You may remember Fiona Hill as an eloquent witness at Trump's first set of impeachment hearings. She has a Ph.D in History from Harvard and both George W. Bush and Trump appointed her to the National Security Council. A conservative who was close with John Bolton, I usually take what she has to say with a grain of salt. Now she's a senior fellow at Brookings and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yesterday, Politico published an interview Katelyn Fossette did with her: "If He Makes a Successful Return in 2024, Democracy’s Done." On being told about her new book-- which wasn't about him-- Trump issued an angry statement (not enough ink?) calling her "a Deep State stiff with a nice accent." This is the piece the interview everyone in the Beltway media is talking about today:
Katelyn Fossett: What do you make of Trump’s recent comments about the Jan. 6 rioters? He said in a statement in September they were being unfairly persecuted by the Biden administration.
Fiona Hill: Well, this is also part of this myth-making, as we’re well aware: the perpetration of the Big Lie, and the turning of the people of Jan. 6 into martyrs and also trying to rewrite the historical record in real time. He is mulling again a return to what he sees more as a crown than the presidency in 2024.
I feel like we’re at a really critical and very dangerous inflection point in our society, and if Trump-- this is not on an ideological basis, this is just purely on an observational basis based on the larger international historical context-- if he makes a successful return to the presidency in 2024, democracy’s done. Because it will be on the back of a lie. A fiction. And I think we have to bear that in mind. And I was hoping that with the book, I might be able to reach out, because I’m not a partisan person, to people who care very much about the United States and about its democracy to really think about this long and hard.
I find it deeply disturbing that the number one identity that people put forward in polls now is whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican rather than an American or someone from a particular region. Even religious or ethnic/racial identifiers seem to be subsumed in this in some of the polling. And so, you know, those of us who are independent in mind and practice but politically engaged, where do we fit into all of this? We used to fit into America. I have a lot of friends who are immigrants like myself who have been here for a long time, who come from many, many different places-- not all from Europe. And they say, “This is not the America I came to. This is not the America we chose to come to.” And they were deeply disturbed by this. But many people fled these kinds of authoritarian or autocratic regimes, which are highly personalized, deny social mobility and where you have kleptocratic cliques of cronies who are really trying to take charge of policy, and that’s what this [deep polarization] is about. This is not about ideology. It is a manipulation of particular social issues-- abortion, immigration, all kinds of issues.
This America is looking dangerously like Russia-- based on the divisions of Russia in the 1990s and then the Putin system that came out of that. China, Hungary, Venezuela-- many of the countries that are expelling immigrants from the region. This is what we’re dealing with. In all of these places, all of these issues are being manipulated and people’s grievances are being whipped up.
Soon after Nixon was first elected, I left the country. Though Nixon and U.S. politics were just part of why I left, they were a big part-- and an even bigger part of why I stayed away from the U.S. for almost 7 years. Last night I mentioned how several of my friends are applying for dual citizenship in several European countries... just in case. One of my friends, long-time activist Guy Saperstein, wrote a much-discussed essay on why he's had it and is moving to France. "We have," wrote Saperstein, "among the worst economic disparities in the world-- which are getting worse-- a hollowed-out middle class, money overwhelming politics, and even the Democrats unable to do anything about any of this... If I were a young man, I might stay, but after fifty-plus years of social struggle, I think I have a right to take a rest, enjoy my success and have some fun with my family. America’s downward slide is terminal, and I do not have the energy or influence to have a major impact. I’m moving to France, which has a vibrant middle-class, a real labor movement and twenty times less violent crime than America."
Yesterday, writing for The Atlantic, Rebecca Spang expressed similar views in her essay, The US Is Politically Bankrupt. She noted that "failure to raise the congressionally created debt ceiling is tantamount to saying the U.S. will not make good on payments it has already promised to make. This completely unnecessary bankruptcy crisis perpetually looms on the horizon-- not because the country can’t pay its bills but because enough powerful people won’t let it. In the past, similar mistakes have led to catastrophe."
Spang is an historian specializing in the French Revolution and wrote that the impending state bankruptcy pushed France into crisis in the late 1780s. "In terms of 'economic fundamentals,' prerevolutionary France was in good shape: It had Europe’s biggest population, thriving agricultural and manufacturing sectors, and an effective tax rate well below that of Great Britain. Nonetheless, decades of conflict over the size and purpose of its central government meant that disputes over budget deficits and national debt dominated French public debate. For years, the monarchy had endeavored to tax the super-wealthy; in response, many aristocrats, traditionally exempt from paying the head tax levied on commoners, decried those efforts as tyranny. Claiming to speak for France as a whole, members of a tiny and extremely privileged elite stymied all plans to tax their wealth-- and did so in a way that rallied public opinion to their cause. Who else would defend the rights of the French nation against the encroachments and greed of expanding Big Government? Norman noblemen and Paris magistrates were, we could say, the Koch Brothers of their day: bent on conserving their own position by fueling grassroots populism. Their successful depiction of the monarchy’s budget crisis as a result of its own opulence-- even today, don’t we imagine that France’s money was spent on Marie Antoinette’s dresses and cakes?-- made state finances into a moral, rather than political, issue. Like so many in the United States today, these critics of the centralizing monarchy couched political arguments in what looked like financial or budgetary terms. None of these self-interested aristocrats intended to start a revolution. But by blocking needed tax reform, they provoked a political showdown that eventually turned the summer of 1789 into a social, cultural, and economic crisis of unparalleled proportions."
Spang has noticed that of late, Republicans have been "turning formerly routine administrative actions into opportunities to seek partisan favor. (The GOP effort to avoid certifying the outcome of the presidential election is another such example.) These developments are threatening not just democracy but the procedural guardrails meant to protect it. Virtually everyone, including the millions who have tuned out the debt-ceiling issue as 'just politics,' assumes disaster will be averted in the end. This assumption in fact increases the danger. A crisis is only under control until it isn’t, and Americans should all be wary of political actors who believe that averting the worst is somebody else’s job... That the United States today faces no economic or financial impediments to further borrowing, only politico-legal ones, may come as some relief, but it also speaks to the country’s growing capacity for self-inflicted economic trauma. Its reputation has already been badly tarnished by erratic foreign policy, the lack of a national response to the coronavirus pandemic, and ongoing civil-rights crises too numerous to list. Missing payments in early December, even if measures were found to make them up later, would prompt a further downgrade of U.S. credibility. Restoring it would not be easy. Unfortunately, the attraction of political posturing and line-drawing is again as great as it was in 1789-- or, thanks to the vastly expanded media ecosystem and attention economy, possibly even greater."