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In politics, language is a reliable indicator of the direction of travel. Today, rhetoric from the Republican Party convention in the U.S. to India, and from Poland to Brazil, points away from liberal democracy. The change has rarely been swifter than in Hong Kong.

The markers of autocratic speech are globally apparent. There’s the divisive “us versus them” rhetoric, the ad hominem attacks, the inflammatory comments on dissenters and the fetishization of law and order, feeding on popular insecurities. There’s the personalization of politics. There is also, increasingly, the willingness to disregard fact. It’s in President Donald Trump’s convention speech — say, that the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem cost “less than $500,000” when the move will come to many times that — but it’s elsewhere, too. In Hong Kong, police advanced an alternative account of one of the most well-documented attacks of the 2019 protests, despite video evidence, eye-witness accounts and even the police’s own testimony to an inquiry.

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