On the same day that 77 percent of Tennessee Republicans were voting in the primary to send Donald Trump back to the White House, two leading US historians addressed an anxious audience at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

They spoke on March 5 against the specter of support for the candidate recently held liable for sexual assault and financial fraud, facing trial for stealing national defense secrets, paying off a porn star to mislead voters, praising and refusing to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin despite the invasion of Ukraine and the murder of Alexei Navalny, and intimidating state officials racketeer-style to change the results of an election he lost.

In their addresses, presidential biographer John Meacham and Iron Curtain chronicler Anne Applebaum focused less on assessing past world events than on forecasting the future of US democracy – and the consequences for Ukraine.

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History is in the balance now that US political divisions have enabled a minority to successfully shut off US aid to Ukraine, while recent intelligence reports establish that Russian intelligence and pro-Trump politicians and pundits at the very least share a disinformation echo chamber. There is evidence of more direct connections between fake news generated by Russian intelligence and the Trump supporters who repeat it.

Applebaum was in Poland in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was dismantled, and when people living under Soviet domination “decided what they wanted was freedom.” That supposed end of history now stands in striking contrast to the number of Americans who have been conditioned by disinformation to be fine with Putin authoritarianism overrunning Ukraine, and even taking hold in the US.

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Ukraine Regains Position Near Chasiv Yar as Russia Intensifies Offensive

The capture of Chasiv Yar could be both a strategic and symbolic victory for Moscow ahead of the May 9 Victory Day, but Ukraine stands defiant in its defense before Western supplies arrive.

Meacham tried to put it in perspective, that 35 percent of Americans, the equivalent of MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) supporters today, still viewed Senator Joe McCarthy favorably even after he had been disgraced as a red-baiting demagogue who found a Russian Commie behind every tree. How strange that the conservative right now favors Russia and blocks aid to Ukrainians fighting to be free from revived Soviet tyranny.

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A wider historical perspective reveals a larger problem, though, that Americans surfing the wave of the 1960s Freedom Riders have never gone through cycles of revolution, monarchical restoration and descent of democracies into despotism that Europeans have lived through for centuries.

According to Meacham, it has created a doldrum of complacency – that democracy is simply effortless – which must be defeated, especially now that one party seems to be perfecting rules changes that will allow it to stay in power permanently, as foreshadowed by the Heritage Society’s Project 2025. This plan would remove the check of a professional civil service ushered in by Republican Teddy Roosevelt and replace it with a system of loyalty to the leader in which Trump is Richard Nixon’s heir, if not Putin’s.

Slide towards authoritarianism

According to Applebaum, Putin is likewise testing us in Ukraine, throwing down a gauntlet against our post-1945 expectations: Putin does not believe in secure borders, an end to genocides, freedom and self-determination, and Putin is betting we don’t believe it either and won’t defend it.

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Whilst Putin is challenging the role of the US as the world’s security guarantor by brazenly kidnapping children in Ukraine, a former president is pulling strings from offstage to block the policy of the current president to aid Ukraine. Applebaum and Meacham discussed the chilling comments she heard at the recent Munich Security conference, that if this revision of American alliances and philosophy prevails, Europe may have to face a tri-partite axis of authoritarianism – consisting of Russia, China, and the US.

Americans may not understand how much the game has changed, but if a US Supreme Court packed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (now disparaged and run out of town as not Trumpy enough) reaches a shocking conclusion that Trump is immune for any crimes he committed in office – just as Putin is inherently immune for sending FSB or Spetsnaz forces to murder his political enemies and investigative journalists – we will know US dreams of steady-state democracy have passed us by.

Ironically, this program on the fractured American body politic and slide towards fascism was conducted under the auspices of Vanderbilt’s Project on Unity and American Democracy

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Hard-pressed by the audience for some good news for the future of American democracy, both seemed to believe that depends on the American electorate rejecting an American Orban, Erdogan or Putin.

Avoiding the fate of Orban’s Hungary depends on Americans rejecting the neutering of democracy in the November election. Based on Tuesday’s vote, there is a long row to hoe in Tennessee. In one more ironic twist, maybe Ukraine can show Americans the way to resist.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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Comments (3)

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Jack Griffin
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If Briben wins the USA is finished. If Trump wins there is hope and bright future.

