Forget Hanoi. Trump has already done irreparable damage to America’s reputation.

Yes, the details were engrossing. The photograph of the empty lunch table where President Trump and Kim Jong Un were supposed to celebrate the deal they never signed. The menu of the meal that they did consume: grilled steak with pear kimchi and hot chocolate lava cake, surely the worst of two cultures combined. The little dramas of the Michael Cohen hearings are also the ones that commanded attention on the day, the checks he produced with Trump’s signature, allegedly “hush money” payments meant to be paid to a porn star, or what looked like Cohen’s tears at the end of the session. But long after this weird double news story is forgotten, long after anyone has ceased to remember these juicy details, a longer shadow will remain. Continue reading “Forget Hanoi. Trump has already done irreparable damage to America’s reputation.”

Is this the end of political parties?

George Washington thought they were “potent engines” easily abused by “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men.” The English poet Alexander Pope thought they manipulated “the madness of the many, for the gain of a few.” Neither man was unusual: Plenty of political thinkers in the 18th century — the era that gave birth to modern democracy in both America and Britain — had poor opinions of political parties. So why do we remain so attached to them today? Continue reading “Is this the end of political parties?”

An off-key Pence sings from the Trump hymnal to a stony European reception

Even inside a hotel so secure that it has body scanners at the entrance and snipers on the roof, Vice President Pence travels with a vast security detail. Its main function, it seems, is to elbow people out of the way so that the vice president and his unsmiling wife can walk through a lobby, crowded with European officials and military brass, and speak to no one. Which is perhaps unsurprising, for Pence was heading to the main forum of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday — an annual event whose origins lie deep in the Cold War — to make statements so tone-deaf and, frankly, peculiar that their intended audience could not have been the one in the room. Continue reading “An off-key Pence sings from the Trump hymnal to a stony European reception”

‘Never again?’ It’s already happening.

Because I write books about Soviet history, and because I often speak about them to U.S. or European audiences, I am frequently forced to confront the problem of Western indifference. Why, I am asked over and over, did British diplomats who knew about the man-made Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 do nothing to stop it? The Catholic Church at that time was also aware that millions of Soviet citizens were dying because Joseph Stalin’s state had confiscated their food. Why did it not galvanize Europeans to send grain? Continue reading “‘Never again?’ It’s already happening.”

It’s not xenophobia that links the ‘new populists.’ It’s hypocrisy.

In recent months, academics, columnists and analysts have spilled gallons of ink analyzing the so-called “populists” who are winning elections, or coming close to winning them, in so many countries. Mea culpa: I, too, have sought to explain why so many people are suddenly using xenophobic language, attacking “elites” and heaping scorn on international institutions of all kinds. What do they all have in common? What are the traits they all share? Continue reading “It’s not xenophobia that links the ‘new populists.’ It’s hypocrisy.”

The new censors won’t delete your words — they’ll drown them out

Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth. Each day, the hero of George Orwell’s “1984” “corrects” old newspapers to make sure that the information is in still accord with the current Party line. After rewriting history, he puts each “incorrect” story into a “memory hole” — a slit in the wall — and it is “whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.” Continue reading “The new censors won’t delete your words — they’ll drown them out”

Regulate social media now. The future of democracy is at stake.

A few days ago, ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom, discovered that a tool it was using to track political advertising on Facebook had been quietly disabled — by Facebook. The browser extension had detected political ad campaigns and gathered details on the ads’ target audiences. Facebook also tracks political ad campaigns, but sometimes it fails to detect them. For the past year, the company had accepted corrections from ProPublica — until one day it decided it didn’t want them anymore. It also seems like “they don’t wish for there to be information about the targeting of political advertising,” an editor at ProPublica told me. Continue reading “Regulate social media now. The future of democracy is at stake.”

Venezuela is how ‘illiberal democracy’ ends

For absolute proof that the ideological language of the 20th century is insufficient to describe the political realities of the 21st century, look no further than the international alliances that have formed around Venezuela. In the past few days, Venezuela has functioned as a kind of a Rorschach test, a black blob upon which many people want to project their own political views. Continue reading “Venezuela is how ‘illiberal democracy’ ends”

A crisis of conservatism creates gridlock on both sides of the Atlantic

In the capital cities of the two great anglophone powers, public business has ground to a halt. On one side of the Atlantic, federal workers are lining up to receive free food while the president holds the government to ransom. On the other side, the House of Commons, a legislative body that likes to call itself the “mother of parliaments,” is completely frozen by its inability to legislate. The government cannot pass the Brexit deal it has negotiated. The opposition cannot unseat the government. Continue reading “A crisis of conservatism creates gridlock on both sides of the Atlantic”