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If America Goes Down, What Becomes of Democracy?

Here’s a prediction for you: In ten years, as the elected neofascist MAGA dictator of America coasts toward his third term, with an expected landslide of 80 percent of the (authorized, manipulated) vote, the flourishing democracy of Ukraine will take its turn at leading the European Union as it sends advisors and observers to help with Russia’s first, fragile attempt to hold democratic elections.

I know, it sounds unlikely. The part about free elections in Russia, I mean. But with Ukrainian help, once the current mafia regime in Moscow collapses, there’s a chance it might work. The chances of rebuilding American democracy, on the other hand, are slipping away.

Those of us who came of age during the long years of Reagan’s ascendancy are familiar with his soaring rhetoric about America being “a shining city on a hill,” which his speechwriters cribbed from the Puritan John Winthrop, and “the last, best hope of man on Earth,” which they cribbed from Lincoln. But boy, the old B-actor knew how to deliver those lines. Even if you despised most of what he did as president, it was hard, as an American, not to be touched by words like those, or when he stood there in Berlin and intoned, before a roaring crowd, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” We were the leader of the Free World, after all. Yes, our record was tarnished in Vietnam and Latin America. But we had helped save the world from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy and Japan, and then we had rebuilt them into thriving democracies. And whatever our flaws, we were all that stood between the world and totalitarian Soviet Communism.

It’s very hard for those of us who have remained uninfected by the MAGA virus to wrap our heads around the fact that America can no longer help other countries develop into democracies, because we ourselves are sliding into tyranny. The war is being lost every day, as state after Republican-controlled state passes laws to take away the vote from those who might not support MAGA, to institutionalize persecution of LGBTQ people, to criminalize abortion, to ban books and ideas they don’t favor, and to incite vigilante violence against any who would protest. Nobody is actually protesting, at the moment. The streets are quiet. The November Congressional elections are shaping up to be a disaster, and as soon as the MAGA-tized Republicans seize control, they will impeach Biden over allegations about his son Hunter, to take revenge on Trump’s behalf and weaken the president in the next two years before their guy, whether Trump or DeSantis or Hawley, can take over. There won’t be any need for that Leader, whoever he is, to worry about actually, you know, getting more votes, since so many American citizens will be disenfranchised by then; any “battleground” states that vote the wrong way will simply be overruled by their MAGA-tized, gerrymandered state legislatures; and the result will be certified by the MAGA-tized federal judiciary and Supreme Court. Any protests will be crushed by legalized police and vigilante terror.

It is impossible to predict the future history of America after the MAGA takeover is complete in early 2025. I have previously speculated that such a dictatorship could not long rule, at least not on the whole territory of the United States, because while figures like Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson pine to live in an American version of freshly reelected Hungarian dictator Victor Orbán’s Herrenvolk-style “illiberal democracy,” America lacks a dominant ethnic group that can be appealed to in order to create one. (“White” is an artificial and arbitrarily defined social caste, not an ethnic group.) But the quiescence of MAGA’s presumed opponents in the face of its galloping gains has made me doubt my own former confidence that they can’t make such a shambolic monster stand up, at least for a little while. At least long enough to change the course of world history.

And that’s what interests me in this sketch: the effect of an American MAGA dictatorship on the world. Much depends, of course, on the personality of the dictator. A DeSantis-led neofascist America will not behave the same as one led by a superannuated Trump. The latter, as everybody knows, follows his own personal financial interests and fits of pique. A professional politician like DeSantis who has learned to wield MAGA’s energies of hatred might be a different matter. But the Europeans have been forewarned; their political leadership was shaken by the first advent of Trump, and the renewed Russian threat in the East looks as if it might actually put some steel in their spines. If Ukraine is able to triumph over Russia (meaning not conquest, but a repulse of the invasion and the consequent collapse of the Putin mafia regime), it will naturally come to lead the new Continental club of democracies. MAGA-tized America will caucus with its own natural allies in illiberal, intolerant, crypto-antisemitic Poland and Hungary; an angry and directionless England, shorn of a breakaway Scotland; and perhaps Australia, obedient to the will of the Murdoch family that is based there and owns Fox News as well as some of the English tabloids. Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and perhaps New Zealand may comprise a rump democratic Anglosphere that could ally with democratic Europe. China will have a free hand in East Asia, if it is able to contain its rivalry with India. Soaring temperatures, droughts, floods, famines, rising seas, and the millions of refugees they set in motion will set the terms for this remade geopolitical world. But we can only glimpse the chaos likely to be unleashed by the fall of America.

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