Plain English with Derek Thompson - The Bad Guys Are Winning


Today, we’re going to talk about the state of democracy.

For some quick housekeeping.

I have already had so much fun making this podcast.

Thank you to all of you who are listening and writing to me and tweeting the nice tweets.


It really means a lot.

And if you’re enjoying this pod, please take 15 seconds.

And follow us on Spotify, rate and review us Napa podcast.

It all goes a long way, so many of the episodes I’ve done so far unpack stuff that I know a little something about the economy or covid, or Facebook’s metal.


Thingy this episode is about something.

I do not know very much about or at least I didn’t know much about before.

I started researching for this episode.

It’s about the decline of democracy around the world and the rise of a new kind of authoritarianism.

Our guide today is Anne Applebaum and is a staff writer at the Atlantic where I am also a staff writer and she is the author of our latest cover story titled.


The bad guys are winning how a new League of autocrat.

Siz outsmarting the West.

A lot of times when I see headlines about the state of democracy, the state of democracy around the world.

The article itself is kind of unbelievably boring.

You get stuff like last year, Italy’s democracy was a 9.6 on a 10-point scale.


But now it’s a seven-point eight on a template.

Like what the hell does that mean?

And peace is nothing like that.

It is kind of a banger.

It is clarifying.

It’s fascinating and it’s terrifying.

It opened my eyes.

I still really interesting idea.


History is not one unbending line of progress history, contains progress, but it moves in something that from the ground level looks a little bit more like Cycles in the late 20th century.

You saw the rise of liberal democracy all over the world.

The defeat of Communism, the defeat of fascism, but the 21st century has been a story in reverse.


You have Rising authoritarianism in Turkey in Hungary, in Brazil, and those are just our allies.

In Russia and China, the situation is even darker.

And right here in the US.

You have a Republican president who rejected the results of a fair election.


You have a violent assault on the capital, you have polarization.

It’s so deep that some people are predicting a civil war, 2.0.

It really does.

Sometimes feel like the entire world is slipping backward at the same time.

So what the hell is happening here and what can be done about it?


I’m Derrick Thompson.

This is plain English.


And Ethel, Bob, welcome to the podcast.

Thanks for having me and your little cover story.

The autocrats are winning is extremely interesting and extremely scary to you, write that a new species of authoritarianism is sweeping the world.

Can you compare?


Are the image, you think, most people have of what, an authoritarian leader is to the movement that we’re actually seeing now.

I think most people have in their heads, a kind of cartoon image of what a dictatorship looks like.

There’s one really bad guy at the top and he controls the police.


Maybe he controls the Army, you know, there are some bad collaborators who work alongside him and there may be some Brave dissidents who opposed him, in reality, most dictators in the modern world are not operating by themselves.


Most of them work.

In conjunction with others really what we’re talking about.

Now, are networks of autocracy and to be clear.

These are not ideological networks.

We’re talking about, so called Communists in Venezuela or Cuba or China working with theocrats in Iran working with nationalists in Russia or Burma or Saudi Arabia.


So, we’re talking about very different kinds of regimes that work together.

And and nevertheless help to prop one another up.


They now all see a single enemy and the enemy is democracy and Democratic movements.


In particular, the Democratic movements inside their own countries whom they fear and whose influence their seeking to repress.

And so towards that end, they work with one another, you know, the state companies have one country invest in the state companies of another this.


Valence teams in one country.

Help train the surveillance teams in another.

They learn from one another, how to use social media how to use bots in order to put out disinformation.

Sometimes they use very similar themes, the kind of anti-americanism.


You can hear in Russia.

You can hear echoed in Belarus.

You can hear it in Venezuela.

It’s all amazingly similar, even though again, these are really really different places with different histories, and different geographies and supposedly different ideologies.

But really in each one of these countries were talking about very small.


Usually, very wealthy Elites who have learned how to make money and hide it and who are interested in maintaining that system indefinitely.

So you call this new network of dictators autocracy Inc.

Like a distributed Corporation of dictators with shared resources and shared strategy.


Shared messaging shared Crackdown tactics your cover Story begins with what’s happening in.

Belarus, which, for listeners, who like me could have used a refresher on Eastern European geography, is a nation, roughly the size and shape of Missouri.

That’s directly between Russia and Poland.


Like, if you drew a straight line, from Moscow, capital of Russia to Warsaw Poland, you would just about passed through Minsk in Belarus, Belarus looms, very large in your analysis of autocracy ink in your article, in the Atlantic.

Tell us what happened in the last election there and why it’s so important.


The other is the reason you don’t know.

So much about it is that it wasn’t a country before 1991 and it had no history.

