A Comforting Analysis

I should preface today’s post by sharing a basic political premise that comforts me.

When I look around at the multiple examples of injustice, mean-spiritedness, racism and fear that characterize America’s current polarization and unrest, I think back to the 60s and other tumultuous periods in our history. Almost always, those upheavals subside and leave significant social improvements in their wake.

Not perfection. But improvement.

It can be hard to keep that in mind when every day brings new evidence of humankind’s reluctance to deal positively with the challenges we face. And blogs like this one, that tend to focus on those challenges, probably don’t help. But if we take the long view, human society really has seen substantial progress–it’s just a lot slower than most of us would like. And sometimes, because it is slow and incremental, we miss seeing that progress.

Which brings me to Persuasion’s fascinating analysis of the global far-Right.The crux of that analysis is in the introductory paragraphs:

It is hard to be hopeful about democracy today. We are bombarded with headlines proclaiming democracy’s “retreat,” “crisis,” and perhaps even “death.” In the United States, both Democrats and Republicans believe democracy faces serious threats and President Biden has addressed what he views as widespread sentiments that “democracy’s best days [are] behind us.” Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, recent electoral victories by the Brothers of Italy, the Sweden Democrats, and the French National Rally—parties with far-right, even neo-Nazi roots—led many to proclaim that “fascism was returning” and democracy in danger even in Western Europe, a region where it has long been taken for granted. That’s become the reflexive framing for many commentators addressing European politics. The Guardian, for instance, declared Spain’s election, held this past weekend with the right-wing Vox party potentially poised to enter a ruling coalition, “a key battle in the Europe-wide struggle against neofascism.”

This pervasive pessimism is not justified. Far from being a sign that democracy is imperiled in Western Europe, the evolution of the Brothers of Italy, the Sweden Democrats, and the French National Rally should make us cautiously optimistic. These parties have come to recognize that in order to win votes and political power they had to move away from their far-right roots, moderate their appeals and policy platforms, and pledge to play by the democratic rules of the game.

The article argues that, when democratic norms and institutions are weak, extremists lack the incentive to moderate–they can gain power without playing by the rules of the game.

But where democratic norms and institutions are strong—as they have been for decades in Western Europe—extremists tend to be forced to moderate because there is little constituency for explicitly anti-democratic, extremist appeals. And until they moderate, other political actors and institutions are able to keep them from power.

The article documents that moderation, tracing the trajectory of several far-Right European movements–Marine Le Pen in France, Sweden’s Democrats, Brothers of Italy and others.

The author argues that refusing to recognize that these parties have moderated has consequences: it fosters fear and polarization; calling them fascist often bolsters their narrative of being righteous “outsiders;” and calling parties fascist when they are not contributes to misunderstandings about the current state of democracy.

There has certainly been significant democratic backsliding among countries that made transitions to democracy during the late twentieth century. But this is not surprising: all previous democratic “waves”—such as those occurring in 1848 and after the First and Second World Wars—had significant undertows. Notwithstanding, many more democracies have survived the late twentieth century wave than did previous ones. And among established wealthy democracies only one—the United States—has experienced significant democratic decay.

The fact that these parties have moderated doesn’t mean they don’t continue to pose problems, of course. And what is particularly chilling is the author’s explicit recognition that America’s Republican Party has gone in the opposite direction from most of its Western European counterparts: “it has moved from being a center-right or conservative party to a far-right one.”

This reflects underlying weaknesses in American democracy and deep divisions in American society and shows that under such conditions even wealthy, long-established democracies can experience democratic decay.”

The article ends by recommending more democracy– but there’s a caveat:

As long as right-wing populists continue to respect laws, constitutions, and the democratic rules of the game, this is the best way forward: trying to lure voters away from these parties with better ideas.

Large numbers of MAGA world denizens, unfortunately, do not “continue to respect laws, constitutions and democratic rules of the game.”

But then, neither did the Weathermen...


  1. Yesterday the blog was Sheila’s “Personal Rant”; we cannot focus on anything — or anyone — to inspire hope for democracy when the media is on an unending rant about any and everything pertaining to Donald Trump. He is being crammed into our every body orifice 24 hours a day 7 days a week; the media is electing him with free campaign publicity – “even bad publicity is good publicity” – and all of it is increasing donations which he is using to pay his legal bills. There is no total count of how many attorneys are working for Trump or working for the attorneys working for Trump or seeking to work for Trump as his criminal charges increase.

