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Autocrats and their mimics are having a good pandemic. there has been plenty of debate about which kind of political system has handled the virus better. as swampians may recall, i side with francis fukuyama, who awards that distinction to competent governments in countries where public trust is high. they could be democratic (new zealand) or moderately authoritarian (singapore). by contrast, populist governments are almost uniformly flaming out (britain, the united states, israel, brazil, india and mexico, to name a few).

What has been less well observed at least in the western media is the degree to which the world in general has become more authoritarian during 2020. the pandemic has given strongmen and would-be strongmen ample pretext to suppress free speech, scapegoat minorities, suspend elections and impose specious emergency measures on civil society. it is worth reading freedom houses aptly-titled new report on this topic, democracy under lockdown. it finds that the condition of democracy and human rights has deteriorated in 80 countries because of covid-19. moreover, it expects these problems to get worse over the next three to five years.

As has always happened in history during pandemics, minorities are acutely vulnerable. many of the most notorious european pogroms occurred in the early stages of the black death. in many countries muslims have been targeted as superspreaders. in sri lanka. muslim families have been denied the right to bury relatives who have died from covid they are forcibly cremated. this is in spite of the fact that epidemiologists say such fears are groundless. in india, narendra modi has done nothing to quell widespread hindu nationalist tropes blaming the already besieged muslim minority for the contagion.

Modi is also further cracking down on the role of non-governmental organisations. amnesty international this week announced it was quitting india after its accounts were frozen. as my colleague amy kazmin writes, a new law restricting foreign ngos from giving money to indian ones could spell the death knell for thousands of indian civic groups, which provide some check on the countrys increasingly monolithic politics.

In china, of course, the states already vice-like grip on the xinjiang regions beleaguered uighurs has also tightened since january. in her farewell piece as the washington posts beijing correspondent, my former colleague anna fifield compares her recent visit to xinjiang to walking through the set of the truman show. when she arrived in china, people were generally still prepared to talk to a foreign journalist, she says. now she may be risking their freedom even to approach them. before i left, an old acquaintance told me about a joke going around china these days: we used to think north korea was our past now we realise its our future, she writes.

Those who read the papers have some idea of what is happening in india, turkey, china and brazil. they may also know that hong kong which effectively lost its one country, two systems guarantees this summer postponed its legislative elections until next year on coronavirus grounds. similar justifications are being peddled in many less well-covered countries. i hadnt realised, for example, that burundi held an election earlier this year with no foreign observers since they were required to quarantine for 14 days, or that ethiopia has put off elections until next year. the freedom house report is full of such examples. it also has some good ones where partly free countries, notably georgia and tunisia, have stuck to transparent medical guidelines. it is bad enough to suffer a public health lockdown. but the mask should not be turned into a muzzle. people especially need to be heard when governments are imposing justifiable restrictions.

Rana, the us is one of the 80 countries listed by freedom house (for an increase in police violence and media restrictions). it also highlights donald trumps dark evangelism for voter suppression. i much enjoyed live blogging this weeks presidential debate with you and peter spiegel, the fts us managing editor, although enjoyed may be the wrong word for it. the spectacle made me feel unsanitary. my question to you is: are you as worried about what could go wrong in november as everyone else?

Ed, yes, im worried. i saw that one of our in-the-know swamp readers said there was a rumour floating around diplomatic circles that the defence department had for some time been giving trump the wrong nuclear codes. if so, thank god for the deep state. the thing that gives me comfort right now is that i know so many decent people in the armedforces who absolutely view themselves as defenders of the nation above this president. we also still have many career state department people who could help in such a situation, and (still) a well-functioning judiciary arm.

On that note, one thing that i think democrats should avoid right now is anything that would inflame the amy coney barrett vetting proceedings. whether or not you like her politics or religion, shes clearly a very decent person and attacks on her wont play well in peoria. in fact, if i were a democrat in congress, id use my question time to draw her out on what she thinks about the last four years of the trump administration. has he violated the emoluments clause by refusing to divest himself of his properties? has the trump administration, by refusing numerous times to submit to subpoenafrom congress, violated constitutional duties? has kellyanne conway violated the hatch act? turn the tables and let barrett answer as she will. if she is who i think she is, she just might answer honestly.

And now a word from our swampians...

In response to: swamp notes special edition: presidential debate night 1:

I think people underestimatetrumps desire to stay in office with its many advantages and have not calculated all the ways and methods he might employ to keep that office. we have yet to see the full dark side. four more years and he and family will be very wealthy with credits globally. jared kushner is laughing up his sleeve. barbara cesana, san francisco, california

Perhaps the debates need rules, enforced by technology. each speaker should have a certain number of minutes in which to speak. at the end of that time, or earlier at the speakers discretion, the other debater has the equivalent amount of time, and so on turn by turn. when one is speaking, the audio is cut from the other, and the audience can only hear the speaker.i suspect that the video too should focus exclusively on the speaker, since mime can be as distracting as interruption. nigel martin, winchester, england

Swamp notes previously recommended james shapiros shakespeare in a divided america. im listening to the audible edition. so i was ready for the debate! the chapter on riots in new york city in 1849 over the staging of macbeth powered by literal class warfare between working-class toughs and the moneyed aristocracy and between american nativists in violent reaction to english cultural snobbery was a riveting look at the roiling resentments of the american republic. of course the ruffian populist would talk over the statesmanlike vice-president and the moderator, symbol of republican order. this was classic streets versus the establishment. paul myers, corona del mar, california