The Good with the Bad

It is possible to believe that Twitter and Facebook did the right thing to block Trump, and that, having done so, they lay bare a real problem for American democracy. The Biden Administration and the incoming Congress need urgently to address the power of online social media.

First, Twitter’s cancellation of Trump is not a First Amendment violation. Twitter has a right to moderate the speech distributed on its network, and a responsibility to take the public interest into account. Moreover, Trump has not been deprived of the ability to speak. He has merely been deprived of the ability to speak on Twitter and Facebook. I am not overly troubled by the ability of private corporations to decide how consumers use those corporations’ resources.

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Realizing Unreality

Take a look, if you have a moment, at the exchange below:

This is important: Whatever the cause, the fact that a minority of the population chooses (and is able) to live in a “totalizing unreality” is the first step towards a bigger problem — and we need to start thinking hard about how to solve it.

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On Opposition

I spend most of my time studying how people fight back against autocratic regimes in places like Russia (and, increasingly, Belarus). But as my fellow Americans worry about the potential of an authoritarian coup in Washington, I’m seeing a different set of parallels – and it worries me.

If you believe you live in a democracy, elections are a wonderful thing. Sure, the campaign can be nerve-wracking, but at the end of the day the votes are cast, someone wins, someone else loses, and attention gradually shifts to the next opportunity to do it all over again.

If you live in an autocracy, however, elections are nothing more than another opportunity for the regime to retrench its power – and your powerlessness. Autocratic elections are an exercise in voicelessness, and the first rule of opposition is to understand just how heavily the system is stacked against you.

The TL;DR is this: If we’re to come out of this with our republic intact, those of us who believe America is a democracy need to understand – as Applebaum notes below – that an increasing number of our compatriots do not.

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Why Navalny had to leave

I’m struggling to decide whether the recent events surrounding Aleksei Navalny are more macabre, or more absurd. For the moment, at least, I’m going with macabre. That seems the only reasonable conclusion, when the man is still at death’s door.

Navalny – whose place in Russian politics is well summarized by Morvan Lallouet – is only the latest in a string of opponents of the current occupants of the Kremlin to fall ill under mysterious circumstances. That list also includes Petr Verzilov, Vladimir Kara-Murza (twice), Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, Aleksandr Litvinenko and, by some accounts, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Depending on your definition of poison, in fact, this isn’t even the first attack on Navalny himself.

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Perspectives on the Structures and Limitations of Power in Russia

In a recent interview, timed to help drum up support for a constitutional reform that would strengthen the power of the presidency and potentially extend his rule until 2036, Vladimir Putin said, among many other things, the following:

What is democracy? It’s the power of the people, that’s right. But if the people elect their higher authorities, then those higher authorities have the right to organize the work of the organs of executive power in such a way as to guarantee the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population of the country. 1

Putin was, in fact, talking about the United States, lamenting the fact that American state governors failed to fall in line with President Donald Trump’s orders, whether on COVID-19 or the response to Black Lives Matter protests. But it was also a statement of political philosophy, encapsulating much about how Putin sees the source of his own power, its structures, and its limitations—three fields that are at the heart of the latest combined issue of Russian Politics & Law.

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Protest, Revolution, Belarus

Photo (c) Aleksandr Miridonov

We should always retain the capacity to be surprised.

I am not an expert on Belarus. I have done precious little research there, have few contacts and no insider knowledge. I am, then, watching the scenes of protest very much like many others for whom the country has been on the periphery of our attention: with rapt bewilderment.

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(De-)Mobilizing America

159188490711894620As Vladimir Putin launched the public campaign for his constitutional reform, he took the opportunity to tell Russia a bit about the United States, and about democracy in general.

“What is democracy?” Putin asked (rhetorically, in more ways than one). “It’s the power of the people, that’s right. But if the people elect their higher authorities, then those higher authorities have the right to organize the work of the organs of executive power in such a way as to guarantee the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population of the country. And what’s happening there [in America]? The president says, ‘We need to do X’, and the governors say ‘Go to hell.'”

Perish the thought.

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I might have been wrong about Putin

I’ll say it: Sometimes I get it wrong. Or not quite right. Which is almost the same thing.

In case you’ve missed it, today’s news is that Valentina Terehskova, a United Russia Duma Deputy and the first woman in space, proposed ‘resetting’ Putin’s presidential terms, allowing him to run again. The Speaker of the Duma called Putin. Putin said ok. And that was that.

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