Putting Russian assets to work, Europe’s right turn, Antisemitism strikes again, and Contemplating a post-constitutional America

Democracy Examined

The Topline

Key news and views on democracy at home and abroad

It’s been a busy week for the RDI’s board and advisors, and we want to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Historian and RDI advisor Anne Applebaum sits down with renowned economics commentator Martin Wolf to talk about some of the seismic shifts that have taken place in America and Europe and what it means for democracy on this Financial Times podcast.

Foreign policy analyst and RDI advisor Max Boot provides a historical refresher for those who’ve memory-holed the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

New York Times columnist and RDI advisor Bret Stephens writes about how President Biden could turn the election around and says boldly what most moderate Democrats haven’t been able to say.

And last but certainly not least, as part of a new series at Northeastern University focused on business lessons, leadership, and technology, RDI Chairman Garry Kasparov recently sat down for a discussion and audience Q&A about the future of artificial intelligence and “thinking ahead.”

Thanks for reading, and please let us know how we’re doing. —Melissa Amour, Managing Editor

From Russia with no love

President Biden and other G7 leaders came together to engineer a $50 billion loan to help Ukraine with its military, economic, and humanitarian needs as a result of Russia’s invasion.

How will it work? After Russia invaded in 2022, many countries issued sanctions against Russia, including the freezing of Russian sovereign bank assets located outside the country. Together, they total more than $300 billion. These assets cannot be moved, sold, or used as collateral when taking out a loan.

However, as US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has confirmed, the loan is a legal remedy, which RDI recommended last September in our report “The Legal, Practical, and Moral Case for Transferring Russian Sovereign Assets to Ukraine”:

“As this report makes clear, repurposing Russia’s frozen reserves in that manner fully comports with existing legal authorities and is the only practicable policy action that will hold Russia accountable for its heinous acts while allowing Ukraine to survive and recover from the war’s devastating effects.” —Making Putin Pay

Interest earned on profits from the assets, rather than the assets themselves, will be used as collateral. A thankful Volodymyr Zelensky has called it “a vital step forward” toward defeating Russia.

The (Russian) empire strikes back

Russia is taking steps to demonstrate its military and geopolitical might by conducting nuke drillsparking warships in a Cuban harbor, planning an espionage trial for jailed American journalist Evan Gershkovich, signing a mutual defense treaty with North Korea, and of course, committing atrocities in Ukraine.

Fighting back against Vladimir Putin’s regime will take a vast, sustained, and unified front. RDI Chairman Garry Kasparov has an innovative idea for how Russians sympathetic to the West can help:

“A victory for Putin’s regime would be a clear sign that the world’s democracies aren’t able to stand together in a firm coalition to uphold their core values and support their members in need. But we still have an opportunity to change the outcome—if we act now—and affirm that democratic institutions and values are stronger and more sustainable than what authoritarians offer.

Thus, as a vital step in the international fight for Ukraine and against Putinism, we propose the creation of a single, harmoniously operating community of pro-Western Russians, which would serve as a crucial link in the broader Western web of opposition against the regime.” —Garry Kasparov, RDI chairman

READ THIS TOO: US considers expanded nuclear arsenal, a reversal of decades of cuts —The New York Times

Europe swings rightward

Europe is experiencing a right-wing populist surge in FranceGermanyItaly, and other nations. Driven in part by support from young people, far-right parties performed exceedingly well in a four-day election that shook the foundations of the EU.

How did this happen? Anne Applebaum explains in The Atlantic:

“Gaze across the continent, whether at Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister whose party originated in Mussolini’s fascist movement, or Le Pen, whose roots truly lie in Vichy, or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who once called his country’s Parliament ‘fake,’ and you will see far-right leaders who have succeeded precisely by appearing to tack to the center, trying to sound less extreme, and dropping previous objections and embracing existing alliances, such as the European Union and NATO.”

