‘Slide Into Autocracy’
What do you get when the President of a democratic nation seizes control of that nation’s once independent Justice Department (with the help of an Attorney General eager to do his bidding) in order to go after and retaliate against his perceived political opponents, “enemies,” critics, and any others who displease him or whom he sees as insufficiently “loyal”? And to protect and reward his friends and allies by pressuring “his” justice system to get them off the hook or at least lighten their sentences for criminal acts (often on his behalf) for which they were appropriately tried and convicted, or even to use his presidential power to “pardon” them? And when his bullying has resulted in “his” political party enabling such actions out of their fear of his retaliation?
This is a frighteningly clear sign of a democracy sliding down the path of becoming an autocracy, where the rule of law (which has been its foundation and, in a sense, its beating heart) and its equal application to all is now being overridden by the efforts of this individual to become this nation’s authoritarian ruler. Add into this volatile mix his pattern of skillfully playing upon peoples’ fears and grievances, promoting division and an “us ‘vs. them” mindset, and relentlessly attacking any sources of information other than himself or those supporting him as a way of de-legitimizing them, and the result is a toxic and terrifying one which, as history has shown us over and over, can lead to the most unimaginably horrifying outcomes.
But such a thing couldn’t possibly happen here, right? Interestingly, a 1935 novel entitled It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (written during the rise of fascism in Europe) portrays exactly how it could happen here when a charismatic demagogue rises to power and is elected President by promoting a supposedly populist platform, whipping up fear, and promising to return America to prosperity and greatness. Soon after taking office, he starts imprisoning his political enemies, outlawing dissent, and doing away with Congress in order to implement a totalitarian government with him as its authoritarian ruler.
One cannot read this novel without dark chills running up his or her spine, as the parallels to what is happening here 85 years later are undeniable. Or, one could simply look to other nations in our times characterized by brutal authoritarian regimes (e.g.,Russia, North Korea. Saudi Arabia) to see how autocracies operate.
Yet an off-ramp which would allow us what could well be our final opportunity to turn off of this dark path and save this precious constitutionally-limited democratic republic of ours is approaching – the chance to cast our votes in this November’s elections. The importance of this election cannot possibly be overstated, as the fate of our nation for generations to come hangs in the balance.
May we all take this most sacred civic responsibility seriously, and vote wisely. History awaits our choice.