Washington Examiner Analysis: Why Will Political Assassinations Become More Frequent?

After the attempted assassination of the Slovak Prime Minister, the question arises whether this will cause a chain reaction of such "incidents"

by Sededin Dedovic
Washington Examiner Analysis: Why Will Political Assassinations Become More Frequent?
© Zuzana Gogova / Getty Images

An autocratic prime minister shot by a poet in some remote Central European city sounds like news from the early 20th century. But the more we consider the assassination attempt on Robert Fico, the Slovak power broker, the more contemporary it seems, writes the Washington Examiner.

Fico himself is a creature of the modern era, a former communist apparatchik who rose to power by opposing economic liberalism and has recently begun engaging in Trump-like culture wars. The assassination attempt is a product of these culture wars, which view any political difference as catastrophic.

When the Slovak Republic was born on January 1, 1993, political assassinations were thought to be a thing of the past. The division of Czechoslovakia was amicable, and Slovakia, historically the poorer partner, began a rapid ascent toward Western European living standards.

They were moving, however abruptly and unboundedly, toward a society that people in North America and Western Europe took for granted. In any case, the world in the 1990s became more peaceful, democratic, and law-based. It was bliss to be alive in that dawn, but to be young was truly heaven.

What changed? Why, after seven decades of steady progress, did liberal democracy begin to retreat after 2012? Why did a country like Slovakia, which exemplified the benefits of globalization and democratization, choose a Putin supporter with thinly veiled authoritarian tendencies? And why are other countries doing the same? Even the United States.

There are three possible explanations for what went wrong. First, the global financial crisis delegitimized the market system. Low and middle-income families were taxed to bail out wealthy bankers and bondholders. For the first and only time in history, the fundamentally Marxist critique of the capitalist system seemed justified.

The wealthy truly did use state power to maintain their wealth. Voters have not forgotten this, and it is one of the main reasons why we are in the situation we are in today. Second, there has been an unprecedented increase in global migration—a 'volkerwanderung' enabled by technological advances.

The spread of smartphones allows people to transfer information and credits, making journeys that their grandparents couldn’t have imagined feasible.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico arrive to speak to the media prior to talks at the Chanc© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Rapid demographic changes are unsettling.

We are a territorial species, and when people move into what we consider our space without permission, we react. Slovakia is no exception. Excluding Ukrainian refugees, the country saw a ninefold increase in illegal immigration last year.

"God only knows how many of them are terrorists or carry infectious diseases," Fico stated during a Trump-flavored election campaign in which he returned to power. Smartphones bring us to the third explanation. Simply put, screens have disturbed our minds, shortened our attention spans, placed us in political silos, and made us more irritable.

Jonathan Haidt has written a compelling book titled *The Anxious Generation*, showing how smartphones have made young people more fearful, gullible, unhappy, and stupid. Starting in 2012, in every developed country, the mental health of young people has deteriorated, self-harm and suicide rates have risen, and test scores have fallen.

No other explanation fits the timeline. Haidt's interest is in children under 16, whose minds are more plastic and therefore more vulnerable. But why assume that adults are immune? We can all see how screen addiction has made people less interested in nuances, more willing to abandon their preferred conclusions, and more prone to conspiracy theories.

The internet offers people all the world's knowledge, leading to varying understandings of a particular problem. I don’t believe that the demented and largely fact-free arguments about the 2020 election would have gained traction in an earlier era.

"Wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government," wrote Thomas Jefferson. After writing those words, people became increasingly better informed as literacy spread, the cost of printing fell, and eventually, the internet arrived.

But have we reached a point of saturation? More words are written and read than ever before, but we are becoming lazy in applying filters of credibility, consistency, and common sense. Like our pre-literate and pre-Enlightenment ancestors, we have embraced the assumption that those who disagree with us are simply bad people.

When Putin and Xi talk, as they did at their summit this week, about replacing the Western world order, they have reason to be confident. That order, the liberal order that rose from the 18th century and became dominant after 1945, depends on a habit of mind that we are losing. In the world that follows, political assassinations will be the least of our concerns.