A close observer of world governments sounds an alarm about threats to democracy.
Former Secretary of State Albright (Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, 2012, etc.) offers an authoritative and well-grounded analysis of the growing rise of fascism around the world. Why, she asks, “has international momentum toward democracy slowed, and why are so many charlatans seeking to undermine public confidence in elections, the courts, the media,” and science? She counts the current president among the charlatans. “Trump’s eyes light up,” she writes, “when strongmen steamroll opposition, brush aside legal constraints, ignore criticism, and do whatever it takes to get their way.” A fascist leader, Albright asserts, uses any means necessary to command obedience and therefore depends on a popular base willing to take orders. Preying upon the “fears and hopes of average people,” fascism begins insidiously, with “a seemingly minor character” who professes to be the single person to solve a nation’s problems. Deteriorating social and economic conditions offer an opportunity for “a gifted pied piper” to rise. As Mussolini observed, those seeking power should “do so in the manner of plucking a chicken—feather by feather” to keep the process as quiet as possible. “Soon enough,” warns Albright, “the government that silences one media outlet finds muffling a second easer.” Besides providing an overview of the careers of Mussolini and Hitler, Albright looks at leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Putin, she observes, is not yet a “full-blown” fascist, but he “has flipped through Stalin’s copy of the totalitarian playbook and underlined passages of interest to call on when convenient.” Albright concludes with 10 questions to ask of any prospective leader: Do they inflame prejudices and incite desire for revenge; encourage contempt for governing institutions, the press, and the judiciary; exploit symbols of patriotism; brag about their power to solve all problems; and exhibit “pumped up machismo about using violence”?
Sage advice in perilous times.