Denying a Creeping Autocracy

             Whenever anyone in this country talks about what is happening here and compares it to what happened in other democracies that fell to an autocratic leader, there is stern rebuke and criticism. Just as we deny our racism and sexism and the other “isms” that plague our lives, we are in denial now that there is a serious transformation happening in our government – and it isn’t good.

Our “democracy” is undergoing a radical change under the leadership of the current president, and while, in anticipation of the upcoming 2020 general election, the battle cry of “never socialism” is being tossed about more and more, in fact, there ought to be an equal groundswell, a counter-argument, where we  declare that we will never be a dictatorship.

In his book Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, author James Q. Whitman writes that “the same aspects of American life that appealed to Nazis seventy-five years ago are with us again.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn D-SC) and said that the current president and his family are “one of the greatest threat to democracy” he has seen in his lifetime,  correctly noting that the German people elected Hitler to be chancellor. (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/clyburn-calls-trump-family-greatest-threats-democracy-my-lifetime-n985131)

Dr. Tom Snyder, in his book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century makes the same observation. The history of modern democracy, says Snyder, is one of “decline and fall,” and he notes how “European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and 30s.” He says that both fascism and communism “were responses to globalization, and says that while Americans “might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats,” history shows that to be a dangerous way of thinking.

Our country has never been a pure democracy, not if one believes that in a democracy a basic foundational principle is “egalitarianism.” Frederick Douglass recognized that America’s founding documents, including its Constitution, were “flawed from the beginning” because they were not inclusive of all races, religions, and gender. From the beginning, the wonderful phrase “all men are created equal” was tainted by an underlying belief in white supremacy and all that that ideological system includes.

In spite of our stated belief in democracy, the fact is that democracies too often fall to authoritarian figures. Snyder notes that “most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” He calls it “anticipatory obedience,” and says that it is a political tragedy. It is not a new phenomenon, but I at least had hope that the American governmental structure, including checks and balances, would prevent our country from beginning its downward spiral to authoritarianism.

The fact of the matter is that up to this point, checks and balances have failed; the only arm of the federal government which seems serious in upholding the US Constitution on that principle is the US Congress, now dominated by Democrats. The Republican-led and controlled Congress were disappointingly sycophantic in their blind allegiance and support of the president.

The GOP lawmakers have been following along because such a large portion of the GOP base is in favor and is supportive of everything this president does, even if it adversely affects them and their lives, but nobody is really talking about that. Our media spends too much of its time talking about how despicable the president is. Too few people care.

When democracies have fallen in other countries, the masses who have supported them have often been surprised, saying that they never thought “it” could happen to them. Their surprise is reminiscent of those in whose neighborhoods there is a violent crime. Too many of us live in bubbles that are comfortable and which feel safe and we like to stay inside of them, closing our eyes and shutting our ears to what is happening around us. In so doing, we make ourselves vulnerable to attack and in the matter of government, a demolition of democracy. Dictatorships led by authoritarian leaders and a group of lackeys are not prone to helping the masses live better lives. Their concern is for their own accumulation of power and wealth.

America is in a bad place, but too many Americans will not own it and therefore are ill-equipped to fight it. I hope that this period of time passes with at least a smidgen of our democracy in place. Democracies rise and fall; that is a historical reality. My prayer is that our democracy can survive this assault and attack and that the American people – all of us – will still be able to claim this country as our own once this administration has run its course.

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