The ‘Oprah in 2020’ talk is proof of our democracy’s degradation

She’s a self-made billionaire, as opposed to one who inherited much of his money and business. She’s a genuine philanthropist, with a real foundation instead of one under a cloud. She unites people instead of dividing them, promotes positive emotions instead of hatred and fear, seems the perfect antidote to the sour, bigoted occupant of the White House. Nevertheless, the fact that anyone takes “Oprah for president” seriously is yet another illustration of how degraded American democracy has become. Continue reading “The ‘Oprah in 2020’ talk is proof of our democracy’s degradation”

The Trumps and Kushners may spell the end of the Wilsonian world

The optimism, the enthusiasm, the breathless naivete: To reread Woodrow Wilson’s canonic “Fourteen Points” speech, given to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 8, 1918 — 100 years ago — is to enter a world that no longer exists. Particularly when read alongside the speech Wilson made the previous year — the one arguing that the United States should enter World War I to make the world “safe for democracy” — the language almost shocks, especially compared with the rhetoric preferred by the White House’s current inhabitant. Continue reading “The Trumps and Kushners may spell the end of the Wilsonian world”

The euphemisms I refuse to use in 2018

In columns or commentary, one sometimes needs to simplify in order to save space. But here’s my New Year’s resolution: In the coming 12 months, I will try to avoid the expressions “far right” and “populist” whenever possible. They are catch-all adjectives, useful in describing a general phenomenon. But they are also euphemisms, and they disguise what’s at stake. Continue reading “The euphemisms I refuse to use in 2018”

Poland is illegally dismantling its own constitution. Can the E.U. do anything?

It’s never been easy for Americans — or for many Europeans — to understand the European Union, so let me offer an analogy: Think of the United States in the years after the revolution but before the ratification of the Constitution, when the Articles of Confederation allowed Congress to make laws but provided no executive branch or court system to carry them out. That’s the situation of the E.U. today. Continue reading “Poland is illegally dismantling its own constitution. Can the E.U. do anything?”

How Doug Jones won

“How did he do it?” That’s the question I was asked more than once by European friends the day after Alabama’s Senate election: How did Doug Jones win? The question was not idle. In many ways, the electoral challenge Jones faced in Alabama was strikingly similar to the challenge facing European politicians of the center-left and even — or maybe especially — the center-right: How to defeat racist, xenophobic or homophobic candidates who are supported by a passionate, unified minority? Or, to put it differently: How to get the majority — which is often complacent rather than passionate, and divided rather than unified — to vote? Continue reading “How Doug Jones won”

The Polish government is cracking down on private media — in the name of combating ‘fake news’

If you have become numbed to President Trump’s constant attacks on the media, if you have lost interest in which networks he currently considers to be “fake news,” if you have grown tired of hearing him call journalists “enemies of the people” — well, that’s unfortunate, because plenty of others are still paying attention. Around the world, dictators and would-be authoritarians have picked up his attitude and his terminology. From Syria to Venezuela to Burma, authoritarians now dismiss legitimate criticism as “fake news.” The Libyan government has denounced a CNN report on human trafficking as “fake news”: If the U.S. president disdains the network, why should anybody else listen to them? The president of the Philippines invents stories about his political enemies from whole cloth, just like the president of the United States. And, with Trump at his side, Rodrigo Duterte recently dismissed a gaggle of reporters as “spies.” Continue reading “The Polish government is cracking down on private media — in the name of combating ‘fake news’”

President Trump is now a troll

Though it has a long way to go, the science that underlies the fight against extremism has made a lot of progress in recent years. Psychologists and social media analysts have found that people become radicalized by other members of a group. People seek out the like-minded, then enter online forums, then become more extreme by reading and communicating with others. As the study of history will also tell you, individuals will do things as part of a mob that they would not do alone. Continue reading “President Trump is now a troll”

Ukrainians are unsatisfied with their revolution. Maybe they’re right.

Last Tuesday was the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the demonstration that turned into a revolution in Ukraine. To mark the occasion, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited the Maidan, the central square where much of the drama played out back in late 2013 and early 2014. Together with the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, he and his wife laid flowers beside the monument to dozens of people who were murdered by police sharpshooters at the climax of the revolution, just before Poroshenko’s predecessor fled the country. Since then, many thousands more have died in fighting in the east. Continue reading “Ukrainians are unsatisfied with their revolution. Maybe they’re right.”

Zimbabwe’s coup can’t just end with another strongman

“The Beijing Consensus” is an idea that has been hanging around for a while, as a supposed alternative to “the Washington Consensus,” itself an evolving term that has come to mean “free-market economics” or “Western-style economics.” The Beijing consensus is supposed to offer an alternative to the West: state-dominated economics, plus repressive politics. Some of those who espouse it, or some version of it, insist that not only do developing countries need top-down, carefully planned economies, but also they need rulers who stay in power for many years, the better to plan economic development. Continue reading “Zimbabwe’s coup can’t just end with another strongman”