How fascism works

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“Fascism” is a word that gets tossed around pretty loosely these days, usually as an epithet to discredit someone else’s politics.

One consequence is that no one really knows what the term means anymore. Liberals see fascism as the culmination of conservative thinking: an authoritarian, nationalist, and racist system of government organized around corporate power. For conservatives, fascism is totalitarianism masquerading as the nanny state.

A new book by Yale philosopher Jason Stanley is the latest attempt to clarify what fascism is and how it functions in the modern world. Stanley focuses on propaganda and rhetoric, so his book is largely about the tropes and narratives that drive fascist politics.

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Why the right to vote isn’t enshrined in the Constitution

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The Founding Fathers made a lot of mistakes when they drafted the United States Constitution. Some of these were the result of extremely difficult compromises, and some of them were just, well, mistakes.

The biggest and most consequential mistake, one could argue, was the decision not to guarantee the right to vote to anyone. Suffrage was treated as a privilege reserved exclusively for property-owning white men, but it was not enshrined as an inalienable right in the Constitution.

Instead, these men placed power in the hands of the states, which is one reason the right to vote in the US has expanded and contracted over time with continuous battles over voter ID laws, literacy tests, poll taxes, and other measures designed to keep specific groups, like women and African Americans, from voting.

It’s difficult to overstate the price — moral and political — we’ve paid for this mistake. But a new book by American University history professor Allan Lichtman does a nice job of explaining it. The Embattled Vote in America is a sweeping look at the history of voting rights in the US, focusing on the constant struggle to extend suffrage in this country.

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Manafort has flipped. 8 legal experts on what it means for Trump.

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Paul Manafort has finally flipped.

The president’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty in court on Friday to two felonies: conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Part of Manafort’s plea deal includes an agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — including offering interviews and briefings to the special counsel’s office, handing over documents, and testifying in other court proceedings.

It’s not clear why Manafort agreed to flip after a year of refusing to do so. Nor do we know the extent of Manafort’s cooperation, or what he actually knows about Trump and any possible collusion with Russia. But Manafort’s cooperation is still a big deal, since he was one of the first people Mueller targeted.

So how worried should Trump be? And how does Manafort’s cooperation impact the Mueller probe? To find out, I reached out to eight legal experts.

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Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia go back 3 decades

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On November 9, 2016, just a few minutes after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, a man named Vyacheslav Nikonov approached a microphone in the Russian State Duma (their equivalent of the US House of Representatives) and made a very unusual statement.

“Dear friends, respected colleagues!” Nikonov said. “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections, and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America, and I congratulate you on this.”

Nikonov is a leader in the pro-Putin United Russia Party and, incidentally, the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov — after whom the “Molotov cocktail” was named. His announcement that day was a clear signal that Trump’s victory was, in fact, a victory for Putin’s Russia.

Longtime journalist Craig Unger opens his new book, House of Trump, House of Putin, with this anecdote. The book is an impressive attempt to gather up all the evidence we have of Trump’s numerous connections to the Russian mafia and government and lay it all out in a clear, comprehensive narrative.

The book claims to unpack an “untold story,” but it’s not entirely clear how much of it is new. One of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. So much of the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and somehow that has made it harder to accept.

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Walter Lippmann’s critique of democracy revisited

Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, published in 1922, is the most persuasive critique of democracy I’ve ever read. Shortly after it was published, John Dewey, the great defender of democracy and the most important American philosopher of the era, called Lippmann’s book “the most effective indictment of democracy as currently conceived.”

Lippmann poses a straightforward question: can citizens achieve a basic knowledge of public affairs and then make reasonable choices about what to do? His answer is no, and the whole point of the book is to expose the gap between what we say democracy is and what we know about how human beings actually behave.

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