Instant Opinion: the coronavirus pandemic is putting ‘democracy at stake’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 20 November

A man attends an anti-lockdown protest outside Westminster
Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 20 November
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Christoph Strack on Deutsche Welle

on the fear of corona-fascism

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Amid coronavirus, democracy is at stake

“Since March, the German government - like other governments all over the world - has been struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has introduced concrete measures to contain the virus, calling on people to wear face masks and banning gatherings in public spaces. It has imposed restrictions on cultural life, on the food and catering industry, on hotels and also on places of worship. These measures have been annoying and painful for almost everyone - and some have also seen them as a violation of their fundamental rights. On Wednesday, demonstrators - among them COVID-19 deniers and supporters of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) - went so far as to compare the government's proposed measures with the Enabling Act of 1933 which paved the way for Hitler's dictatorship.”

2. Jeremy Gilbert in The Guardian

on a coalition of the unwilling

Only electoral reform will rid the Labour party of factionalism

“In a normal parliamentary democracy where seats are allocated according to the proportion of votes received nationally, none of these people would be in the same party. Corbyn would lead an explicitly socialist party, whose internal bureaucracy would not have spent the past five years trying to undermine him. Starmer would be leading a moderate centre-left party. The Liberal Democrat and Green parties would each have far more MPs, reflecting their actual levels of public support. The Tories, with only 43% of the popular vote, would only have 43% of parliamentary seats. In all likelihood, we would be governed by some kind of centre-left coalition, from which Corbyn’s far-left party would try, and not always fail, to extract significant concessions.”

3. Timothy Egan in The New York Times

on the point of no return

Donald Trump is leaving behind blueprints to end democracy

“‘American democracy cracked last night, but it didn’t break,’ said Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit, on the morning after the certification back-and-forth. ‘We are seeing a real threat to everything we believe in.’ One of those beliefs is the idea that honorable people will put aside partisan passions to keep the machinery of democracy moving forward. But it’s pretty hard to do that when the routine act of ballot counting has become a life-threatening job. Arizona’s secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, described ‘ongoing and escalating threats of violence’ against her and her family for trying to perform her duty. This is Trump’s legacy: an attempt to blow up an election, from Wayne County, Mich., to Maricopa County, Ariz. For Trump the failed businessman, cheating and suing were a way of life. For Trump the failed president, cheating and suing are a blueprint for his followers into the future. And I fear there’s no going back.”

4. Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic

on the taboo of the extra chromosome

The last children of Down Syndrome

“Denmark is unusual for the universality of its screening program and the comprehensiveness of its data, but the pattern of high abortion rates after a Down syndrome diagnosis holds true across Western Europe and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the United States. In wealthy countries, it seems to be at once the best and the worst time for Down syndrome. Better health care has more than doubled life expectancy. Better access to education means most children with Down syndrome will learn to read and write. Few people speak publicly about wanting to “eliminate” Down syndrome. Yet individual choices are adding up to something very close to that.”

5. Guy Walters in The Spectator

on the death of formality

First names are for friends and family, not bosses and builders

“Using surnames is regarded as antiquated and far too deferential for our egalitarian times. From medical professionals to schoolteachers to salesmen, people now feel the need to address one another by first names. It is as if calling someone by their surname risks an impression of arch formality, and insisting on being referred to by one’s surname feels like pomposity. In the workplace and the legislature, even in hospitals and schools, the surname is as outmoded as wearing a tie or smoking a pipe. In fact, you are only likely to hear your surname in the more traditional quarters of the hospitality and retail industries, or in court. In effect, the surname, as a spoken form of address, is all but dead.”

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