John
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@Jack briben Griffin,

Well we know for sure that Ukraine's struggle gets harder if putinrump is ever re-elected.

Putinrump states he will not provide Ukraine a penny worth of support. He's also threatened allied countries that he would not stop further putin invasions.

Fortunately putinrump will no doubt again try to gather some saner minds around him ......unless he learned his lesson from the last time that they will ALL eventually turn on him since he is such a unethical lunatic.

Did you need to review again what putinrumps' past high level appointees had to say about him MRGA troll jack?

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Johnny fd
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Dumbest thing I ever read. Author of the article has zero clue about Americans. No more forever wars paid with the blood of Americans.

John
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@Johnny fd, Oh come on now MRGA troll. Thats an exaggeration given the putin sanctioned content normally only allowed in your country (which is not the USA). We know putin has said and written much dumber false things for your nation's forced consumption.

The author in contrast is actually an American. He is presently witnessing how important it is to the Ukrainians to save their democracy from autocratic despot putler.

He accurately, albeit conservatively also notes the degradation of American support for democracy both internally and externally. As with most witnessing this shocking US democratic decline, he wonders whether they might lose theirs like some other democracies once had (mostly when under occupied russian oppression), before they again appreciate what they once had. The election of putin aligned, dictator aspiring putinrump makes that loss quite probable. As putinrump had attempted in his insurrection, its a battle to dethrone a a wannabe dictator. They will lie, cheat, steal and use violence to maintain power.

As with all good journalism, the article does not contain a single political statement or reference to putinrumps nefarious background that cannot easily be referenced from other credible media and institutional data. Pick any you think is untrue and I will provide credible citations for you. I've got lots of spare time and think the other readers may be interested in seeing these.

JOHNNY FD
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@John, nobody asking your opinion you damn fool.

John
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@JOHNNY FD,

Hi MRGA troll 'jack' under new guise.

I thought you solicited my opinion? While I have your putinrump loving attention did you hear the ridiculous lie he had told about the boy scouts? From CNN:

'The most ridiculous subject of a lie: The Boy Scouts

When I emailed the Boy Scouts of America in 2017 about Trump’s claim that “the head of the Boy Scouts” had called him to say that his bizarrely political address to the Scouts’ National Jamboree was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them,” I didn’t expect a reply. One of the hardest things about fact checking Trump was that a lot of people he lied about did not think it was in their interest to be quoted publicly contradicting a vengeful president.

The Boy Scouts did. A senior Scouts source – a phrase I never expected to have to type as a political reporter in Washington, DC – confirmed to me that no call ever happened.

Yep, the President of the United States was lying about the Boy Scouts."

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John
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I agree with everything the author says....been saying the same myself since putinrumps MRGA movement started interjecting objections to Ukraine being help in its defense against putin's invasion.

Yep putinrump is a putin supporting despot...there is no other way to see this given his backgound (4091 lawsuits), comments (entirely ally derogatory but putin supportive) and actions (stalling Ukraine aid, inciting insurrection, pardoning his criminal cronies),

Yep the MRGA cult stays in his echo chamber chanting the same falsehoods and refusing to seek information from more credible sources (putinrump being documented as having made +30,500 lies in his 4 year term).

Yep the non MRGA Americans are not doing enough to protect their own democracy from falling into putin aligned leadership. They are two busy focusing on their entertainment choices to think about why they have those freedoms.

If the USA must relive the same path as many EU nations that one lost their democracies but then fought to get them back at great cost.....then the USA is in for a rough rough ride. With the rise of autocratic alliances and their influence on MRGA voters the timing could not be worse.

Maybe enough Americans will wake up from watching Ukraine's brave fight to save its democracy. Maybe enough will vote in November to save their own democracy ....maybe.....their media now works so hard to keep them distracted with more frivolous stuff.

darrenp
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@John, Well said! Americans do need to wake up and ignore the hysteria around Trump.. The guy is just BAD news! If Americans do put Trump back in the WH, it will be the modern day fall of Rome!

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