthrow the election on Jan. 6 made the American system look fragile. They think, “One more T____ and the Americans are done.” In invading Ukraine, they think they’re putting huge pressure on the Biden administration. They’re going to make Biden look weak.

That probably was their deep fantasy about the West: Successful military occupation in Ukraine; the Biden administration is totally impotent; we humiliate them; T____ comes back; this is a big strategic victory for us.

Sargent: There’s an essential through line from Jan. 6 to what we’re seeing now: Accountability for Jan. 6 becomes more important in this geopolitical context, where we’re reentering a conflict with Russia over whether liberal democracy is durable.

Snyder: . . . Putin’s idea about Ukraine is something like, “Ukrainian democracy is just a joke, I can overturn it easily. Everybody knows democracy and the rule of law are just a joke. What really matters are the capricious ideas of a tyrant. My capricious ideas happen to be that there are no Ukrainians. I’m going to send my army to make that true”.

That is much closer to the way T____ talks about politics than the way the average American talks about politics. I’m not saying T____ and Putin are exactly the same. But T____’s way of looking at the world — “there are no rules, nothing binds me” — that’s much closer to Putin. So there’s a very clear through line.

Sargent: . . . on some fundamental level, [Republicans aren’t] willing to forthrightly disavow Trump’s alignment with Putin and against Ukraine and the West.

Snyder: I have this faint hope that Ukraine allows some folks to look at domestic politics from a new angle.

When we were in the Cold War, one reason the civil rights movement had the success it did, and one reason we kept up a welfare state, was that we were concerned about the Soviet rival.

Russia is a radically anti-democratic country now. Not only has it done frightful things to its own society; it has invaded another country that happens to be an imperfect democracy. We’re also an imperfect democracy.

When you have to look straight at the reality that a big powerful country is aimed at taking imperfect democracies and wiping them out, that gives you pause. I’m hopeful the realization that democracy rises and falls internationally might change the conversation at some deeper level about how we carry out our own voting.

Sargent: Rising populism made Putin think Western liberal democracy was on the losing end of a grand struggle. But Biden and the Western allies may have seen that populism as a reason to get more galvanized and unified in response to the invasion.

Snyder: In Putin’s mind, there’s a kind of confusion of pluralism with weakness. He’s misjudged both Zelensky and Biden, who are both pluralists: They’re both willing to look at things from various points of view. That can look like a form of weakness.

But history also shows that you can be a resolute pluralist. . . . Zelensky and Biden both embody that: At the end of the day, this whole idea that we listen to each other is something that we’re going to defend.

People in Ukraine are used to being able to exchange views and listen or not listen to their own government. That’s the thing which makes them different from Russia right now. That’s not something Putin can see from a distance.

Sargent: You put your finger on something that’s been an anti-liberal trope for at least a century: That pluralism is in some sense crippling to the possibilities of resolute national action. Putin is steeped in that type of anti-liberal philosophy, isn’t he?

Snyder: Authoritarian regimes look efficient and attractive because they can make rapid decisions. But they often make rapid bad decisions — like the rapid bad decision to invade Ukraine. Putin made it with just a handful of people, so he could make that decision rapidly.

That’s the reason you want institutions, the rule of law and pluralism and public discussion: To avoid idiotic decisions like that.

He’s been working from a certain far-right Russian tradition — that the state and the leader are the same person, and there should be no institutional barriers to what the leader wants to do.

It’s important for us to see that this is the realization of a different model, which has its own logic.

Sargent: Paradoxically, we’re seeing that model’s decadence display itself.

Snyder: Of course the situation is dangerous right now. But a lot of the sparks that are flying out of Russian media are a result precisely of their own fear and their own sense of crisis.

Your word “decadence” is helpful here: When you’re decadent, what you say starts to depart more and more from the way the world actually is. Some Russian politicians are talking about how Poland needs to be taught a lesson. That’s alarming but it’s also unrealistic.

Sargent: I want to explore something you said to Ezra Klein: That in many ways, the response from the Western allies has been realistic and grounded, in that they aren’t trying to do too much. . . . 

