New York, NY (December 7, 2017) — Trump’s first year in office has been riddled not only with scandal, but with constant attacks on American democracy. Criticized for undermining democratic norms, Trump is far from the first major U.S. political figure to do so.
In “How A Democracy Dies,” Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt explore the long history of attacks on American political institutions. One way to break a democracy is “not at the hands of generals, but of elected leaders who subvert the very process that brought them to power.” Despite having constitutions in place and institutions that allow people to vote, leaders in countries such as Venezuela, Georgia, Peru, and the Philippines have been able to subvert the word of law, allowing extremist demagogues to gain power. “The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism,” write Levistky and Ziblatt, “is that democracy’s enemies use the very institutions of democracy—gradually, subtly, and even legally—to kill it.” With Trump’s constant attacks remaining unchecked, can the system survive?
When a small town in Nebraska is given an opportunity to build Costco’s new chicken processing plant, environmentalists in the area were faced with a fundamental dilemma: try to convert people to their way of thinking or co-opt a xenophobic cause they don’t believe in to shut down the project? Ted Genoways provides an indepth look into this dilemma, following retired construction manager turned environmentalist Randy Ruppert. With an eminent lack of support, Ruppert works alongside two unlikely individuals, well-known xenophobe and opponent of undocumented labor John Wiegert and Tea Party leader Doug Wittman.
In August 2016, a small insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army led an attack on Myanmar’s police that resulted in the killing of 12 officers. The aftermath of this attack—led by the Myanmar’s military alongside Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes—saw the burning of over 300 villages in a months-long program of killing. “Myanmar’s Imagined Jihadis” provides insight into the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar by the government. Interspersed with heartbreaking accounts by Rohingya who have successfully fled, Jason Motlagh describes how Myanmar’s history of anti-Rohingya policy turned an attack on police into a major humanitarian crisis. Using the rhetoric of the global war on terror and Islamophobia in the United States, Myanmar’s government has been able to justify their killings under the guise of combating terrorism.
Simone Tramonte’s photo essay, “Small Acts of Subversion,” provides a look at Iranian women 40 years after the fall of Shah. Following the Iranian Revolution, the ruling cleric in Iran rolled back the Shah’s 1967 and 1975 family protection laws, raising the minimum wage women could legally marry and allowing them to petition for custody of their children but many of the regime’s stifling rules still remained. What Tramonte shows through her photos is how Iranian women navigate in the world around them—a woman in black chadors watching children play in a fountain while in another, women learning to drive, and a group of women gathered for a party on a roof. As Dina Nayeri points out in her introduction, given Iran’s theocracy “women have learned to carve out a life for themselves inside the hijab.”
[UP FRONT & COLUMNS]
In Up Front, Rachel M. Cohen details how the current battle over the Fair Housing Act could transform U.S. politics. The landmark anti-discrimination law turns 50 years old in 2018, but efforts to desegregate inner cities continue at a frustratingly slow pace, and the Trump administration is looking to undercut the gains made during the Obama years. The outcome of this fight, Cohen writes, could help decide the country’s political future. Today’s true electoral battlegrounds are the suburbs, which have grown increasingly diverse in recent years—a shift that fair housing policies will only accelerate.
Isaac Stone Fish lays out a potential solution to the current crisis with North Korea: a presidential summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. The idea might seem preposterous—but, then again, so too was the idea of Nixon going to China before he did so in 1971. Nixon’s trip, Stone Fish writes, offers a helpful precedent for Trump, “a president who needs both a solution to the crisis with North Korea, and a foreign policy win to distract from his own mounting scandals at home.”
Staff writers Sarah Jones and Alex Shephard are also featured in Up Front this issue. In “Turning Pro-Life Blue,” Jones examines the current debate within the Democratic Party over whether it should have a litmus test for its candidates on the issue of abortion. Such purity tests, Jones argues, do the party no favors. To truly make inroads in red states and conservative communities, Democrats need to figure out how to connect with voters who don’t necessarily share their views. Fortunately, she finds, abortion might not be the wedge issue of legend.
In “Paper Tiger,” Shephard calls on the media to stop getting distracted by Trump’s attacks on them. Certainly, Trump’s war on the press has is troubling, but many of his threats are empty ones. And by rushing to defend itself against every slight, the media plays allows Trump to shift the focus away from important issues.
Jon Wolfsthal and Kimberly Marten contribute Columns for the January/February issue. Wolfsthal—who was senior director for arms control and nonproliferation in the Obama administration—writes that Trump’s undisciplined rhetoric and changes to U.S. nuclear policy are increasing the risk of nuclear war. Marten, the director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations at Columbia University, writes about how she was scheduled to advise the U.S. State Department—before Rex Tillerson refused to sign off on her appointment. The current U.S. strategy with regards to Russia, particularly its focus on sanctions, Marten writes, won’t prevent Russia from interfering in future U.S. elections. Instead, the U.S. should take its cues from the Cold War and seek to limit confrontation with Russia—including by forging a limited cyber accord.
Although Martin Luther has long been cited as being the sole figure who launched what became the Protestant Reformation, many dispute this. The Luther Legend, as Marilynne Robinson writes, completely goes against how history works. Robinson’s “The Luther Legend” calls out the predecessors and prominent figures of the time who laid the foundation for Luther’s dissent. “...the idea that one man and one set of events shattered a great order and brought down chaos, minimizes a terrible continuity in the airs of the continent before and after the Reformation.”
In “Settling for Scores,” Diane Ravitch delves into the faults of standardized testing analyzed by Daniel Kortez in his new book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. Kortez breaks down the negative consequences of the education reforms of the 2000s and the lasting impact Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act has had. As Ravitch writes, NAPL “vastly expanded the federal government’s role in education, venturing where no other administration of either party had dared to go, it set a goal that was literally impossible for schools, districts and states to meet.”
With the release of The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick, Michelle Dean’s “The Company She Kept” explores how Hardwick’s relationships with New York intellectuals led to some of her best writing. Rachel Syme reviews Errol Morris’s new crime docudrama Wormwood. While popular docuseries like The Jinx and Making a Murderer are heavily focused on the mystery surrounding murder, Wormwood follows the mourning of a grieving son consumed with finding out the truth behind his father’s death. Christian Lorentzen reviews Austrian director Michael Haneke’s new film Happy End. Known for his bleak and violent films, Haneke’s latest work examines the effect of parents’ failings on their children through his signature lens. Brenda Wineapple on how Richard White’s The Republic For Which It Stands is really a history of Republicanism in its chronicling of American Reconstruction and the Gilded Age.
Rebecca Hazelton’s “In the City of Desire” is the featured Poem this month. For Backstory, photographer Thomas Dworzak highlights one of the ways Russian children learn about the glory days of the Soviet Union.
The January/February issue of the The New Republic is available on newsstands today.
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