As an independent state.

It became a state following the breakup of the Soviet Union and it’s been run.

It was initially had Democratic elections and it was run more or less without much Bloodshed or repression by a man called Alexander.


Lukashenko who have to think of as a kind of large-scale collective Farm Boss, and he’s very kind of aggressively.


But in a way that’s designed to it was originally designed to be appealing.

He has successfully repressed, his opposition though and managed to Swindle them out of elections in the past.


But last summer in 2020, he was faced For the First Time by a really genuinely large and popular Democratic movement.

It was led by a woman.

She’s called Svetlana sick, enough skya, she became the leader of the movement by accident.


She was married to a man.

Man called Sergey sokolsky.

Who had begun who gained a lot of popularity in detention and Belarus by making videos that lampooned the regime and lampooned in particular.

Its corruption and in particularly focused on the difficulties in ordinary life that many people face because of corrupt bureaucrats and he went around the country.


He made these videos.

He became well-known.

He announced, he was running for president and he was arrested.

She ran in his place.

The regime let her run, because they thought who is this housewife?

She can’t.

Play be attractive or interesting to people.

What difference does it make?

And then she was astoundingly popular and her campaign became a campaign about Ordinary People pushing back against the regime.


She got huge demonstrations people supporting her all over the country, and all kinds of places that had never been political or before in the countryside and small towns in factories.

At the time, when the on the day of the election, lukashenko brushed aside all results.


He didn’t We even pretend to take them seriously.

He announced that he had won by 80% and then he shut down the internet.

She was subsequently expelled from the country and many of her supporters and colleagues were arrested.

She now lives outside the country in Vilnius, in Lithuania where I met her last spring.


Billers is interesting as an example of what we were talking about before because this is, in fact, a very weak state with a very unpopular dictator and actually quite a well organized.

Democratic opposition in a, in the normal course of things you would expect.


Lukashenko not to survive very long and indeed, it looked last summer, like he wasn’t going to.

There was a moment when he seemed very close to leaving the country.

However, he was rescued.

He was rescued by his immediate neighbor, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who sent in a team from the Russian FSB from the Russian Security Services to beef up the Belarusian Security Services to lend them.


Journalists actually.

Ali, who could replace their state TV journalist, most of whom by that point.

We’re on strike.

And he essentially backed up, lukashenko helped him repress, his dissidents and began offering him.

All kinds of other things markets to, for his products because Belarus was sanctioned, but he wasn’t the only one Belarus also has one of the biggest investments in Europe.


If not the biggest from China.

It has support from the Cubans who have stood up for Belarus at the UN and in other human rights.

Don’t be the Russians are now talking to the Iranians, which really is.

This is not a historical link that ever existed before.


If you think about Iran and Belarus these are not places that were had much in common.

And essentially he’s being propped up and floated by the Democrat the all by the autocratic World very similar situation to Venezuela, which is another country.


Again, totally different geographically historically everything else, but also very weak regime.

Very unpopular has Ah, versed the country to an extraordinary extent because Venezuela went from being the wealthiest country in South America to probably the poorest millions of refugees malnutrition and yet Maduro whose leader Venezuela.


Now, also stays in power.

Thanks to Russian and Chinese in a rainy investment.

Thanks to trade with turkey.

Thanks to deals with Cuba and its security services.

So Belarus is a really good example of the phenomenon that I’m talking about.

This is this is a dictator who stays afloat.


Thanks, not just to his internal power, which is quite weak.

But thanks to his contacts, around the world.

So Belarus is leader.


Oh, he loses an election.

Basically cancels the results, expels the opposition and receives as a gift from Russia and China.


What I read in your piece is almost like autocracy in a box.

It’s like, here’s autocracy in a box.

Here’s a market for your products.

Here’s some fake journalist.

They worked well for us to prop up our autocracy, the work well for you here.

As Investments.

Here’s deals with members within this autocratic block.


I want to hold on Russia first before we go into China.

What is Russia specifically trying to accomplish here.

Well, Russia has very clear interests in Belarus.

What Russia is trying to prevent is a victory for democracy in a country on its borders.


That’s what happened a few years ago and Ukraine when there was exactly this kind of democratic Revolution that overthrew a dick.

Toriel, increasingly dictatorial president, people went out on the streets.

They waved European Union Flags.

They had they chanted anti-corruption, slogans.


This is exactly what Putin is most afraid of what he’s afraid of is his own on popularity.

He’s afraid of exposures of the amount of money that he’s stolen, and he doesn’t want to see another democratic election or Democratic Revolution, succeeding anywhere else, but particularly not near him, his Interest remember is is mostly about himself and his own security and his own power.