Snyder: The thing that I’ve liked about the Biden administration is that they don’t have this metaphysical language that previous administrations have had about American power. They’ve stuck much closer to the ground.

They say, “We can’t do everything. But we can be creative and do a lot of things.”

By the way, that includes some stuff that we and others could go further on. We have to keep pouring arms into Ukraine, and the Europeans — now is the time to move forward on not buying oil and gas from Russia.

Sargent: What’s your sense of where this is all going?

Snyder: This war is happening because of the worldview and decisions of essentially one person. And I think it comes to an end when something shakes the worldview of that one person.

If the Ukrainians can get the upper hand and keep it for a few weeks, I think the worldview we have been talking about may start to shudder.

The right side has to be winning. That’s when we might have a settlement that ends this horrible war.

Unfortunately, He’s Right About the Right

There was a story yesterday about a Missouri “legislator” introducing a bill to punish anybody who took their child out of state for gender-related treatment. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post says it’s only going to get worse:

If you thought the abortion vigilante law Texas Republicans passed last year was the most appalling abuse of legislative power you’d ever seen, I have some bad news for you.

That law was a wake-up call, not to Democrats — who seem to have done almost nothing in response — but to Republicans across the country. It said to them, We don’t have to hold back anymore. We can do anything we want.

And that’s just what they’re doing.

We’re witnessing a new phase not only in the culture wars but in American politics generally. Republicans are arriving at a reimagined view of power, one without limit or restraint.

Consider Missouri, where a Republican state representative has proposed to take part of the Texas model — making abortion all but illegal by allowing anyone to sue those who help a woman get one — and taking it across state borders. Her bill would allow lawsuits targeting any Missouri resident who obtains an abortion in another state, so that if a woman who lives in St. Louis drove her daughter to Illinois to get a legal abortion there, anyone could sue her.

In effect, it would make it all but illegal for a woman who lives in Missouri to get an abortion anywhere in the country.

If that shocks you, just wait. In Idaho, the state House just passed a bill making it illegal to provide puberty blockers or other hormonal treatment to trans kids under the age of 18. The bill’s language says that not only physicians but “whoever knowingly gives permission for, or permits on a child” these treatments — i.e., parents — will be guilty of a felony and can be sentenced to life in prison.

Every Republican except one in the Idaho House voted for it.

Meanwhile, the state of Texas is already sending Child Protective Services to investigate families who provide loving support to their trans kids, a potential prelude to declaring the parents “child abusers,” and sending the kids off to foster care.

In state after state, bills that a few years ago might have died in committee because they were too extreme are now on their way to passage.

Republican legislatures are reaching into classrooms to ban the utterance of “divisive concepts” and books that conservative Republicans find unsettling. Florida just passed its “Don’t say gay” bill, targeted at teachers who mention sexuality or gender identity and once again using the threat of ruinous lawsuits against individuals to impose its will.

Something has changed, and it isn’t that a new wave of extremist Republicans got elected at the state level and pushed out their “reasonable” predecessors. That may be part of the story, but it didn’t all happen at once, like the Tea Party wave of 2010.

Instead, extreme Republicans have gotten elected to state legislatures over the course of the last few elections, and have worked their way up the ranks. You’re familiar with trolls in Congress like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) or Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), but there are dozens or even hundreds like them in state legislatures around the country.

Even Republicans who have been in office for many years are going along with this new radicalism. The extremists are working with their party’s leadership. Whether out of fear of being primaried or because they finally feel free to indulge their darkest fantasies, the longer-serving members seem nearly as enthusiastic about this new lack of restraint as anyone. And the bills have support from Republican governors who are hardly insurgents within their party.

A number of factors set the stage for the emergence of this new authoritarianism. The most obvious is T____’s takeover of the GOP, which took all the party’s worst attributes — its reliance on anger and resentment as mobilizing tools, its contempt for democratic norms, its loathing for Americans it disagrees with — and supercharged them.

