Jihadism “defines itself against us,” Gorka told Bannon, then the head of Breitbart News, in an interview during the presidential election. “We are the antithesis—everything America stands for: individual liberty based upon the dignity of the human being made in the image of God. That is what must be destroyed or enslaved [by the jihadists]. This is not random acts of violence. This is a plan. It has a strategy. It’s been brewing for decades. Now they have the Islamic state. We must understand the threat if we want to defeat it.”
Meanwhile, others in government are expressing alarm about a more secular struggle that threatens the liberal form of democracy practiced in the United States. Consider what Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me last month regarding why he was so intent on Congress investigating the Russian government’s possible contacts with the Trump campaign and interference in the U.S. election through hacks and leaks of Democratic Party emails: “We’re in a competition with Russia right now. They are championing autocracy all over the world. We are promoting democracy. It is not communism versus capitalism anymore, but it is authoritarianism versus representative government. And it’s the Russian goal to take down Western liberal democracy” by meddling in the politics of the United States and European countries.
And so far in this “new war of ideas,” democracy appears to be receding while autocracy is advancing, Schiff told Politico’s Susan Glasser in a recent interview. “You see in many parts of Europe a retreat to nationalism, a de-emphasis on human rights. You see in the countries of our NATO allies the imprisoning of journalists. We’re seeing an awful turn away from representative government, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” Russia gets “a lot of criticism for being an authoritarian system, and they would like nothing better than to show that the democracies, the Western democracies, are corrupt; that they’re no better than Russia,” he explained. Trump has only helped Russia’s cause by suggesting that Vladimir Putin isn’t any more brutal a ruler than those who have led the United States, Schiff added.
Writing in The Atlantic, the democracy scholar Larry Diamond recently detailed some of the Russian efforts cited by Schiff:
Western intelligence agencies have been monitoring a Russian campaign on a Cold War scale to support a wide range of European parties and actors—illiberal parties and politicians of both the far left and far right—that are sympathetic to Russia and Putin. This includes not just newer neo-fascist parties, but anti-immigrant far-right parties like the National Front of France … which obtained a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank in 2014. …
The romance between far-right, anti-immigrant European parties and Vladimir Putin’s Russia springs not just from practical ties of support but a shared conservative reaction against liberalism, globalization, and multiculturalism.
Anxiety about the forward march of anti-democratic forces isn’t confined to Democrats. It is shared, for instance, by the Republican Senator John McCain, who has condemned the Russian cyberattacks as an “act of war” on “our very fundamentals of democracy.” In a speech at the Munich Security Conference last month, McCain pondered whether “the West”—meaning the military and diplomatic alliances among advanced liberal democracies that emerged after World War II—“will survive.” People around the world are turning “away from universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism,” he noted, while “more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.” He observed that “many of our peoples, including in my own country, are giving up on the West.”