I don’t think he likes lukashenko or cares, one way or the other about lukashenko.

It’s not about you know, friendship or comradeship or you know, some kind of ideological thing.

It’s because he doesn’t want any and Democratic success anywhere really, but certainly not near him because of the example that that would set for Russians.


Yeah, and just to close this Loop for me.

I Can See Clearly how Russia strategy to Prop up, lukashenko and Belarus connects with their strategy, to disrupt the electoral process in the United States or in Australia, or around the world.

What, what is he?


What is Putin?

So afraid of happening, how would the perceived success of democracy in Australia in the u.s.

Affect him at home?

So there’s, there’s, there are several explanations for it.

I mean, number one, the thing he’s most afraid of rightly or wrongly, actually, because it may be very unlikely, but I think he’s I’m most afraid of is a democratic revolution, in his own country of the kind that he himself witnessed.


As a young KGB officer in East Germany, in 1989.

He’s afraid of 1989 happening again, and he’s afraid of it, deposing him and robbing him of his power and of his immense wealth, and of the immense wealth of the, of the people around him.


So, that’s the primary reason and kind of disqualifying democracy, undermining, democracy showing democracy.

Be a sham showing democracy, be a corrupt overthrowing democracies.

All of this helps him make that argument at home.


What he wants to say to.

The Russians is don’t want that because it’s bad or anyway, it’s no better than what you have now and the more often he can show that the better.

I mean, he has an additional interest which is in undermining Democratic institutions in particular, the European Union, but also NATO because when democracies act together when certainly when the Ian, democracies act together they are stronger than Russia.


Much stronger Europe as a whole is, you know in you know, standing next to it.

Russia is puny and insignificant but one-on-one when Russia stands next to Spain, or Poland or Sweden or even Germany, Russia is as strong or else much stronger than those countries.


And so he also has an interest in undermining these group institutions because those are because they’re capable of acting in a way that frustrates him.

So, that’s his, that’s his Additional goal.

One of the reasons for his fondness for Trump, was Trump’s long-standing antipathy to Nato and his long-standing antipathy to American Allies because it’s precisely those alliances that are the biggest problem for Putin and for putinism.


So just as Belarus is a kind of skeleton key to help us understand, Russia’s foreign policy, and their involvement and autocracy ink, I think what’s happening in Turkey is similarly useful for helping us.

See China’s role in this.

This distributed Corporation for authoritarianism, tell us what’s happening with turkey and China right now.


So, turkey is a very interesting story.

I got into the story of turkey by meeting some of the Weger community in Turkey in Istanbul.

Also, a couple of months ago.

And this was, this was, this was deliberate.

The uyghurs are, as you know, a repressed, mostly Muslim minority in China in recent years.


They’ve been put in re-education.

Pam’s concentration camps, they’re liable to be arrested at any minute.

They’re there.

Their language is being repressed.

Their culture is being repressed and until recently the uyghurs found in Turkey a kind of Safe Haven because the uyghurs are a turkic people.


They speak a language that similar to Modern Turkish.

They say it’s about 60% the same they almost understand one another a lot of a lot of uyghurs have gone to turkey’s study and erdowan the Predator current president of Turkey has made a big deal out of this fact in the past.

You know, he likes to see himself as a kind of Greater Turkish nationalist.


He likes to promote the idea of Turkish cultures around Asia and their relationship to Modern turkey.

And in the past, he’s at he’s been to shinjang which is the home of the uyghurs.

He has he spoken on behalf of their cult, even talked about the repression of the uyghurs, being a genocide.


All of that in the last two or three years has disappeared completely erdogan’s He is now becoming more and more dangerous for uyghurs those, who are loud.

And those who protest against China.

They have been there, some who protest against the Chinese Embassy.


They’ve had their relatives have been locked up.

They’ve they’ve created a very small, but, but but but well heard kind of activist group there.

They now have they, you know, some of them have been arrested, some have been deported, some seem to be under just quiet.


Usher to be quiet or else just to leave.

And what’s interesting is that the it’s because of the, the economic debt, which turkey now.

Feels it, owes to China or the weakness that it feels vis-à-vis China and its desire for Chinese investment and China.


The Chinese do invest in their media and their infrastructure and other things.

All of that has led erdowan to reverse his previous friendship towards the uyghurs and to, and to change his language, quite dramatically.

It became Wait, there was a there was a high point for this, a few months ago, when it seemed as if in exchange for Chinese vaccines, that are Dewan had actually promised it alter a Turkish laws that it was easier to deport uyghurs directly back to China.


