WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Book review: Twilight of Democracy

Every now and then comes along a book that all of us ought to read. Unfortunately, none of these books are fiction. As a novelist myself, it’d be nice to think that a novel could save the world, but that’s a romantic pipe dream. 

What’s sadder is that Anne Applebaum’s book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, isn’t fiction. It tells a true story—a story with a moral that has to be acted on and acted on now. 

Applebaum is a journalist/writer who’s married to Polish politico Radosław Sikorski (one-time Defense Minister and Foreign Minister of Poland), and she begins with Poland’s evolution toward right-wing nationalism in the aughts, recounting how she lost many friends in the center-right realm because they, like so many Americans piling onto the Trump Train, skewed far right with the MAGA-like Law and Justice Party there. America is now following a road that’s uncomfortably familiar to Applebaum. 

She follows up with the development of rightwing nationalism in countries such as Hungary (where Viktor Orbán has successfully installed himself as dictator), Spain (with its nativist Vox party), and even the UK, where Boris Johnson has been using Brexit as a blunt instrument to cohere a large chunk of the population around anti-immigration and White resentment. In each of these places, a bogeyman has been propped up (George Soros, Islam, Hillary Clinton, Mexicans, the EU) as the reason why things aren’t the way they used to be in the halcyon days. Trump used the same method in obsessing over his border wall and referring to a certain segment of the country (White, Christian) as “real Americans.” Likewise, as in these other countries, he trampled over the institutions that were designed as barriers against tyranny. These institutions have so far revealed themselves to be pretty flimsy—only as strong as the power elite deigns to support them. 

Chillingly, Applebaum reminds us: “Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.”

With our own 6-3 conservative Supreme Court poised to lay a big fat thumb on the scale, we can’t be sure that it’s not already too late to back away from the precipice here and double down on the system we’ve enjoyed for more than two centuries (while acknowledging and hopefully fixing its obvious flaws). But just look at what the GOP is doing in the states to hobble the opposition, as well as its obstructionism in the Senate. With Applebaum’s words in the back of my mind, I can easily imagine their unstated strategy to lock down their power, if not permanently then at least for the foreseeable future. We’ll go through the motions of elections and litigation, but the deck will be stacked. We’re in for a nice long run of minority rule. 

So read Twilight of Democracy as soon as you can, and pair it with Sarah Kendzior’s Hiding in Plain Sight. These two women might light a fire under you to stand up for small-d democracy by doing everything you can to fight the insurrectionist right. 

And be sure to proselytize the gospel of democracy to all your friends and family too.  

3 comments on “Book review: Twilight of Democracy

  1. equipsblog
    June 29, 2021

    Dang it, you and the author would have to be correct. 🤔🤪👍

  2. Pamela Beckford
    June 29, 2021

    This has been on my TBR list, guess I need to move it up

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This entry was posted on June 29, 2021 by in politics and tagged .
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