Authoritarian rule threatens America’s democracy

October 10, 2022 3:30 am

American flags blow in the wind on a bright sunny day in Malibu, California. (Getty Images)

Never in my wildest dreams did I think America would be on the verge of changing from a democracy to authoritarian rule. But overwhelming evidence abounds that voters and a political party are purposely changing their behavioral traits.

With three grandchildren — ages 11, 8 and 4 — I truly fear for their freedoms of speech, press and religion and rights of petition and assembly.

Freedom House is the oldest American organization (circa 1941) that conducts research on democracy, political freedom and human rights.

The not-for-profit organization’s fact-based “Freedom in the World 2022” report assesses 210 countries’ degree of political freedoms and civil liberties. Content within the first paragraph of the report is daunting: “Global freedom faces a dire threat. … (T)he enemies of liberal democracy … are accelerating their attacks.”

The United States, Hungary, Nauru, Poland and India are identified as the top five countries in the world with the largest 10-year decline of democracy attributes.

The report notes that “elections, even when critically flawed, have long given authoritarian leaders a veneer of legitimacy.” Examples include Russia’s 2021 parliamentary elections (Vladimir Putin vs. Aleksey Navalny; Navalny was sent to prison by Putin), Nicaragua’s 2021presidential election (Daniel Ortega arrested seven opposition candidates) and the United States’ 2020 presidential election with Republicans “stop the steal” fraudulent claim (100% of America’s 3,006 county auditors certified the vote, 64 court cases and GOP Attorney General Bill Barr authorized the election results, and there were only 16 charged cases of voting illegally out of 158,397,726 ballots cast).

The report further states: “Leaders who fear losing power in a democratic system have taken to sowing distrust in elections. The assault on the U.S. Capitol was the culmination of a months-long campaign by outgoing president Donald Trump to cast Joe Biden’s victory as illegitimate and fraudulent.” On Jan. 6, 2021, we witnessed over 2,000 pro-Trump rioters’ illegal entry into the Capitol, plus 147 congressional Republicans voted to overturn the election results; authoritarianism in action.

Most authoritarians are narcissistic, demand complete control over their subordinates, conclude fault is always due to someone else, and they love to scare people with disinformation and misinformation. Does anyone come to mind?

Authoritarian leaders like to collaborate and praise one another. Donald Trump praised North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, China’s Xi Jinping, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin over 15 times.

Authoritarian attributes also include invoking discrimination against racial and ethnic minority groups, anti-asylum, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ, voter suppression, book banning and private school preference. Sound familiar?

Two other authoritarian-focused political party, politician and candidate-for-office characteristics include tying themselves to organizations engaged in illicit behavior and refusing to condemn political violence (“very fine people,” Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 15, 2017, and “Proud Boys: stand back and stand by,” Sept. 29, 2020; by Donald Trump) and lambasting the media and criticizing the government (e.g., FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Justice, etc.).

If the above-noted examples don’t wake you up to America’s democracy being in jeopardy, then it’s safe to say (A) this is the first time you’ve read about the democracy-authoritarian conundrum; (B) you’ve been hoodwinked, deceived, duped and outwitted by autocrats; or (C) your inductive or deductive reasoning skills to differentiate democracy norms from fascism and authoritarian rule need fine tuning.

Two succinct quotations about this topic come to mind: 1) “the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all” (President John F. Kennedy) ;and 2) “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy” (Montesquieu, French political philosopher).

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Steve Corbin
Steve Corbin

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, where he headed the marketing department. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, a master’s degree from Colorado State University and a doctorate from Virginia Tech. Corbin has served on the Denver (Iowa) Community School District Board of Education and is currently a member of the Advisory Board of Discerning Wealth (Ameriprise Financial Services affiliate, Cedar Falls). His wife, Doris J. Kelley, is a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives and former chair of the Iowa Board of Parole.