'Democracy hanging by a thread': Paul Krugman explains how the US long misunderstood its greatest threat
September 11 marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attack in United States history. With the Taliban back in control in Afghanistan, Islamist extremism has been in the news a lot recently. Examining the history of terrorism and extremism in the U.S., liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman does something that most of the far-right pundits at Fox News will never do: He looks at the big picture. And Krugman stresses that when it comes to terrorism in the U.S., most of the violence has come from domestic extremists — not foreign terrorists and radical Islamists.
"It may seem like a terrible thing to say," Krugman writes, "but a fair number of people — especially in the news media — are nostalgic about the months that followed 9/11. Some pundits openly pine for the sense of national unity that they imagine prevailed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. More subtly, my sense is that many long for the days when the big threat to America seemed to come from foreign fanatics, not homegrown political extremists."
The anti-Islam hysteria that followed 9/11, Krugman argues, ignored the threat of domestic extremism.
"To his credit," Krugman explains, "President George W. Bush tried to tamp down the anti-Muslim backlash, visiting an Islamic center just six days after the attack and calling on Americans to respect all religions. Try to imagine Donald Trump doing something similar."
Krugman adds, "It's also notable that some of the most prominent neocons — intellectuals who promoted the invasion of Iraq and called for an even wider set of wars — eventually became eloquent, even courageous Never Trumpers. This suggests that their belief in spreading democratic values was genuine even if the methods they advocated — and the political alliances they chose to make — had catastrophic results."
During the 2000s, Krugman argues, many Republicans used the horrors of 9/11 to "seize domestic political advantage."
"This cynicism in the face of the horror tells us that even at a time when America truly was under external attack, the biggest dangers we faced were already internal," Krugman recalls. "The Republican Party wasn't yet full-on authoritarian, but it was willing to do whatever it took to get what it wanted and disdainful of the legitimacy of its opposition. We were well along on the road to the January 6 putsch — and toward a GOP that has, in effect, endorsed that putsch and seems all too likely to try one again."
Krugman ends his column on a disturbing note, pointing out that far-right Republicans are a much greater threat to the U.S. than foreign terrorists.
"It's not an accident that Republicans today have left both tolerance and respect for democracy behind," Krugman warns. "Where we are now, with democracy hanging by a thread, is where we had been heading for a long time. America was viciously attacked 20 years ago. But even then, the call that mattered was coming from inside the house. The real threat to all this nation stands for is coming not from foreign suicide bombers, but from our own right wing."
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