There was a big public outcry against this and that was reversed, but his very willingness to do this shows the degree to, which even a country as large, and powerful, and influential as turkey.

Now feels that it has To kowtow to China, to use a very old word in order to ensure that it gets that investment and similar kinds of behavior.


We can now see elsewhere in Asia.

We can see it all over Africa.

We can see it in much of the rest of the world that Chinese economic influence is now so important that it’s begun to influence the politics and certainly the debate about China in quite a number of countries.



I want to stick with China, because I’m so interested in and mildly horrified by it’s hard.

Autocratic turn in the last few years.

So China seems to me to be something like the chief executive CEO of autocracy ink or maybe just its Chief Financial Officer.


It is the largest country by population.

In this group that you’re describing.

It is the richest country in this rough network of anti-democratic forces.

And it has very explicit policies to extend Chinese influence around the world.

As you were describing, like listeners, may be familiar with China’s belt and Road initiative.


If not, this is one of the centerpieces of China.

Has foreign policy.

They make infrastructure deals with various countries around the world in Africa.

In Europe, throughout Western.

Asia ports, skyscrapers dams, they make Deals.

They give loans they enable local Leaders with Kickbacks and then they sort of tried to guarantee China.


Positive media coverage in return.

What is the big picture here?

In addition to just trying to kneecap the case for Global democracy?

What do you I think China is trying to do so until at least until recently.


The Chinese were less interested than the Russians are in actually disrupting democracies.

They weren’t meddling in u.s.

Elections directly at least, not at not.

In the same way, not involving themselves in social media.

I don’t think they’re quite as good at it among other things.

They don’t have that that that sense of how of how Western politics works.


But increasingly we see that although they don’t do that.

They do care a lot about how How China is discussed and they care a lot about how debates about China or framed and they become increasingly interested in investing in education sometimes in media, they’re very interested in their own Exile, communities inside various countries, including the United States, and they’re interested partly.


Because they care, they feel that it could ultimately affect investment and economic relations, but also because I think they care a lot about how it Bounces back into China and so they don’t want any discussion of the uyghurs anywhere or any discussion of Hong Kong anywhere and they will, and they will put enormous economic pressure on people and countries and and politicians who do it because they don’t want any of that going, you know, essentially filtering back into China.


So in that sense, it’s similar to Russia in that their primary interest is domestic and it’s preserving the, you know, it’s preserving the Contours of their of their Domestic arguments mean, they repressed a very large and hugely impressive democracy, movement, in Hong Kong and have bragged about it.


I mean, they count this as a Triumph and the line on that inside.

Mainland China, is what a great success, this was, and we, you know, we staved off, you know, you know, chaos and disruption in the form of democracy.

And we’ve saved China from, you know, for the Chinese and they don’t want any alternate version of this story getting through.


The Are waves back into their own country and they really don’t want it described that way anywhere else in the world.

So, so that.

So although I think they start from a slightly different position.

They end up in some of the same places Russia, where what, they really want to push back against our democracy movements, but our democracy language, but they’re much more interested in the ones that affect them directly.



And as long as we’re talking about the long shadow of Chinese influence, I think it’s only fair to bring in the US for a bit of criticism here as well.

Last year, you know, speaking of Chinese influence, America’s largest trading partner was China in 2018.

America’s largest trading partner was China in 2017, China, 2016, China, and the economic relationship that we have with China bleeds into our culture.


And it makes me wonder whether we have the fortitude to stand up to the kind of influence that is, you know, relatively the China is essentially demanding of other countries.

So for example, when Daryl Morey who, Is the general manager of the Houston Rockets publicized on Twitter last year?


His support, for Hong Kong protesters?

He had to delete the tweet and the NBA, which has been extremely Progressive on a range of domestic issues in the US.

Condemned the Tweet discourage players from commenting on Chinese policy and said that Pro Hong Kong signs needed, to be confiscated at exhibition games in DC.


We also saw an actor, John Cena, called Taiwan a country during a fast and furious.

Furious 9 interview, he had to apologize in Chinese.

I mean, it makes me wonder like as we move toward thinking about what the US can do to counter the rise of autocracy ink like, you forget countering Chinese influence, and Baylor, rooster Venezuela.


We don’t have a solution for countering Chinese influence in Hollywood.

We don’t have a solution for countering it at the Verizon Center in Washington.

D.c., I mean, are we the baddies to here?

So this is one of the arguments in the article and, you know, we I mentioned that that, that Houston Kids incident and and several others.


There have been several connected both to Big Sports and to Hollywood.

And also to pop culture that are that are and and music that are that are similar, the Chinese do increasingly put pressure on, people who do business.

