Across the globe, democracy is in trouble. Paul Mason catalogues the places where authoritarians are waging war on democratically elected governments:
A rough inventory of July’s contribution to the global collapse of democracy would include Turkey’s show trial of leading journalists from Cumhuriyet, a major newspaper; Vladimir Putin’s ban on the virtual private networks used by democracy activists to evade censorship; Apple’s decision to pull the selfsame technology from its Chinese app store.
Then there is Hungary’s government-funded poster campaign depicting opposition parties and NGOs as puppets of Jewish billionaire George Soros; Poland’s evisceration of judicial independence and the presidential veto that stopped it. Plus Venezuela’s constituent assembly poll, boycotted by more than half the population amid incipient civil war.
And,of course, south of the border, The Great Orange Id is doing his best to destroy the norms and institutions which buttress American democracy. Most troubling is the yawn these assaults have elicited from ordinary folks:
Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it. Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.
The problem is it sets new norms of behaviour. It is no accident that the “enemies of the people” meme is doing the rounds: Orbán uses it against the billionaire George Soros, Trump uses it against the liberal press, China used it to jail the poet Liu Xiaobo and keep him in prison until his death.
Today's autocrats, Mason writes, have become skilled in the art of what he calls "micromanaged non-dissent:"
Erdoğan not only sacked tens of thousands of dissenting academics, and jailed some, but removed their social security rights, revoked their rights to teach, and in some cases to travel. Trump is engaged in a similar micromanagerial attack on so called “sanctuary cities”. About 300 US local governments have pledged – entirely legally – not to collaborate with the federal immigration agency ICE. Last week the US attorney general Jeff Sessions threatened federal grants to these cities’ local justice systems, a move Trump hailed using yet another fashionable technique – the unverified claim.
Trump told a rally of supporters in Ohio that the federal government was in fact “liberating” American cities from immigrant crime gangs. They “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die”, he said. At school – and I mean primary school – we were taught to greet such claims about racial minorities with the question: “Really? When and where did this happen?” Trump cited no evidence – though the US press managed to find examples in which gang members had indeed hacked each other.
The autocrats know what they're doing. And they're relying on our apathy to succeed.