For all the elevation American progressivism has received recently— Joe Biden’s leftward flop, the descent of America’s institutional elites into facile wokeism—I am beginning to think the most alert minds on the political left know that what looked like their historical moment is losing momentum.
The Democrats’ determination, driven by party progressives, to cram a generation’s worth of entitlements, taxes and welfare spending into a single reconciliation bill they will pass with a vice-presidential vote is properly seen as an act of desperation. They know it’s this year or never for making central government authority the virtually irreversible locus of power in the U.S. system. How else to explain the constant, totalist appeal that all this must be done to “save our democracy”? The clock is ticking.
But elevate your gaze beyond the Beltway, with its dainty debates about “our democracy,” and it looks like the ideology of command-and-control rule over entire populations is losing public support all over the world.
Cuba, South Africa, Haiti, Belarus and Myanmar all have seen recent explosions of significant antigovernment protests. In a world overwhelmed by dramatic events, one’s instinct is to let them wash through. But maybe we should consider the possibility that something other than random chaos is reflected in so many antigovernment protests. Wildfires can also erupt among nations.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 wasn’t expected. Even less likely was the dissolution two years later of the entire Soviet Union and its bloc of satellite countries. Cuban communism is 60 years old. Like the Berlin Wall, Castro’s Cuba became a political monolith, a lump of seemingly immovable repression.
Apologists for both the Soviet Union and Cuba long argued for a kind of amoral patience, believing that someday the sacrifices and compromises would be validated with the arrival of what they now call “equity.”
On Cuba, they still do. Nikole Hannah-Jones, architect of the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” said this week, “The most equal multiracial country in our hemisphere, it would be Cuba.” She added, “That’s largely due to socialism, which I’m sure no one wants to hear.” Not anymore in Cuba, it appears.
South Africa has just seen its worst rioting since apartheid ended and the African National Congress came to power in a democratic election in 1994. The ANC has run South Africa ever since, never losing an election and largely immune to international criticism, with the past week’s riots occurring under “reform” President Cyril Ramaphosa.
What happened? In a recent article, Brian Pottinger, former editor of the South African Sunday Times, offers a searing and comprehensive indictment of the ANC’s nearly three decades of misrule. “To gain control of the state,” he writes, “the ANC followed a policy of ‘cadre deployment’ of party faithful to occupy every level of government. Unable to even manage its own party affairs, they had no hope of managing a modern state. Everywhere there was dysfunction, collapse and corruption, the burden again borne most heavily by the poor.” All this, he writes, “has not gone unnoticed by the people burning the malls today.”
Meanwhile, one finds academics writing admiringly that the African National Congress is a model for Black Lives Matter in the U.S., offering “lessons in white allyship from the South African anti-apartheid movement.” And maybe they’re right that South Africa’s ANC is in fact the political model for Black Lives Matter. BLM’s global network issued a statement this week praising Cuba’s government for its “solidarity with oppressed peoples of African descent.”
Peoples of African descent have suffered for decades under Haiti’s misrule by a succession of dictators. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 pitched the country back into the only political model most of it citizens have ever known—a zero-sum power struggle.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin has spent years suppressing protests, led most recently by Alexei Navalny. Those protests spread last year to nearby Belarus and President Alexander Lukashenko’s fake democracy. Protests against Iran’s mullahs have become routine, especially outside Tehran.
Arguably the event that led in time to the unraveling of Soviet communism’s control over the Iron Curtain countries was the creation in 1980 of the Polish labor union Solidarity after a strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Our era’s Solidarity may prove to be Hong Kong’s heroic protests against Chinese communist rule.
The Hong Kong autonomy protests became a global phenomenon, running almost nonstop after March 2019. They were about one clear thing—freedom. The dramatic images of those long, hopelessly overmatched protests penetrated everywhere via social media, and that includes Cuba. It looks now as if Hong Kong’s people lost, but we shall see.
In the U.S. we have been having a debate about democratic capitalism and whether it can provide what its critics on the left call distributive justice, or equity. Their alternative, on offer now in Congress, is a softened version of centralized government direction for a country of 328 million people. The result surely would be permanent misrule. Who already in possession of freedom would want to go there?
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