I warn you it’s long, but every word is worth it. American columnist Anne Applebaum lives in Poland with her husband who has been in the government there and has had a front row seat to the devolution of that democracy as well as the tumult in Hungary. As the American Jewish wife of a liberal political operative, she has become the focus of conspiracy theories created by the illiberal political right wing in Eastern Europe that lives on resentment, conspiracy theories and delusions of grandeur. Sound familiar? It will. Wherever the right makes its play for power the same ingredients are in the very strange brew.
What has caused this transformation? Were some of our friends always closet authoritarians? Or have the people with whom we clinked glasses in the first minutes of the new millennium somehow changed over the subsequent two decades? My answer is a complicated one, because I think the explanation is universal. Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will.
We Americans look at history as linear. Our 242 years as a nation give us the illusion we’re moving forward. But in Europe they’ve had too much damn history to see it that simply. History is instead quite circular, always repeating patterns.
It’s pretty bad here already for people whose relatives, neighbors, spouses voted incomprehensively in 2016. Imagine hosting a New Year’s party in 1999 and then just 19 years later being estranged from most of the people who attended. Some of them have slandered and libeled you as they embrace conspiracy theories about you and your secret cabal (with George Soros, of course) to destroy entire nations.
Crazy. But real.