They’re trying to shape what they say and what and how they, and how they talk about China.


And yes, I do think that the influence of autocracy or the autocracies inside the United States, as well as inside the Of Europe has gone very far and is much deeper and much more widespread than normally.

We give it credit for being and this, you know, some of this Hollywood stuff is essentially trivial but a much deeper and more profound problem is the problem of, you know, the way in which you know, the US and European and other developing World Financial systems.


Facilitate kleptocracy essentially, facilitate money, laundering hiding of money, theft of money, you know, and And that has, you know, we’ve already seen the degree to which that actually affects us politics.


It affects, you know, the, the economy of the city of New York is and the city of London.

For example, our and are deeply shaped by the number of people who use property in those cities as a form of money laundering.

So you can buy property, you can buy apartments in London or New York anonymously, that means that you can they serve as a kind of physical Swiss bank account, you can buy an Animus building.


Are you can start, you can use an anonymous company to buy a building, you can keep it there and you can just sit on the money and nobody has to know that it’s yours.

Unless it’s, you know, revealed periodically, there are these investigative reports that that do sometimes reveal these things, but for the most part, it’s been a very successful way to hide money.


And of course it has affected the way London to New York, look, because if people build whole buildings that are mostly intended for absent autocrats, or if you have whole neighborhoods, and Did you know famous neighborhoods Kensington Knightsbridge or now empty at night?

Because all the houses are owned by people who live in Dubai or Moscow, or or Beijing, and we’ve allowed that to happen.


We’ve allowed, you know, those forces to shape our cities and to shape our property markets and their numerous other ways in which that’s in, which that’s true as well, and becoming more conscious of this and becoming aware that this is happening.

I think, is is an essential step to make it stop, which is Which is one of the reasons I’ve been writing about it, but the difficulty is that it really requires some difficult choices on our parts.


Mean, some people are making a lot of money out of selling.

No new new new apartments to Anonymous shell companies, you know, Donald Trump famously shells.

A lot of Apartments to Anonymous shell companies and people have made fortunes and careers out of it.

And then some of those people have a lot of money and power.


And so rolling, this back is Big project and it may be a generational project, but it’s something that we need to start talking about now.

There are periods in history when it feels like liberalism is a sentence like maybe at the end of the Cold War and there’s also a period of history when it feels like the opposite it liberalism fascism.


Autocracy is ascendant.

Like the 1930s.

What do you think in the biggest picture makes this time?


Is there some Global Force social media, a new kind of economic system that’s pouring gasoline on the fire of authoritarian ship.


I think there’s two or three things.


I do think that the transition of all conversation and politics from real life to the internet, including social media, but not only has been incredibly destabilizing.


I mean actually it’s been destabilizing for everybody including autocracies, which is one of the reasons they’ve put so much investment into figuring out how to control it, you know, actually China and Russia understood the destabilizing impact of the impact of the The internet long before we did the Chinese created, the so-called great firewall, which allows them to censor, almost all conversation.


The Russians created it, something different, which was their disinformation machine, that promotes the not just the views of the regime but also seeks to undermine alternate narratives and and Alternate information.

And they’ve both been working on this for a decade and we seem to have only just noticed how destabilizing.


These forces are they’ve you know, unseated both for better and worse, traditional media, traditional media has been forced to adapt to the internet.

Sometimes successfully, sometimes not, you know, it’s the change has led to deeper polarization, a lower quality of political debate inside democracies as the rules of conversation online are not necessarily conducive to democracy or to or to even just rational conversation.


You know, Facebook is set up to promote anger and emotion and division.

It’s not set up to promote consensus and rational conversation and good ideas.

And that’s just, that’s just a part of how the internet works.

I think that’s a, that’s a, that’s a big part of it.


I mean, I think the second part of it is the simply, the growth of China itself and the success of China.

And, and that, that both means that China is simply has more Influence.

It has real money.

That’s, you know, one of the reasons it’s influential in Hollywood is because, you know, Hollywood cells.


So many movies, China, and so just the growth in size of China.

Over the last couple of decades is is part of the story.

But also the, you know, the the example of China, the idea that there is another path to success has been very important, particularly the developing world as Leaders of, you know, African and South American and Asian States look around and say, well, what country we can we model ourselves after and some of them now, increasingly look at China as a model rather than at the United States, which they would have done 20 or 30 years ago.


Of course, this is a self-serving way of looking at it because the Chinese model is also a model that says, you the leaders get to stay in power indefinitely and make a lot of money and maybe or maybe not your Entry gets to grow at the same time and some of them, you know think it will and some of them don’t care but but it’s a in any case it’s an alternate model and you know, you know in the 1990s there really wasn’t, an alternate.


