The lines between democracy and authoritarianism are becoming clearer.
This morning, former president Donald Trump began the new year by endorsing Hungarian authoritarian Viktor Orbán for reelection. Rising to power by attacking immigration, Orbán has systematically undermined democracy in Hungary, silencing his opponents, forcing businesses to sell out to him or his cronies, rewriting election laws, suppressing the press, packing the courts, and rewriting his country’s constitution. The country still holds elections, but they are no longer meaningful.
Trump said that Orbán “has done a powerful and wonderful job.”
Also today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called out the new election laws passed by Republican legislatures as “anti-democratic,” designed to “unwind the progress of our Union, restrict access to the ballot, silence the voices of millions of voters, and undermine free and fair elections.”
He insisted that Congress must take action to stop this anti-democratic march. In June, August, October, and November, Republican senators blocked discussion of “common-sense solutions to defend our democracy.” It is unacceptable for a minority of senators to be able to require that the majority command a supermajority in order to pass legislation, Schumer wrote: the Framers of the Constitution explicitly rejected such a requirement to pass laws.
“We must ask ourselves,” he wrote, “if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?”
If Senate Republicans continue to obstruct election laws, Schumer wrote, “the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections.” That is, Democratic Senators will consider changing the filibuster, either reforming it so it can’t be abused or omitting election bills from the topics a filibuster can stop. This is big news.
The Biden administration is also trying to shore up democracy abroad. Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the Bucharest Nine, an organization formed in 2015 after Russia pushed into Ukraine in 2014. The member nations of the Bucharest Nine are all former satellite states of the USSR and are now members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was organized in 1949 to stand against aggression by the USSR and is now standing against aggression by Russia. Blinken spoke with foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia to reiterate the unity of NATO and the need for collective defense against threats.
The Russian build-up of troops on the border of Ukraine, along with the forcing of migrants over the border of Poland by Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko appears to have done the opposite of destabilizing NATO, as Putin had hoped.
On January 1, the president of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, told his people that Russian aggression is “in conflict with the European security order,” and that all states should rest on the basic principles of independence and equality. He suggested that Finland might decide to join NATO in order to protect its own national security and self-determination, clearly a suggestion that another invasion of Ukraine would drive independent countries toward NATO.
Today, Russian cybersecurity expert Vladislav Klyushin appeared in a U.S. court (over Zoom) to face charges of securities fraud. Klyushin was arrested in March 2021 in Switzerland, where he was skiing, and has been extradited to the U.S. He is allegedly connected to Russian cyberattacks against the U.S. and our allies, including the interference in the 2016 election. According to Christopher Krebs, the former head of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, if Klyushin flips, he might be able to tell the intelligence community a lot about that election. Even if he doesn’t flip, though, his arrest and possible conviction sends “a strong signal to others like him that they don’t have a lot of freedom of movement outside Russia,” evidence of the isolation Putin’s rule is creating.
The growing pressure seems to be working to make Putin back off. Russia, China, Britain, France, and the U.S. today reassured the world that their differences would not lead to nuclear war. The five nations announced today in a joint statement that they wanted to stop an increase in nuclear weapons and avoid a nuclear war. The five nations pledged to continue talks about nuclear disarmament.
In an issue of the rule of law closer to home, documents filed in New York today revealed that New York Attorney General Letitia James subpoenaed Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. on December 1, asking for testimony and documents about discrepancies in the way the Trump Organization valued properties (apparently, the organization valued them high when applying for loans, and low when paying taxes). This case is a civil investigation, and James has already spoken to Eric Trump, and has subpoenaed Trump Sr., asking him to testify on January 7.
Ivanka and Don have said they would refuse to comply with the subpoenas, accusing James of trying to entrap the Trumps through a civil suit while her office is cooperating with an ongoing criminal investigation overseen by the Manhattan district attorney.