Discover more from Letters from an American
April 26, 2021
In his first major speech as Secretary of State, Antony Blinken laid out the principles of the Biden administration in foreign policy, emphasizing that this administration believed foreign and domestic policy to be profoundly linked. Biden’s people would support democracy at home and abroad to combat the authoritarianism rising around the world… including in the U.S.
“The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver, not only for our people, but also for each other, the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell, that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs and hopes. It’s on us to prove them wrong,” Blinken said. “So the question isn’t if we will support democracy around the world, but how.” He answered: “We will use the power of our example. We will encourage others to make key reforms, overturn bad laws, fight corruption, and stop unjust practices. We will incentivize democratic behavior.”
President Joe Biden has set out a foreign policy that focuses on human rights and reaches out more to foreign peoples than to their governments, heartening protesters in authoritarian countries.
On Saturday, Biden issued a document declaring that the displacement and slaughter of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 was a “genocide.” The U.S. had previously refused to recognize the ethnic cleansing for what it was because of the strategic importance of Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO (among other things, Turkey holds the straits that control access to the Black Sea, on which Russia and Ukraine, as well as other countries, sit).
Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide is a reflection of the fact that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is increasingly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Taliban, and appears to be abandoning democracy in his own country, giving Biden the room to take a step popular in America but previously too undiplomatic to undertake. (Remember when Erdogan’s security staff beat up protesters in Washington, D.C., in 2017 and prosecutors dropped the charges?)
Erdogan greeted Biden’s announcement with anger, demanding he retract it, but he also said he expected to discuss all of the disputes between the U.S. and Turkey at the June NATO summit. Geopolitics in Erdogan’s part of the world are changing, as Putin is struggling at home with protests against his treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and with the new U.S. sanctions that, by making it hard for him to float government bonds, could weaken his economy further. It is looking more and more likely that Biden and Putin will also have a summit early this summer.
Biden’s emphasis on ordinary people and his attempt to illustrate the power of democracy showed today, too, when the Biden administration announced it would share as many as 60 million doses of our stockpiled AstraZeneca shots with the world once they pass safety reviews.
But the news shows that Biden’s concerns about the rise of authoritarianism at home are well founded. Republican pundits and lawmakers are rallying their supporters to a world that is based not in reality, but rather in what they consider to be fundamental truths: a hallmark of authoritarians.
The ridiculous idea that Biden’s climate proposals would mean that Biden was banning meat swept through the right-wing echo chamber this weekend. It appears to have originated in an entirely unrelated academic paper from 2020 that explored how changing the American diet might affect greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the Fox News Channel (FNC) claimed that Biden was cutting “90% of red meat from diet,” and restricting people to “one burger per month," and lawmakers joined the chorus.
The right seems increasingly detached from reality, but it is a detachment with a purpose.
Right-wing pundits are fantasizing about being afraid of the left. After the guilty verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) both implied that the nation’s cities are boarded up and people are cowering in fear from protesters against police brutality. They seem to be saying that imagined excesses of the left justify extreme behavior from the right. That is, in their telling, left-wing protesters are so out of control, their actions justify any sort of a crackdown they bring upon themselves.
On Twitter, lawyer and political writer Teri Kanefield did a deeper dive on the way lies serve the authoritarian government of fascism. Stories like that about meat, or about the inhabitants of the nation’s capital being afraid to go outside, or the idea that the January 6 insurrectionists were Biden supporters are not true, and those who tell them know it. But those lies illuminate what those who tell them see as a higher truth, doing so in a way that ordinary people can understand. People challenging the lie prove they do not accept the higher truth, and thus are enemies.
History suggests we’re in dangerous territory.
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the “Combatting Public Disorder Act,” designed, as he said, to “stand for the rule of law and public safety.” Recalling the summer’s protests, he said, “We are holding those who incite violence in our communities accountable, supporting our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and protecting Floridians from the chaos of mob violence. We’re also putting an end to the bullying and intimidation tactics of the radical left by criminalizing doxing and requiring restitution for damaging memorials and monuments by rioters.”
The new law lowers a “riot” to three people and dramatically increases punishments for “rioting,” including the loss of the right to vote. It also makes local governments financially liable if they do not respond aggressively enough to “unlawful assembly,” and it protects people who happen to injure or kill a protester during a riot, including by driving a car into them.
But a study by The Guardian, released earlier this month, suggests that the summer’s mass arrests were an attempt to control crowds, silence protests, and turn observers against the protesters by portraying them as violent and lawbreaking. Law enforcement dropped, dismissed, or never filed the vast majority of citations and charges it issued to Black Lives Matter protesters.
Guardian reporter Tom Perkins looked at 12 different jurisdictions and found that in most of them, including in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed, at least 90% of the cases were dropped or dismissed. In Dallas and Philadelphia, 95% of the cases were dropped. In San Francisco, 100% of the cases related to peaceful protest were dismissed. In Detroit, most of the tickets were written by officers who were not themselves at the protests.
Tonight, FNC personality Carlson called for his audience to start direct action. He told them to confront people wearing masks, which he says are signs of “political obedience.” He maintained that 64% of white Americans who called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” “have been diagnosed with an actual mental health condition.” He called them “aggressors” and told supporters, “it’s our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in.” He said to call the police immediately if they see children wearing masks and keep calling until someone arrives: it is child abuse, he says, and his audience is “morally obligated to prevent it.”
The chyron under his monologue read: “THIS ISN’T ABOUT SCIENCE. IT’S ABOUT POWER.”
I’m not going to retweet the Carlson video, but it’s widely available and is from tonight.