Conservative media has also grown more radical; the most popular conservative media figure in the country is an anti-vaccine crusader whose show is a forum for race-baitingconspiracy theories, and pro-Putin propaganda. That poison is spread to both Republican voters and officeholders, pushing them to be more extreme in their tactics and demands.

Then you have the way power is divided in America at the moment. Democrats control Washington, which creates a visible target for right-wing anger, while Republicans dominate at the state level, which gives them the ability to express that anger in legislation. It’s all enabled by gerrymandering and other means of eliminating democratic accountability that assure Republicans that nothing they do will threaten their hold on power.

Central to the enterprise is the idea that Democrats are the ones promoting an insane agenda, which serves as the justification for almost anything Republicans want to do. Since Democrats are so horrifying, say Republicans, no tactic is too immoral to utilize, no Republican candidate too dangerous to support, and no proposal too offensive to pass in opposing them.

It’s why former attorney general William Barr describes in detail how T____ tried to stage a coup against American democracy — then says that if T____ is the 2024 Republican nominee he’ll vote for him to combat the “threat” from the left. It’s why the hateful Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers can speak at white supremacist rallies and the state’s governor will respond to questions about her by saying “She’s still better than her opponent.”

And it’s why almost no Republican officeholders anywhere will speak out against their party’s authoritarian radicalism. The farther they push, the more they’re convinced they can get away with. It’s only going to get worse.

Unquote.

Meanwhile, one of Waldman’s colleagues “fact checks” Biden’s speech:

“Our economy created over 6.5 million new jobs just last year, more jobs created in one year than ever before in the history of America.”

“The only president ever to cut the deficit by more than 1 trillion dollars in a single year.”
 

Both of these figures are misleading because of the context — the impact the once-in-a-century pandemic had on jobs and federal finances. Jobs plunged and deficits soared in 2020 when the coronavirus struck and shuttered the worldwide economy.

Thanks for reminding us.

The 2024 Election Could Make History (Dismal History)

Unless all 50 Senate Democrats agree to protect voting rights this year, our next president might be someone who got fewer votes and didn’t even win the Electoral College. Here’s a brief preview from a profile of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) in The New Republic:

These next three years will test our democracy in ways it hasn’t been tested since the 1860s, or maybe ever. The scenario is pretty straightforward. The Republicans retake the House in the midterms. Immediately, any chance of Biden passing meaningful legislation is dead, but that’s the least of it. The GOP will launch hearing after hearing, issue subpoena after subpoena; they will find some flimsy rationale on which to impeach Biden, and they will stretch it out as long as possible. T____ will run—as Raskin put it, “for psychological, political, and financial reasons”—and he will be the GOP nominee, Raskin has little doubt. Assuming Biden seeks reelection, the election will probably be close, because elections just are these days.

If Biden wins by a matter of several thousand votes in a few states, as he did in 2020, the T____ machinery will kick into gear to steal the election. Republican election commissioners and state legislators and even some governors will put forward pro-T____ electors. The House of Representatives will not vote to certify Biden’s win in January 2025, which will toss the election to the House, which will make T____ president. (When a presidential election gets thrown to the House, under the Twelfth Amendment, the vote is by state delegation, so North Dakota has the same voting power as California; Republicans now control, and will likely in 2025 still control, a majority of state delegations, and Liz Cheney will probably be gone, meaning that Wyoming will go pro-T____.) For the second time in the history of the United States, the other time being 1824, Congress will have installed as the president a candidate who did not win a plurality of votes in either the Electoral College or the popular vote.

“D____ T____ [and Republican officials have] now converted every formerly ministerial step of the process into a moment for partisan rumble and contest,” Raskin told me. “So when we’re talking about the certification of the state popular vote, the governors’ certification of the electors, the electors meeting, and then the January 6th joint session receipt of the electors … all these phases of the process have now been turned into yet another opportunity for partisan combat.” There is no question in Raskin’s mind that this is what T____ and his supporters will try to do.

