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It is tempting to pretend our democracy is no longer endangered
One of my favorite streaming series right now is “Seaside Hotel.” (Danish with English subtitles; in Danish, it’s “Badehotellet.”) It runs eight seasons, with 6 episodes each. I’ve been gorging on it because it’s charming, funny, and poignant. The characters –hotel guests and staff at a small seaside hotel in northern Denmark, who return each summer – are wonderfully acted, in one of the best ensembles I’ve ever seen. (The French series “Call My Agent” is a close second.)
Another reason I find “Seaside Hotel” so moving is that its story spans critical years, from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s, when the world fell into darkness. You get to know these people — their families, foibles, hopes and frailties — as they grapple with the rise of Nazi Germany. Their happy seaside holidays eventually give way to the loathsome realities of organized hate. Initially they want to deny or play down the danger. Ultimately they have to decide whether they’ll accommodate Hitler’s racist nationalism, or fight against it.
Some of the poignancy of this comedy-drama comes from the parallels to what’s been happening in the United States. America is not on the verge of Nazi fascism but we are perilously close to the kind of “illiberal” democracy now being practiced in Hungary -- where Viktor Orbán has created a one-party state premised on racist nationalism, Christianity, and authoritarianism.
Many Trumpers in high places openly admire Orbán. Former vice president Mike Pence recently attended a conference in Budapest that denounced immigration and extolled “traditional social values.” Pence told the group he hoped the Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion, courtesy of the three justices Trump put on the court. CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) will hold its 2022 forum in Budapest. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, an admirer of Orban, recently broadcast his show from there.
Back in America, since the 2020 election, nineteen states have enacted 33 laws intended to suppress the votes of likely Democratic (aka minority) voters and also give Republican legislatures the power to overturn election results they dislike.
Donald Trump appears likely to run for president again in 2024, despite having instigated a coup against the United States. He has not conceded the election, and continues to assert his baseless claim that it was stolen from him. He has convinced a third of Americans (including 78 percent of Republican voters) that he is the rightful winner. An astounding 8 percent of Americans think violence is justified in order to overturn the election results.
It is tempting for all of us to pretend this isn’t happening, or to play down the danger. Even the Freedom to Vote Act (which would preempt most voter-suppressing state laws) seems to have fallen off the radar of the White House and the media. But we are no longer at the seaside. We must not deny the threat. We are in an existential fight to defend our democracy from those who would destroy it. It is a fight we dare not lose.
What do you think? Do you have a favorite series or movie that helps you process the state of politics today?