There was a Soviet Union that had collapsed there was China that was still relatively poor.

There wasn’t another model in the world that was appealing.

And now there is and I think that’s had a, that’s had a huge impact on the shape of things as well.

Then I would add to that as a third Factor, the financial crisis not necessarily in just its Economic impact.


But in undermining, the idea that these Western money, people know what they’re doing, you know, there had been a kind of faith in Western economists and Western, even Western Banks.

I mean, people maybe didn’t like them, but they seem to be competent.


And the idea that the West is competent or that, the democracies are competent has been pretty heavily undermined by that, and obviously other things as well.

I would say those are the three most important things.

Of course, although there are others And I want to underline all three of those before you ask the next question, social media.


I think to borrow from Steve Bannon is often a tool for flooding The Zone with shit.

And what I think a lot of these countries have learned is or try to understand is how to control that flood.

How to flood your enemies Zone with shit while controlling the flood within your own country with firewalls and other rules and direct attempts.


To intimidate people who speak out against the government.

So I think social media and the chaos it can introduce.

Zeus is really important.


Like you said, go ahead.

If you wanted to jump in on that.

No, I was going to agree with that.

And this was really a Russian Discovery because what the Russians understood was that what really matters is not.


That people believe, Russia is great, or Putin is great.

What really matters is that people don’t believe anything and that once people believe nothing, once they are nihilistic.

And once they think everybody lies, then it becomes much.


Easy to convince them that wolf, everyone lies and everything is terrible.

And our country is in chaos and disaster, that it becomes much easier to convince them to support some radical alternative.

So extremism is really born out of nihilism and the Russians understood this early on and Steve been and understood it and Trump intuitively understood it.


And, and, and the, the, the use of that kind of disinformation, the constant lies actually has a political goal and again, Again, the Russian started it, but men they’ve got many imitators, right?


The rise of a Russian form of nihilism.


The second point that I just wanted to underline and just put a pin in actually because we’re going to get back to in just a second.

This idea of China as another beacon on the hill as another model for leaders to emulate around the world.

I think this is a really, really important Point diplomacy as a kind of role modeling, but I wanted first here to expand on your third answer, which is the financial crisis.


Here is a story that I could imagine.

People telling during the Cold War, the US backed a lot of democracies in Europe and that was in part to directly oppose.

The Soviet Union.

We also backed a lot of dictators in other parts of the world, especially if we felt like they supported our interest, then the cold war ends and there is a flourishing of democracy around the world.


The same surveys that find democracy is receding today.

Found that they were rising in the early 1990s, but the 21st century has basically been a, three-act tragedy for America as a role model.

Act One, Iraq war, disaster act to Great Recession.


As you said disaster, act 3, Donald Trump Enough Said.

So it’s not just that the US has failed to support democracy abroad.

The last 20 years.

It’s that we failed to demonstrate the success of an American model of liberal democracy here.


Do you buy that story?

I think that’s exactly right.

I mean, yes.


I do think that the failings of American democracy and the some of the failings of American foreign policy.

And as I said, the failings of the, the American Financial Community, all of those added together have been pretty powerful.


They the countries.

And the people who looked up to America, which isn’t everybody.

But even the ones who respected and admired America, even though they missed, didn’t like us that much, or feared America.

A lot of that is gone as America seems much in Muslim much less competent or political system.


By itself, doesn’t Inspire much admiration.

I mean, the divided Congress, the constant inability to pass legislation.

The January 6 catastrophe, which was watched live all over the world.

By millions of people, all of these things have also had a huge effect both on America’s image, but also on the image of democracy, I mean like it For Better or For Worse America is seen as the leading democracy, the leader of the democratic camp.


We can have a separate argument someday, but just how Democratic America And just how successful our democracy promotion program ever was.

But that’s.

But the point is, that is how the United States is perceived.

And that was one of the great disasters of January the 6th on top of what it did for American domestic policy was what terrible damage it did for the image of democracy around the world you introduced a phrase that I had never heard of before called autocratic, learning, dictators are copycats.


You said the imitate one another’s, use of surveillance Tech or crowd, control or social media, manipulation or economic?

Open strategy, but democracies are copycats to like in many ways diplomacy is one big copycat game and we’re seeing the dark side of that right now, like right after Trump question, the results of a u.s.


Election famously loudly.

We saw other leaders do the same in democracies that Benjamin Netanyahu.

Former Israeli Prime, Minister loses an election and claims.

It’s a fraud Peruvian politician, Keiko fujimori loses an election.

And then immediately promises her followers that the results Are going to be flipped.