That sounds hopeful, right? It suggests the center is still holding in Europe. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. She continues:

“American media clichés about Europe are wrong. In fact, the European far right is rising in some places, but falling in others. And we aren’t ‘in danger’ of following European voters in an extremist direction, because we are already well past them.”

READ THIS TOO: Keep an eye on MAGA’s new allies abroad —The Bulwark

Argentina on the brink

On the American side of the Atlantic, Argentina is facing its worst economic crisis in two decades. Is the nation’s right-wing populist leader Javier Milei in a position to save it?

Milei ran a presidential campaign on promises to stave off Argentina’s decay, but he just barely managed to push through a series of legislative reforms that will slash public spending and expand presidential powers in Argentina. The reforms were met with violent protests.

So far, Milei’s austerity has netted mixed results at best. While Argentina posted a surplus and its lowest inflation rate in nearly two years last month, its economy is expected to contract by 3.5 percent this year. And rising prices and low wages have all but nullified the effects of low inflation.

Polarization in Argentine society is increasing as Milei’s policies have left everyday Argentinians economically worse off than just a year ago. If this continues, Argentina’s relatively young democracy may be in uncharted waters.

What would a ‘post-constitutional’ US look like?

In the US, our own right-wing populist, Donald Trump, has similar plans for the federal government, should he win another term in November.

Namely, there are proposals to deploy the military to quash civil unrest, seize more control over the Justice Department, assert the power to withhold congressional appropriations, eliminate entire agencies, and give Trump more power to decide monetary policy. Fun times.

READ MORE ABOUT IT: Russ Vought’s ‘radical constitutionalism’ plan for Trump’s second term —The Washington Post

Merrick Garland faces the revenge tour

As fallout from Trump’s fraud conviction in a New York City court continues, Republicans are taking steps of their own to hold Democrats accountable. The question at hand: Is it motivated by adherence to the law or political retaliation?

That depends. There are cases that are fair game like that of Rep. Henry Cuellar, who was indicted last month for allegedly accepting foreign bribes.

But then there’s the case of Attorney General Merrick Garland, whom Republicans in the House just voted to hold in contempt (though some called for harsher action). Clearly not all ‘crimes’ are equal.

An old hatred in New York

In New York City, pro-Palestinian activities, in some cases, have escalated from protests purportedly against Israel’s conduct during the war with Hamas to blatant, criminal acts of antisemitism. How much, if any, is being influenced by disinformation and media coverage about the war?

It’s a fair question. After four Israeli hostages were recently found alive and freed during an IDF rescue operation, attempts to repaint the legitimate operation as an act of senseless violence were rampant on a few media outlets. Some media insiders agree.

“In recent months, news organizations have, all too often, parroted Hamas talking points by providing alleged ‘death tolls’ from Gaza without informing their audiences that the source of those figures, the ‘Health Ministry,’ is part of Hamas, a vicious terrorist organization known to lie—or how many of the dead were terrorists, or that other recent wars (including in Ethiopia and Syria) have incomparably larger death tolls.” —Josh Levs, journalist, author, and podcast host

  • Biden has more global confidence than Trump, poll finds —Associated Press
  • It’s not just Russia: China joins the G7’s list of adversaries —The New York Times
  • In Europe, chaos is the new normal —Persuasion
  • Ian Bremmer: American democracy at risk thanks to conspiracy theories —GZERO Media
  • States and cities are experimenting with how to save democracy —The Washington Post
  • Trump’s private demand to Johnson: Help overturn my conviction —POLITICO
  • The GOP has a lock on some states, Democrats others. It’s not healthy —The Washington Post
  • Rising dissatisfaction with democracy in high-income nations —Pew Research Center
  • Political scientists want to know why we hate each other this much —The New York Times
  • Iowa Poll: Most oppose political violence, say democracy will hold —DesMoines Register

Hey Topline readers, you remember the drill. We want to hear your reactions to today’s stories. We’ll include some of your replies in this space in our next issue of The ToplineClick here to share your take, and don’t forget to include your name and state. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!