    This tumultuous period is in its 8th year and gaining strength daily, some days, hourly. “Almost always, those upheavals subside and leave significant social improvements in their wake.” The sudden “upheaval” from last Thursday as we anxiously waited for the grand jury decision to indict or not indict Trump on his sedition and treason leadership of the January 6th Insurrection came to a dead end when another of his allies hiding vital evidence at his home in Mar-A-Lago was named and has taken over the entire media.

    I found a better idea by switching the TCM channel and am watching that 1954 movie “Them” where the good guys destroy the monsters and win.

  2. At this point the political climate doesn’t matter that much as we are facing total ecological and economic collapse in less than 10 years or so…the right wing fascists and corporate whores have already “won” in their battle for profits over people. Sadly there’s not a damn thing we can do now, locally or globally, to stop the extreme climate change caused by human activities. Scientists have warned us for many years that we are headed for a dangerous cliff and yet our political and business “leaders” stomped their foot on the gas pedal instead of easing up and looking for alternative solutions. All the major tipping points have been passed and it’s only a matter of time now before the exponential increase in global temperatures cooks us all

  3. I would very much like to read an analysis of how the GOP has gone from Lincoln to T***p, passing through Teddy Roosevelt, who fought big money monopolies and established the National Park system, to Eisenhower, who built the Interstate system without raising taxes (except for the gas tax), to Reagan, who set up the economy to benefit the top 1% with his “trickle down” economy, and has finally landed on TFG, who poses the biggest threat to American democracy in my lifetime.
    Then I would like to read an analysis of how the Democrat Party has gone from the Party of the People to be perceived as the party of the social and power elite.
    Any suggestions?

  4. JoAnn nailed the media and communications segment. And this is after they took inventory and discovered they created Trump back in 2016 with free media nonstop. Here they are again doing the exact same thing.

    Trump is good for capitalism and, therefore, good for the oligarchy ruling over us. We can’t have a nice rail system because they would have to pay more taxes. They don’t use a rail system — private jets for them.

    As for the fascist outsiders, we must know that is bunk in the USA. Trump did nothing for the general populace or his constituents. He delivered to the oligarchies in this country. Remember how tough he was on foreign trade? It created huge losses for farmers and others. Trump bailed them out to save face.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that our media approves of US Fascism but not US Socialism. Anything left of the DNC is slaughtered in this country, and the DNC has moved further and further right over the past several decades.

    Fascism is okay; socialism is to be sworn off.

    When you realize our oligarchies rule the USA, it makes sense. When you realize both parties work for the oligarchies, you see voting as an illusion of choice between two political party favs. Trump was a populist until the GOP adopted him, allowing the DNC to slide to the right as well.

    Even though we have two viable populist candidates for POTUS, our oligarch-controlled press slanders or ignores them completely. Fascism, okay. Socialism is not okay. LOL

  5. The Guardian has an article today about how the oligarchy responds to heat protection for workers. Biden can propose everything he likes to look good, knowing it has zero chance of passing. Unions better get off their butts and show people they have clout or they’ll lose to true leftists.

    From the article:

    “A handful of states, California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Minnesota, have issued their own heat exposure standards. Oregon is the only state also to protect indoor workers from heat exposure. Business groups have responded with lawsuits in Oregon and industry groups have already questioned the feasibility of a federal heat illness standard.

    Meanwhile, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has rescinded city ordinances that mandated heat protections for workers. The move was applauded by business groups.”


  6. Today’s comforting analysis is like the well-meaning nurse who says to the frightened patient, “There there now, it’s only a little cancer.”

  7. Everyone focuses on 45,but how did we get to this point, where rules and norms are laughable? Let’s start with Newt, the original proponent of incivility. His GOPAC trained young Republican candidates to call their opponents traitors. It was just the beginning. Republicans were encouraged to treat their opposition as less than human. Then and now we have Mitch! The Constitution says the Senate shall vote on the President’s nominations for the Supreme Court. It doesn’t say the Senate may vote. Mitch ignored his Constitutional duty and set a new “standard”, declaring that,in an election year, the Senate must wait until after an election to vote on the New President’s pick. That stood until the next Presidential election year, when he cynically pushed through Justice Coney Barrett. I should also add that he violated an agreement between Leadership that picks for SCOTUS would continue to require a 60 vote threshold, while all others would be by simple majority.

    In short, the Democrats need to understand that the playing field is not level. Never take Mitch at his word. Always expect the worst. At least you won’t ever be surprised.