The [House] select committee on January 6 ties in directly here. Aside from trying to get to the bottom of who did what before and on the infamous date, Raskin wants the committee to try to take steps to safeguard democracy from attack by T____ or any future T____ wannabe. “Our select committee, I believe, should do whatever it can to reform the Electoral Count Act, to make it conform as much as possible to the popular will,” he said, referring to the 1887 act that spells out—confusingly, ambiguously, contradictorily—the presidential election certification process.

That obviously won’t be possible if Republicans retake the House. In the majority, the GOP will likely do all it can to subvert democracy and preemptively make people distrust the electoral process. 

A Canadian Sees Us as the Weimar Republic Before the Deluge

A Canadian observer, Thomas Homer-Dixon, says his country faces a major threat from its troubled neighbor:

By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.

We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine. In 2014, the suggestion that D____ T____ would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd. But today we live in a world where the absurd regularly becomes real and the horrible commonplace.

Leading American academics are now actively addressing the prospect of a fatal weakening of U.S. democracy.

This past November, more than 150 professors of politics, government, political economy and international relations appealed to Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which would protect the integrity of US elections but is now stalled in the Senate. This is a moment of “great peril and risk,” they wrote. “Time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching.”

I’m a scholar of violent conflict. For more than 40 years, I’ve studied and published on the causes of war, social breakdown, revolution, ethnic violence and genocide, and for nearly two decades I led a centre on peace and conflict studies at the University of Toronto.

Today, as I watch the unfolding crisis in the United States, I see a political and social landscape flashing with warning signals.

I’m not surprised by what’s happening there – not at all. During my graduate work in the United States in the 1980s, I sometimes listened to Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio talk show host and later television personality. I remarked to friends at the time that, with each broadcast, it was if Mr. Limbaugh were wedging the sharp end of a chisel into a faint crack in the moral authority of U.S. political institutions, and then slamming the other end of that chisel with a hammer.

In the decades since, week after week, year after year, Mr. Limbaugh and his fellow travelers have hammered away – their blows’ power lately amplified through social media and outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax. The cracks have steadily widened, ramified, connected and propagated deeply into America’s once-esteemed institutions, profoundly compromising their structural integrity. The country is becoming increasingly ungovernable . . . 

According to Harvard’s renowned sociologist and political scientist Theda Skocpol, in the early 2000s fringe elements of the Republican party used disciplined tactics and enormous streams of money (from billionaires like the Koch brothers) to turn extreme laissez-faire ideology into orthodox Republican dogma. Then, in 2008, Barack Obama’s election as president increased anxieties about immigration and cultural change among older . . .  members of the white middle-class, who then coalesced into the populist Tea Party movement. . . .  The GOP became, Dr. Skocpol writes, a radicalized “marriage of convenience between anti-government free-market plutocrats and racially anxious ethno-nationalist activists and voters.”

Now, adopting Mr. Limbaugh’s tried-and-true methods, demagogues on the right are pushing the radicalization process further than ever before. By weaponizing people’s fear and anger, Mr. T____ and a host of acolytes and wannabees . . .  transformed [the Republican Party] into a near-fascist personality cult that’s a perfect instrument for wrecking democracy.

And it’s not inaccurate to use the F word. As conservative commentator David Frum argues, T____ism increasingly resembles European fascism in its contempt for the rule of law and glorification of violence. Evidence is as close as the latest right-wing Twitter meme: widely circulated holiday photos show Republican politicians and their family members, including young children, sitting in front of their Christmas trees, all smiling gleefully while cradling pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. . . .

In the weeks before the November, 2016, U.S. election, I talked to several experts to gauge the danger of a T____ presidency. I recently consulted them again. While in 2016 they were alarmed, this last month most were utterly dismayed. All told me the U.S. political situation has deteriorated sharply since last year’s attack on Capitol Hill.

After four years of Mr. T____’s bedlam, the U.S. under Mr. Biden has been comparatively calm. Politics in the U.S. seems to have stabilized.

But absolutely nothing has stabilized in America. The country’s problems are systemic and deeply entrenched – and events could soon spiral out of control.

