What's Tony Thinking

And the News Is . . . Good


On a day to day basis “the news” often seems to fall on a spectrum that runs from “bad” to “awful.” One mess, problem or tragedy after another. It is easy to feel overwhelmed.

But stepping back from the immediacy of stuff, is there some larger picture emerging? And, even more improbably, might it be called “good” or “encouraging”? Surprise! I think so.

Here’s the bigger picture good news I am seeing in a nutshell. Seemingly invincible authoritarian regimes, those we have frequently been told were better able to deal with today’s ginormous problems than polarized liberal democracies, aren’t looking quite so enviable these days.

There has been an argument that the day of liberal democracies day has passed. Too fractious, too paralyzed and too centrifugal to really address big challenges. Command/ control systems led by an authoritarian strongman, were a better bet. They could act more decisively, effectively, quickly — or so the argument went — while liberal democracies were mired in “late stage capitalism” and “post-modern decadence.” Alas . . .

Well, it’s not that we don’t have problems. News flash: we do. Duh!

But the authoritarian option ain’t looking so good as 2022 rolls on. Russia is being undone by its fool’s errand in Ukraine. China’s ship of state is running aground on a combination of its paralyzing “zero covid” policy and its inability to come up with effective vaccines of its own. And while Iran has pretty much sealed itself off from the outside world, the reports we do get indicate a popular uprising that is broad and sustained despite brutal repression.

Yesterday’s January 6th Committee Hearing reminded us just how close we came to authoritarian takeover in the wake of the 2020 election. We’re not out of the woods yet. Still, the Putin fans and apologists (Trump, Bannon, Carlson, et. al.) have a lot of mud on their faces, not to mention blood on their hands. And those who rushed to embrace Viktor Orban ( Hungary) as the savior of western Christendom look a bit like the Biblical Esau who sold his patrimonial blessing for “a mess of pottage.”

Writing at the Dispatch newsletter, Scott Lincicome, goes into all this at great length. One take-away is that the contentious world of liberal democracies is more likely to take self-corrective action than an authoritarian regime that must repress dissent and critique. Case-in-point, the Russian Army. No one would tell Putin it wasn’t what was cracked up to be. Or China, while enamored of its greatness, is stuck with its own inferior COVID vaccines.

Here’s an excerpt from Lincicome:

“Centralized power by an unelected elite–governments of men, not of laws–might make the high-speed trains run on time, but it also carries a massive risk of stubborn, foolish resistance to change in order to protect elite legitimacy, even in the face of mounting evidence that such change is needed. . . . Foreign policy analyst Richard Hanania put it well a couple weeks ago:

“‘If you look at Chinese and Russian failures in 2022, they appear on the surface to be very different. Russia was too risk-acceptant, and intoxicated with masculine dreams of conquest. China has been too risk-averse, and shown itself to be too neurotic to be able to respond to threats in a measured way. But at a deeper level both involve a governing elite that is willing and able to drag a public toward making massive sacrifices for a fundamentally irrational goal.’

“As he notes, it’s not impossible for a dictatorial regime to produce long-term economic grown and social stability, but authoritarian institutions all but ensure that this is a very (very) rare exception to the general rule of poverty, instability, and eventual collapse.”

Pretty much since the onset of the current millennium, we have faced one shock or crisis after another. Given that, a lot of folks have become so anxious and fearful that opting for a “strongman” and authoritarianism seemed the answer — even if it meant trading away freedom and democracy. But, once again, fear and hyper-anxiety, have been shown to lead not to the light at the end of the tunnel, but to a far deeper darkness.

I count these big picture developments of 2022 as good news.


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