This seems totally outside the norm of modern democracies, like politicians just turning their supporters against the voting system itself in case they lose but it’s an idea that seems to me and maybe this is naive to have clearly.

If not been invented by Donald Trump been popularized by Donald Trump.



Look to the u.s.

Say, oh that’s a good idea.

I should borrow that accept the idea that were allowing other countries to borrow is illiberal rather than liberal.

That’s absolutely right.

And in fact, I think I wrote Wrote that article a couple of months.



That’s I got I got fujimori and now you from your article.



No, you’re absolutely right.

And the one you’ve left out is a really interesting.

One is both scenario.

The president of Brazil who I believe has already said that if he loses the election, it’s because it was rigged, which is a direct imitation of Donald Trump.

And, and, you know, you have the example of the Belarusian leader who did exactly that he simply shut down the election when he lost it.


I mean, so he did what I think Trump was trying to do.

In January the 6th, but just more successfully so yes, you’re completely right, the the language and tactics of trump and the liberalism Trump have been copied everywhere and by many different kinds of people, the attack on the way in which Trump attacked his media, the use of the expression, fake news has been repeated and Amplified and echoed in, you know, every continent on the globe and and many countries and so yes, you’re right.


I mean the the the failings of American democracy and the the disastrous example set by particularly by President Trump, but also by others inside the US political system are absolutely having their Echo and their impact around the world.


It’s kind of scary.

The thought just occurred to me.

Is that in the 1930s?

I remember Adolf.

Hitler was a sneaky fan of Mickey Mouse, but also one that I believe to to ban Mickey Mouse from consumption among the - because he didn’t want American influence to be widespread among the population in a weird way.


Donald Trump is like the new authoritarian Mickey Mouse.

He is like our new cultural export in a in a very dark and depressing way.

And it suggests something that seems at least somewhat profound here, which is that there’s a, there’s an idea that to spread democracy what you need above, all is excellent diplomacy alliances and presence flying overseas to give big speeches and I am sure that is important.


But as we’re out there trying to sell democracy to the world, it seems like we should probably Begin by making some major updates.

The Homegrown product, like ingenious democracy on behalf of a failing issues.

Be ingenious diplomacy on behalf of a failing.

Democracy, is kind of like ingenious advertising on behalf of the failed brand.


What changes do we need to make to the American product to the American brand to make it naturally?

More appealing to the world given that China and Russia and Turkey.

Are going to keep up this information marketing campaign for the next few years, no matter what.


So before I answer that, I think to be fair.

I do think the Biden is tration and certainly Biden himself.

Do understand this.

I mean, they don’t he doesn’t Biden.

Doesn’t talk about it all the time, but he does frequently mention this idea that America needs to heal its democracy in order to you know, in order in order to continue.


You know, being an example for the world, but he talks frequently about democracy in the u.s.

Is role in the in the world as well.

And his administration is holding next month.

A kind of, it’s going to be an online Summit.

It’s very hard to say exactly what significance, it will have.


But there it is, certainly a democracy Summit in which some of these very issues will be discussed.

So I think they understand, they understand this problem.

I mean what America needs to do to heal itself?

I mean, I would, I would say three things.

Start with number one, is to end kleptocracy and the influence of offshore money of money, laundering of anonymous companies.


I mean, there’s some legislation has moved forward on this recently, but it still needs to be fleshed out.

We still need the regulations for it.

We still need enforcement mechanisms, you know, but also we need to do not just in the us, but we need to convince Europeans to do the same.


Quite a lot of Of course, he’s autocratic leaders, stay in power because they are so able to efficiently steal and then hide their wealth abroad and then use it for both political and economic purposes.

So I think that’s, I think that’s number one.


Number two, is that we need a serious conversation about social media and the internet more broadly.

There are ways to talk intelligently about internet regulation that don’t necessarily imply censorship.

We can talk about Waiting until rhythms.


We can also talk about creating alternatives to the current forms of social media, a kind of public interest social media that would benefit that would, that would place a value on consensus and, and, and, and rational debate rather than anger and emotion.


Some of those conversations have begun also a little bit in Washington, but they just haven’t got very far yet.

And then finally, I mean that’s clearly there’s some things that we need to do to fix our own Constitution.

I mean, there’s a there’s a Long and elaborate article about voting art argument going on right now, in Washington, about voting laws.


We also need to look at our constitution to make sure that January 6th and the ideas behind.

It can’t repeat themselves.

So that, you know, the, the Constitutional flaws that make that suddenly made Pence’s role in in recognizing the results of the election.


So important in 2020, 2021 rather.

We need to fix that too.

So I think we need some constitutional work.