The experts I consulted described a range of possible outcomes if Mr. T____ returns to power, none benign. They cited particular countries and political regimes to illustrate where he might take the U.S.: Viktor Orban’s Hungary, with its coercive legal apparatus of “illiberal democracy”; Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, with its chronic social distemper and administrative dysfunction; or Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with its harsh one-man hyper-nationalist autocracy. . . . 

But there’s another political regime, a historical one, that may portend an even more dire future for the U.S.: the Weimar Republic. The situation in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s was of course sui generis; in particular, the country had experienced staggering traumas – defeat in war, internal revolution and hyperinflation – while the country’s commitment to liberal democracy was weakly rooted in its culture. But as I read a history of the doomed republic this past summer, I tallied no fewer than five unnerving parallels with the current U.S. situation.

First, in both cases, a charismatic leader was able to unify right-wing extremists around a political program to seize the state. Second, a bald falsehood about how enemies inside the polity had betrayed the country – for the Nazis, the “stab in the back,” and for T____ists, the Big Lie – was a vital psychological tool for radicalizing and mobilizing followers. Third, conventional conservatives believed they could control and channel the charismatic leader and rising extremism but were ultimately routed by the forces they helped unleash. Fourth, ideological opponents of this rising extremism squabbled among themselves; they didn’t take the threat seriously enough, even though it was growing in plain sight; and they focused on marginal issues that were too often red meat for the extremists. (Today, think toppling statues.)

To my mind, though, the fifth parallel is the most disconcerting: the propagation of a “hardline security doctrine” . . . Jonathan Leader Maynard argues that extremist right-wing ideologies generally don’t arise from explicit efforts to forge an authoritarian society, but from the radicalization of a society’s existing understandings of how it can stay safe and secure in the face of alleged threats.

Hardline conceptions of security are “radicalized versions of familiar claims about threat, self-defence, punishment, war, and duty,” he writes. They are the foundation on which regimes organize campaigns of violent persecution and terror. People he calls “hardliners” believe the world contains many “dangerous enemies that frequently operate in and through purported ‘civilian’ groups.” Hardliners increasingly dominate T____ist circles now. . . .  Fear of “true believers” shifts the behaviour of the movement’s moderates toward extremism. Sure enough, experts I recently consulted all spoke about how fear of crossing Mr. T____’s base – including fear for their families’ physical safety – was forcing otherwise sensible Republicans to fall into line. . . . 

Beyond a certain threshold, other new research shows, political extremism feeds on itself, pushing polarization toward an irreversible tipping point. This suggests a sixth potential parallel with Weimar: democratic collapse followed by the consolidation of dictatorship. Mr. T____ may be just a warm-up act – someone ideal to bring about the first stage, but not the second. Returning to office, he’ll be the wrecking ball that demolishes democracy, but the process will produce a political and social shambles. . . . Then the stage will be set for a more managerially competent ruler, after Mr. T____, to bring order to the chaos he’s created.

A terrible storm is coming from the south, and Canada is woefully unprepared. Over the past year we’ve turned our attention inward, distracted by the challenges of COVID-19, reconciliation, and the accelerating effects of climate change. But now we must focus on the urgent problem of what to do about the likely unravelling of democracy in the United States.

We need to start by fully recognizing the magnitude of the danger. If Mr. T____ is re-elected, even under the more-optimistic scenarios the economic and political risks to our country will be innumerable. Driven by aggressive, reactive nationalism, Mr. ____ “could isolate Canada continentally,” as one of my interlocutors put it euphemistically.

Under the less-optimistic scenarios, the risks to our country in their cumulative effect could easily be existential, far greater than any in our federation’s history. What happens, for instance, if high-profile political refugees fleeing persecution arrive in our country, and the U.S. regime demands them back. Do we comply?

. . . Canada is not powerless in the face of these forces, at least not yet. . . .  The Prime Minister should immediately convene a standing, non-partisan Parliamentary committee with representatives from the five sitting parties, all with full security clearances. . . .  It should receive regular intelligence analyses and briefings by Canadian experts on political and social developments in the United States and their implications for democratic failure there. And it should be charged with providing the federal government with continuing, specific guidance as to how to prepare for and respond to that failure, should it occur. . . .