We live in a time in which words have lost their meaning.
If you are opposed to Justin Trudeau’s shocking crackdown on the Freedom Convoy and the rollout of a full blown totalitarian police state in Canada, YOU are the “authoritarian.” YOU are an enemy of “liberal democracy” for sending a private donation or engaging in free speech on the internet or peacefully assembling in public to express a grievance against the government.
“When it comes to distant and adversarial countries, we are taught to recognize tyranny through the use of telltale tactics of repression. Dissent from orthodoxies is censored. Protests against the state are outlawed. Dissenters are harshly punished with no due process. Long prison terms are doled out for political transgressions rather than crimes of violence. Journalists are treated as criminals and spies. Opposition to the policies of political leaders are recast as crimes against the state.
When a government that is adverse to the West engages in such conduct, it is not just easy but obligatory to malign it as despotic. Thus can one find, on a virtually daily basis, articles in the Western press citing the government’s use of those tactics in Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and whatever other countries the West has an interest in disparaging (articles about identical tactics from regimes supported by the West — from Riyadh to Cairo — are much rarer). That the use of these repressive tactics render these countries and their populations subject to autocratic regimes is considered undebatable.
But when these weapons are wielded by Western governments, the precise opposite framework is imposed: describing them as despotic is no longer obligatory but virtually prohibited. That tyranny exists only in Western adversaries but never in the West itself is treated as a permanent axiom of international affairs, as if Western democracies are divinely shielded from the temptations of genuine repression. Indeed, to suggest that a Western democracy has descended to the same level of authoritarian repression as the West’s official enemies is to assert a proposition deemed intrinsically absurd or even vaguely treasonous.
The implicit guarantor of this comforting framework is democracy. Western countries, according to this mythology, can never be as repressive as their enemies because Western governments are at least elected democratically. This assurance, superficially appealing though it may be, completely collapses with the slightest critical scrutiny. The premise of the U.S. Constitution and others like it is that majoritarian despotism is dangerous in the extreme; the Bill of Rights consists of little more than limitations imposed on the tyrannical measures majorities might seek to democratically enact (the expression of ideas cannot be criminalized even if majorities want them to be; religious freedom cannot be abolished even if large majorities demand it; life and liberty cannot be deprived without due process even if nine of out ten citizens favor doing so, etc.). More inconveniently still, many of the foreign leaders we are instructed to view as despots are popular or even every bit as democratically elected as our own beloved freedom-safeguarding officials.
As potent as this mythological framework is, reinforced by large media corporations over so many decades, it cannot withstand the increasingly glaring use of precisely these despotic tactics in the West. Watching Justin Trudeau — the sweet, well-mannered, well-raised good-boy prince of one of the West’s nicest countries featuring such a pretty visage (even on the numerous occasions when marred by blackface) — invoke and then harshly impose dubious emergency, civil-liberties-denying powers is just the latest swing of the hammer causing this Western sculpture to crumble. In sum, you are required by Western propaganda to treat the two images below as fundamentally different; indeed, huge numbers of people in the West vehemently denounce the one on the left while enthusiastically applauding the one on the right. Such brittle mythology can be sustained only for so long …”
It is difficult to exaggerate how much the situation in Canada has so completely undermined the case for standing up for “liberal democracy” in Ukraine. It has underlined and put a big bold exclamation point on the trend toward authoritarianism in all Western countries.
We’re invited to care Ukraine’s sacrosanct borders by politicians who don’t care about our borders. We’re asked to see Vladimir Putin as a tyrant by a government that has tried to criminalize us as “domestic extremists.” We’re supposed to care about liberal norms in Ukraine while our government publicly pressures tech companies to censor free speech. The same politicians who insist that we have “no place in this country” insist that it is our duty to fight their wars.