I think we need some work on voting rights in the state’s.

I’m hoping that’s what the Congress is going to focus on next.

And then finally, I would say.


And this is something that Biden himself has already said and has made some progress in that direction.

Is that democracy needs to be seen to work, Americans.

Need to be seen to be invested in their own economy.

They need to, you know, we need to heal some of the, you know, deep gaps that some of the inter Quality inside the country.


We need for the economy to appear and to feel more fair to more Americans and I think that that will also help solve some of the problems you’re talking about fixing the Constitution.

Fixing America’s voting laws restoring faith in us democracy.


Do you think that today’s Republican party is capable of being a CO partner in that effort.

So I really do not want to write.

Of the Republican party because it’s half of our political system.


It may well win Congress next year in May well win the presidency in 2024 and I do believe there are good people in the Republican party and their people who understand the current problem.

But as the tenor of your question, implies, there is a real question about the current leadership.


Do they really want America to remain a democracy or do they want to entrench minority Rule and the appeal of Entrenching minority rule is that then they would never have to give up power again.

And that of course is the same reason why you know, Viktor Orban and Hungary or Bolson are in Brazil or erdowan and turkey have altered their own Democratic systems, in order to remain in power indefinitely.


And I do worry that there is a part of the Republican party and certainly a part of the leadership that, that envisions a future in, which they never, they can never lose, and they can’t lose because the system one way or another is.

Genuinely rigged in their favor.

I mean, we already have a strange situation.



Our Senate is way out of whack with the numbers of Voters in the country.

The because of the you know, the way in numbers of people who live in cities versus people who live in this country side, you know, we have Wyoming has two senators with a few hundred thousand people and Wyoming and California has two senators with millions of people, you know, we already have this imbalance that was created in the Constitution at a time when When the differences in population between states, just weren’t that big.


So we already have this imbalance and I do worry that a part of the Republican party wants to make minority rule permanent.

I like you root for a sane Republican party.

I also feel like it’s just a matter of reasonableness to predict that a trump estate GOP is going to push against the limits of legality.


If they lose an election in 2024 those walls held 20/20 the election was certified and the actual winner became president.

What is a law?

What is a rule that we can pass either at the federal level or at critical State levels to ensure that the walls hold again, in 2024.


I am not an expert in the US Constitution.

So I might not be the best person to provide this answer, but it seems to me that, at the very least a rule that says that States elect a president.

Based on who wins the election in that state would be useful.


And so that it’s not State legislatures, who then decide who wins, regardless of what the popular vote is, right?

That intermediary step presents an opportunity for a bit of nonsense.

It seems that what Trump intended was to have state legislators overrule, the popular vote in several States, right?



To use that intermediary in order to overturn the election.


Very last question for you.

The four examples that you gave for what America can do to start to turn around this Darkness.

This rise of autocracy ank that is number one and kleptocracy number to a conversation around social media.


And number three, fixing the Constitution.

And number for improving, the way that America Works democracy works that we can be that shining City on a Hill.

That’s a model to people around the world.

Which of those four categories.

Are you most optimistic about in terms of our ability to solve a tractable problem here.


So I am aware of several projects that would fix the Constitutional and electoral problems that are being kicked around on the hill right now and may well be discussed in the next few months.

So I think that’s it’s very reasonable to think that could happen.

I’m also aware of several further laws that would enable us to push back harder against kleptocracy.


Although that’s going to require more International partnership.

So it may take longer than Then we would like the social media conversation is so difficult and our political leaders seem to be.

So, ignorant of the nature of the problem that I fear.


It will not be self swiftly.

But that’s my verdict more or less.

I would agree.

Certainly with the social media part when you hear these conversations between elected leaders and the social media CEOs.

They’re basically SNL skits.

Like, they’re just laughable events that happen and then no further regulation, or law is acted on in the intervening six.



And then six weeks later.

We called them back to have the exact same laughable conversation.

Its absolute pathetic.

I hope to be more optimistic and trying to be more optimistic on the Constitutional fixes and and the element of ending kleptocracy.

I feel like they’re at least you have laws that politicians elected representatives actually understand the nature of how these things work.


They understand the Electoral College.

They at least have advisors that understand the way international finance works and we might be able to see I think they are but you paint.

I think I a scary picture of the world.

That’s important to confront and be honest with and I’m really thankful that you were here to talk about it with us and Applebaum.


Thank you very much.

Thank you.

Plain English with Derek Thompson is produced by Devon.


We will be back to our regular schedule next Tuesday, but look out this weekend for a special bonus pod.

I won’t tell you who it’s with, but you will find out in Or 48 hours.


Anyway, talk to you soon.

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