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Nationalist autocrats are on the march. Trump yawns.

Nationalist autocrats are on the march. Trump yawns.

At this time seven years ago, what came to be known as the Arab Spring was blossoming across the Middle East, spreading the ideal of reform. It was possible to think then that what the conservative theorist Francis Fukuyama had predicted at the end of the Cold War, in a book called “The End of History and the Last Man,” was actually coming to pass — that eons of autocracy were ending, and a global age of democratic self-determinism had dawned.

As it turns out, though: not really. And not just because Egypt is back to military rule, while Syria and Yemen and Libya are each engaged in all-out civil war.

What you might have missed over the last week or so — with all this mesmerizing spectacle about coming tariffs and an exodus of White House aides and a guy who briefly worked for the campaign publicly melting down on a string of cable shows — is a rush back toward the repression and militarism of the 20th century in some of the world’s most powerful nations.

In China, Xi Jinping just woke up one morning and made himself president for life. In Russia, Vladimir Putin, on the verge of achieving the same status, threatened last week to unleash a new generation of nukes on Florida. In North Korea, the strongman Kim Jong Un has managed to reopen talks with the South by menacing the region with missiles.

It really is stupefying, as others have pointed out, that the American government, currently administered by the party of Ronald Reagan, offers zero response to any of this. (You would think President Trump would at least rise to defend the territorial integrity of Mar-a-Lago, considering what nuclear annihilation might mean for property values.)

But there’s a deeper, more vexing question here about where this president fits into the moment. Is Trump’s presidency causing this sharp turn in the historical current, or is he merely a product of it?

If you’re not quite old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall or Boris Yeltsin standing on the tank (or, for that matter, Boris Yeltsin), then let’s very roughly revisit the sweep of recent history. The end of the Cold War between East and West, after nearly 50 years of proxy wars and client states around the world, unleashed a series of forces that are only now coming into focus.

First came the sudden release of nationalist and religious tensions that had been bottled up during the long conflict between capitalism and communism. This led to wars, persecution and waves of immigration. And all of that was exacerbated by the revolution in digital technology, which disp

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