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Apropos of Everything


Because it’s a day for joyous celebration of the essential goodness of humanity, you should read this (surprisingly) good review essay by Cass Sunstein over at the New York Review of Books.

All three authors are keenly aware that their narratives offer important lessons, and these should not be lost on contemporary readers. Turkey, for example, has been sliding toward authoritarianism through tactics not unlike those of the Nazis: jailing political dissidents, attacking freedom of speech, treating critics as enemies of the state, and obliterating checks and balances. Thus far, President Trump has been more bark than bite. But some of the barks have a history that is at once ugly and revealing. The Nazis applied the term Lügenpresse (lying press) to the mainstream press; President Trump refers to the “FAKE NEWS media,” which, he says, “is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” In significant domains (including climate change), his administration denigrates science; he has even failed to fill the position of White House science adviser. The Nazis also dismissed or politicized science (especially Einstein’s “Jewish Science”) in favor of what they claimed to be the spirit of the Volk.

If the president of the United States is constantly lying, complaining that the independent press is responsible for fake news, calling for the withdrawal of licenses from television networks, publicly demanding jail sentences for political opponents, undermining the authority of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, magnifying social divisions, delegitimizing critics as “crooked” or “failing,” and even refusing, in violation of the law, to protect young children against the risks associated with lead paint—well, it’s not fascism, but the United States has not seen anything like it before.

With our system of checks and balances, full-blown authoritarianism is unlikely to happen here, but it would be foolish to ignore the risks that Trump and his administration pose to established norms and institutions, which help preserve both order and liberty. Those risks will grow if opposition to violations of long-standing norms is limited to Democrats, and if Republicans laugh, applaud, agree with, or make excuses for Trump—if they howl with the wolf.

Sunstein’s wrong that we’ve never seen anything “like it before,” which is why we should be even more worried.

Also, everything is terrible; we need to do politics with the full knowledge that “the arc of the moral universe” may be “long” but it only “bends toward justice” through the struggle and sacrifice of people great and small, ordinary and extraordinary.

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