  8. Todd, you said “Trump was good for Capitalism”. I want to disagree. I think in the long haul analysis people will come to the consensus that one of the cornerstones of Trump policy was to keep the stock market flying high. There are many ways of doing this and many of of those policies are only short term, like lowering taxes. Many of those policies skew wealth to the already wealthy. Trump was good for the stock market, and the stock market is not the economy.

    Trump exposed many dark sides of the extreme end of current Republican party. I hope and I think with that exposed we can hope for the electorate to swing back the middle ground. However, in the US, I think Republicans have forgotten that the lies of their own propaganda arm are lies.

  9. “Large numbers of MAGA world denizens, unfortunately, do not “continue to respect laws, constitutions and democratic rules of the game.”” No, they don’t. And right-wing extremists who moderate their rhetoric to win elections don’t have to keep any promises they make about respecting rule of law, constitutions, what is or is not “settled law,” and democratic institutions.

  10. The Weathermen saw the country as imperialist? Uh, yeah! Just how many military bases
    do we have around the world? Were we a capitalist colonial power in South America? And on….
    I can take some comfort in the analysis Sheila brings to us, but my pessimism runs behind the scene
    along with Todd’s, about how close we are to environmental collapse, judging that the methane
    explosions in the Kamchatka peninsula was a sign that we’d met the tipping point. Scientists
    continue to be “shocked, I tell you, just shocked” at the speed of glacial melt and the like.

    Despite my pessimism, Sheila, just yesterday I recommended this blog to a young woman now
    on her way to continue her Political Science major in her sophomore year at college.

    I saw “Them” when it first came out, and now that it’s been mentioned, I wonder whether or not Oppenheimer saw it.

  11. The climate is definitely changing, but the future cannot be predicted with anything approaching 100% certainty. Claiming otherwise does a disservice to the millions of people worldwide who are working to prevent our demise. It is just as dishonest to predict certain annihilation as it was claim that climate change was a hoax. Neither gets us closer to solutions.

  12. Rather than add my rant to the wisdom I’ve come to expect every day here, I’m going to offer a shred of personal hope and insight on climate change.

    The book, “The Ministry For the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson comes as close as I have seen to offering in a novel form what the world will be like as some of us will experience it in two to three decades. Yes, climate change will have created a dystopian reality. He offers no hope that we are collectively smart enough to have avoided that. But, humans adapt from the bottom up and that’s the hope for mankind. We can become collectively smarter in a new world order with a much more functional culture. The transition will be tumultuous, revolutions always are, but we will throw out the old and bring in the new.

  13. I suspect the fear related to the far-right European parties is that they are only pretending to moderate in order to gain power. It’s my fear, anyway. I wonder what they’d do, should they actually attain power.

    It’s like the GOP (and their supreme court candidates) said that Roe was settled law. But then when they actually had the power, what happened? The Trump-appointed justices clearly lied about Roe during their confirmation hearings, saying what they felt they needed to, in order to attain power.

    It seems to me that pretending that the far-right European parties have really moderated plays right into their hand.

  14. We don’t have a Trump problem, we have a Republican Party problem. Why? We have too many “leaders” in the Republican Party who say and do nothing. A number of them may say in private that they disagree with the direction of their party. They say nothing in public or on the record. I’d say they are cowards.

    The Republican Party must go the way of the Whig Party.

  15. I hate to throw cold water on the analysis, but I don’t buy it. Some, like Youngkin, may sound like they are moderating, but what are their policies once they are in office.

    I will also remind you that the Weathermen were a tiny group that never had political power. In contrast, LBJ (before his Vietnam mistake) did the right thing and pushed for civil rights legislation. He knew that he was losing the racist, Dixiecrats, but Nixon was there to welcome them with open arms. The Republicans have been flirting with the far right increasingly through the years, telling themselves it was only an alliance of convenience to achieve their economic goals. The they found out that they had been swallowed whole by the extremists. The MAGA crowd own a political party, they are not as weak as the Weathermen were, but they may be as violent.

    I think Orban will keep in power without “moderating” and if Erdogan loses power, it will be because of his inability to cope with natural disasters. Israel is on the brink and the US — well I still have hope that we may dodge the bullet, but until the Republicans truly rebuke the far right, and stop trying to step back one inch and say “all is good now, resume McConnellism”, we will remain in danger.

  16. Yes to Peggy’s analysis – with one addition, i.e., Machiavelli and Newt. Newt’s “Contract WITH America” turns out to be his “Contract ON America.”

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