How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

Trump Gets Chance to Influence American Life for Generations Through Supreme Court Pick

As the first Republican president to get his judicial nominees confirmed by a simple majority vote, thanks to the abolition of the Senate filibuster rule, Mr. Trump has already broken records in appointing young and highly conservative appellate judges. Now, Mr. Trump can create a new majority bloc on the Supreme Court — one that is far more consistently conservative, and one that can impose its influence over American life long after his presidency ends on issues as diverse as the environment and labor or abortion and civil rights.

If Mr. Trump secures that prospect, he will fulfill the deal that he struck during the 2016 campaign with traditional and movement conservatives who were skeptical of his politics and hesitant about supporting his candidacy. They feared he would pick an idiosyncratic nominee, like a celebrity lawyer he saw on television, rather than an authentic conservative.

But Mr. Trump shored up Republican turnout in the election by promising to select Supreme Court nominations from a list of conservative judges. It was shaped by his top legal adviser, Donald F. McGahn II, now the White House counsel, who worked with advisers like Leonard Leo, the executive director of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal movement network.

.. joking shorthand for what traditional Republicans got in return: “But Gorsuch.” In November, the White House quietly issued a revised version of the list in case another vacancy arose.

.. “The danger is that the Supreme Court, at the behest of this president, will favor the wealthy and powerful and extremist groups at the expense of everyone else — not just for President Trump’s term, but for decades to come,” she said.

.. The prospects for the nominee’s confirmation will most likely come down to how a handful of moderate senators will vote. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans who support abortion rights, are considered key votes in a narrowly divided Senate, as are Senators Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, all Democrats up for re-election in states that Mr. Trump won.

.. the Trump administration’s recent indication that it will try to use the courts to dismantle the law’s popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

.. “People get that this is about undoing precedent and advancing the interests of corporations and the wealthy and privileged, not all of us as Americans.”

.. Adding to the court a pick from Mr. Trump’s list creates the “prospect of a conservative majority over a long period of time,” even if Mr. Trump loses to a Democrat in 2020 who could restock the court’s liberal minority

.. he was optimistic that the fight over the new vacancy would help Republicans maintain control of the Senate in the midterm elections by keeping the courts as a primary topic of political conversation in the coming months.

.. Mr. Trump to create an even more enduring achievement if a liberal justice’s seat opened, perhaps for health reasons, in the second half of his term

 

What Happens When Abortion Is Banned?

Given that hundreds of women a year died from botched illegal abortions in the United States before Roe v. Wade, which legalized the procedure in 1973, I expected to find hospitals in Chile overflowing with dying women. Instead, I found that abortion drugs have dramatically altered the situation.

I’ve spent the past decade studying abortions in Latin American countries where abortion is always, or almost always, illegal. Yet, abortion in these countries remains commonplace. It is vastly safer than it was in the past, thanks to a revolution that has replaced back alleys with blister packs ordered online.

.. Abortifacient drugs have become so readily available in places like Chile and El Salvador that today it is impossible to enforce abortion bans. That was also the case in Ireland, where by some accounts, before last week’s legalization vote, at least two Irish women a day were self-administering abortions using pills.

.. The most widely available abortion drug in Latin America, misoprostol, is commonly used to treat ulcers. Although less effective than the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol used in the United States, misoprostol taken in the first trimester triggers an abortion in approximately 90 percent of cases.

.. Efforts to restrict access to misoprostol will fail not simply because it costs pennies to make, but also because it saves lives. The World Health Organization lists misoprostol as an “essential medicine” for treating miscarriages, and it is credited with dramatically reducing deaths from illegal abortions.

.. If a woman takes the wrong drug or the wrong dosage, particularly too late in pregnancy, she is likely to wind up in the emergency room, bleeding. There is no ready way for doctors to tell the difference between the hemorrhaging from a natural miscarriage and that from an induced abortion. But that hasn’t stopped governments from tasking them with trying.

.. Historically, as well as in most countries today, abortion prosecutions typically target the doctor. This practice is endorsed by today’s anti-abortion movement, which with virtual unanimity proclaims that women are abortion’s “second victims,” deserving compassion rather than punishment.

..  Government officials have toured the country’s hospitals to inform doctors of their duty to report women even suspected of having induced their miscarriages. Not only does this policy violate near-universal norms of patient confidentiality, but because doctors have no reliable way to tell a natural miscarriage from an abortion, reports are made on the basis of suspicion. Who do doctors tend to suspect most readily? Poor women.
.. Doctors may suspect wealthier patients of inducing a miscarriage, but they report only poor patients. Confidentiality has become a commodity.
.. The risk of being accused of a crime injects fear and distrust into the doctor-patient relationship, leading some women to postpone or forgo necessary care.
.. even a substantial legal victory for abortion opponents will not be as effective in combating abortion as they imagine — not just because a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy will find a way, but because abortion drugs make finding that way easier than ever. In the internet age, trying to stop abortion by closing clinics is like trying to eradicate pornography by seizing magazines.
.. Doctors will find themselves torn between strong norms protecting confidentiality and the pressure to report their patients, and the pressure to treat women themselves as criminals is likely to grow,
.. Abortions rates are driven not by legality but by economics. Half of the abortions in the United States are among women below the federal poverty line.
.. the best way to lower abortion rates is to deal with what causes women to want to abort in the first place. Rather than ending abortion, criminalizing abortion will merely create new ways in which the state can intensify the misery of the poorest among us.