China, Russia, and a handful of rightwing billionaires are trying to tear down our democracy. “Putin Republicans,” aka the MAGA GOP, are trying to help them.

For most of the 7,000-year history of modern civilization autocracy has been the default system all over the world, as I lay out in The Hidden History of American Democracy.

The past two centuries, however, have featured an ongoing battle for primacy between democracy and autocratic oligarchy. At the time of the Civil War there was only a small handful of democratic nations in the world, and they all held their breath to see if the American experiment would fail or succeed.

Between the Civil War and the turn of the 21st century there was a steady growth in the number and vitality of democratic nations; since then, however, multiple democracies (Egypt, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Philippines, Brazil, Peru, etc.) have turned away from democracy to embrace strong-man governments and rule by the rich.

For much of the 20th century — particularly following WWII — democratic nations, led in large part by America, evangelized the world on behalf of democracy. We fielded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, helped start the UN, built NATO, and worked with democratic allies around the world.

We backslid more than once, overthrowing democratically elected governments in Iran, Iraq, Chile, and several Central American nations, and the world has paid a price for those errors/crimes. But mostly we defended democracy, at least until the Trump administration took over Radio Free Europe and tried to turn it into a Putin-loving government-run version of Fox “News.”

We’re slowly recovering from the damage Putin’s boy Trump did to our democracy, but now the main purveyors of political evangelism are rightwing oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch, Russia, and China.

Without the aid of billionaire Murdoch’s Fox “News,” Trump never could have risen up and taken over the GOP, as a profile in The New York Times noted.

The channel features multimillionaire talking heads promoting oligarch-billionaire-friendly propaganda that has swung much of America hard to the right. They’ve gone so far as to broadcast directly from Hungary, a country now almost entirely controlled by rightwing billionaire oligarchs.

America’s “conservative” ecosystem of think tanks and political networks branded with words like “freedom,” “heritage,” and “liberty” is almost entirely organized and funded by American billionaire oligarchs, many from the fossil fuel industry that’s right now destroying our planet. They promote fascist memes and climate denial.

And now we’re learning that Clarence Thomas and his wife corruptly and secretly participated in Koch Network meetings of billionaires who are promoting rightwing and oligarch-useful cases before the Supreme Court.

Russia famously intervened in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump, running a Facebook operation trashing Hillary Clinton that reached 26 million targeted Americans in 6 swing states, helping him win the Electoral College vote.

To this day, Russian bot and troll farms have a loud voice on Twitter/X and Facebook. Meanwhile, media personalities on the far right and the far left have been co-opted by their propaganda, cynically (but oh, so fashionably) echoing slanders against our nation and its leaders.

And now China has gotten into the act, according to new reporting in The New York Times. As wildfires savaged Maui, Chinese proxies on social media began spreading stories that the fires were the result of a US “weather weapon” being tested on a civilian target.

Here within the US, The New York Times documents how China is funding some of the most active American groups supportive of Putin’s efforts to destroy NATO and Ukraine, including several that were previously reliably progressive. Most recently, Green Party candidate Cornell West has joined the crowd arguing that America should abandon our democratic ally to Putin’s slaughter of civilians and rape-as-a-weapon-of-war.

Most recently, as Senator Chris Murphy noted on Twitter/X:

“Two dozen Republicans, including 7 Senators, pledge to oppose additional Ukraine funding.

“They support the eradication of Ukraine and Kiev becoming a Russian city. This is the consequence of a cut.”

Russian and Chinese social media influencers posing as Americans have a similarly distressing message: “Look at all the money America is wasting in Ukraine when they should be using that cash to rebuild fire-devastated parts of Maui.”

Finally, Saudi Arabia has jumped into the election-influencing fray, jacking up oil prices just like they did in the months before 2022 to try to swing elections against Democrats. The headline at Axios says it all: “The Saudis Will Have a Say in U.S. Elections.”

Between Russian and Saudi oil production cuts and the fact that the largest gasoline refinery in America is now 100% Saudi-owned leaving our politicians at their mercy, expect gasoline prices to hit $6 or even $7 a gallon in the weeks before next year’s 2024 presidential election.

At the same time our two largest social media companies are laying off content-checking staff and dialing back on policing their platforms, rightwing oligarchs, Russia, and China are blazing new paths into the hearts and minds of Americans. Meanwhile, Putin Republicans have blocked most US government efforts to stop the firehose of misinformation.

When the Biden administration proposed a government effort to keep an eye on this activity, Putin-aligned Republicans raised an uproar. Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, along with a rightwing website owner and four Covid vaccine skeptics, filed a lawsuit to block the government from interacting with social media sites to try to curb disinformation.

The case, first at trial and then on appeal, went before two Trump-appointed rightwing judges and two Bush-appointed judges, who ruled that federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI, were forbidden from talking to social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

So now we’re all standing largely naked before the coming onslaught of lies and disinformation that are sure to come along with the 2023 and 2024 elections. And since some of the most outspoken voices in the GOP have aligned themselves against democracy and with autocratic Russia, the lies will be coming fast and furious.

Combined with the Supreme Court’s legalization of political bribery and gutting of campaign financing laws, anti-democratic dark money is already starting to pile in. For example, ads run by a dark money group with unknown donors but politically aligned with Donald Trump are already appearing in Ohio, trash-talking Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. More will follow.

Over at Fox “News,” billionaire oligarch Rupert Murdoch is stepping down and handing the company to his billionaire son, Lachlan, who’s reportedly even more authoritarian than his father. Rupert’s farewell message cites “elites” who control the “media” as those he intends to oppose, and most Fox viewers are probably so brainwashed that they’ll miss the irony.

Get ready. Between our corrupt Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the successful efforts of Republicans to prevent the Biden administration from even discussing disinformation with social media platforms and other websites, combined with Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia all working hard to get Trump re-elected, it’s going to get wild.

David Goldman (AP) and Mikhail Klimentyev (via AP)

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