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Authoritarian rule threatens America’s democracy

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump

Donald Trump's praise of Vladimir Putin is just one example of his authoritarian tendencies, writes Corbin.

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Corbin is professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.

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 their 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. The first paragraph of the report is daunting: “Global freedom faces a dire threat ... the 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 “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 2021 presidential election (Daniel Ortega arrested seven opposition candidates) and the United States’ 2020 presidential election with Republicans fraudulent “stop the steal” claims (100 percent of America’s 3,006 county auditors certified the vote, 64 court cases and Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr confirmed the election results, and there were only 16 charged cases of voting illegally out of 158 million ballots cast).

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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 rioter illegally enter the Capitol plus 147 congressional Republicans vote to overturn the election results. That’s authoritarianism in action.

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

Authoritarian leaders like to collaborate and praise one another. Donald Trump repeatedly praised North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, China’s Xi Jinping, Philippine’s Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Putin.

Authoritarian are often anti-asylum, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ, for voter suppression, for book banning and for private school preference, and they invoke discrimination against racial and ethnic minority groups,. Sound familiar?

Other political characteristics of authoritarians include tying themselves to organizations engaged in illicit behavior and refusing to condemn political violence (see: “very fine people” in Charlottesville, Va., and “Proud Boys: stand back and stand by”) and lambasting the media and criticizing the government (e.g., FBI, CIA, IRS, DOJ, 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 needs 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” (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” (French political philosopher Montesquieu).

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