The Atlantic Daily: The New Axis of Autocracy

So far this century, autocracy is winning, one writer argues. Democratic nations need a better playbook for fighting back.

A white envelope on a red background with a  red Atlantic "A"
The Atlantic

Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.


The bad guys are pulling ahead. In our latest magazine cover story, Anne Applebaum argues that the Vladimir Putins and Nicolás Maduros of the world are besting their democratic foils in the 21st century, leaving the United States and its allies in serious need of a regroup. Curbing bad behavior abroad, she writes, is the only way to prevent it from spreading within America.

Anne’s argument is worth spending time with. But if you’re juggling other responsibilities this evening, you’ll find the essential points below.

1. The bad guys have each other’s backs.

“Call it Autocracy Inc.” These days, an autocrat doesn’t have to go it alone: They share troll farms, they train each other’s police, and they sign lucrative business contracts together, helping steel their economies against sanctions.

Although there isn’t “some supersecret room where bad guys meet, as in a James Bond movie,” Anne writes, modern autocracies are supported by “sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services … and professional propagandists.” Americans are not blameless: Some U.S. businesses and celebrities—Oliver Stone and Nicki Minaj, Hollywood and the NBA—have profited from this autocratic largesse.

2. Democracies need better options for fighting back.

“Just about everyone who thinks hard about this subject agrees that the old diplomatic toolbox once used to support democrats around the world is rusty and out of date,” Anne warns.

Sanctions don’t work like they used to. And too many Americans connect their country’s push to fund democracy abroad with its entrance into “forever wars,” she writes. They do so at the world’s peril.

“If Americans don’t help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity.”

Read Anne’s story.

The news in three sentences:

(1) President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill into law. (2) Lawyers presented closing arguments in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (3) The European Union placed further sanctions on Belarus amid the border crisis there.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Catch up on Saturday Night Live: Taylor Swift made time stop for 10 minutes, Spencer Kornhaber writes.

A break from the news:

Scientists are on a quest to make cats hypoallergenic. Switching their kibble could help.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.