2020年11月24日 星期二

Yes, we have gone banana

An advanced democracy no more.
Protesters at a “Stop the Steal” rally outside Clark County Election Department in Las Vegas, Nev. on Friday, Nov. 6.Bridget Bennett for The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

Today’s column is about the remarkably destructive decision by Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, to cut off lending programs that helped avert a serious financial crisis last spring and could all too easily be needed again if the coronavirus goes as wild as we fear after Thanksgiving. As I argued, it’s hard to see Mnuchin’s action as anything other than vandalism — trashing the economy, and the nation, on the way out.

The thing is, this sort of irresponsibility is fairly common — in economically and politically backward nations. And maybe that’s what America has become.

As it happens, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years studying and trying to analyze financial crises. Before I began writing for The Times, international finance was one of my specialties. And once upon a time crises were mainly things that happened to other countries, especially less developed countries. (I used to call myself an economic ambulance-chaser, always flying off to Jakarta or Buenos Aires to keep tabs on the latest disaster.)

In fact, in retrospect I began the transition from mainly being a pure academic to doing a lot of policy and political analysis, eventually leading to my gig at The Times, during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Even then, I worried that we weren’t immune from the kinds of problems then afflicting places like Thailand and Indonesia. I wrote a book in 1999, The Return of Depression Economics, about that risk; it aged well enough that I issued an updated version a decade later, “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008,” reflecting the fact that America had, indeed, suffered the kind of economic crisis we used to identify with the Third World.

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What I didn’t see coming was the political side. It’s not just that America has been suffering from Third World-type economic crises. We’ve also been sliding into banana-republic politics, becoming the kind of country in which a president can refuse to acknowledge a clear election defeat — and be backed by most of his party.

The political scientist Brendan Nyhan likes to point to outrages against U.S. democracy and ask, “What would you say if you saw it in another country?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course: Our democracy is very close to failing.

There are three mistakes you shouldn’t make about what’s going on. First, don’t dismiss it because the antics of the Trump team — Four Seasons Total Landscaping, melting Rudy Giuliani — are so ridiculous. Authoritarian rulers are often ludicrous, because their hangers-on won’t tell them how silly they look. When the president of Turkmenistan erected a giant golden statue of himself on horseback, he didn’t become a national laughingstock — because nobody in his nation would have dared to laugh.

Second, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this happened all of a sudden. Republicans have been systematically undermining democracy for years through voter suppression, gerrymandering that gives them control of state legislatures even when they lose the popular vote by large margins, stripping power from governors who happen to be Democrats, and trying to bring criminal charges against their opponents.

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Finally, don’t bothsides this. The decay of U.S. democracy isn’t about “politics”; it’s about one party’s turn away from democracy. Today’s G.O.P. is nothing like center-right parties in other advanced nations; it’s more like Fidesz, which has turned Hungary into a one-party state, than it is like, say, Britain’s Tories.

Why is all this happening? The truth is that I don’t fully understand it; neither do the political scientists, although they’re working on it (and I’m trying to follow their work.) But it is happening, and Joe Biden’s inauguration won’t be the end of the story.

Quick Hits

The Republican Party is an authoritarian outlier.

Why won’t Emily Murphy do her job?

Democracy dies in Wisconsin.

You too can hold your (virtual) meeting at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

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Facing the Music, er, Chessboard

Do you see it?YouTube

OK, chess instead of music. I loved “The Queen’s Gambit” — and Anya Taylor-Joy has the best knowing stare I’ve ever seen.

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