Saturday, May 7, 2022

May 6, 2022
A drift toward authoritarianism
    It’s well established that the decline of the Republican Party is not a recent development, but began many years ago.  A book published in 2018[16] adds to our understanding of politics on the right by demonstrating that anti-democratic demagoguery is not new to this country.
    The authors focused on the dangers of authoritarianism. They listed “Four Key Indicators of Authoritarian Behavior,” which are
    Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game
    Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
    Toleration or encouragement of violence
    Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.[17]  
Later events, such as the assault on the Capitol, certainly have proved them right as to the dangers to responsible democratic government, and their list of factors describes politics on the right.
    Referring to “America’s authoritarian tendency,”[18]  the book discusses the influence of several divisive political figures from the 1930s through the 1960s: Father Coughlin, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace, and notes that they had large, enthusiastic followings.  It summarizes that history in two ways: “extremist figures have long dotted the landscape of American politics,”[19] and, as to their reception, “Americans have long had an authoritarian streak.”[29]  The former seems clear enough, but I think that the latter may be an exaggeration.  However, the point isn’t important; the tendency of large numbers of Americans to follow irresponsible leaders opens up the potential for an authoritarian takeover, and the attempts by Trump and a wide swath of Republicans to overturn the 2020 election certainly reveals authoritarian impulses; some even spoke of imposing martial law. 
    What prevented an explosion of authoritarian influence in the past?  According to the authors, the “real protection against would-be authoritarians has not been Americans’ firm commitment to democracy but, rather, the gatekeepers — our political parties.”[21]   The advent and career of Donald Trump demonstrate the abandonment of the gatekeeping function by the Republican Party. “Democratic institutions depend crucially on the willingness of governing parties to defend them — even against their own leaders.”[22]  That hardly is the pattern with the current GOP; Trump dislikes the Commission on Presidential Debates, so the Republican National Committee has severed ties with it.[23]
    The authors refer to a pattern and practice of comity, respect and cooperation between Parties which existed in the past but has vanished.  Mitch McConnell’s declaration, shortly after the election of President Biden —  "One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration”[24] — is a mild example of the present attitude. 
    What can be done?  The authors suggest coalitions of citizens nominally in different camps but having some common goals, willing to set aside disagreements on other issues.[25]  Such arrangements might succeed in affecting policies, and could foster understanding and open lines of communication that might be more long-lasting.  However, the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, if it becomes a decision, may make abortion an unbridgeable issue, and may exacerbate the tendency of voters to divide into hostile camps. 
    I return to where I always end up when considering the sad state of our politics and culture: the key to a solution is leadership from conservatives.  There have been numerous shows of principled independence by Republicans, most notably from Rep. Liz Cheney, but there needs to be something approaching a complete break by a significant number or by a few with great influence.  Failing that, we will continue down the same path.  
<br>17  How Democracies Die, pp. 23-24
<br>18. Id., at 35
<br>19. Id., at 34
<br>20. Id, at 36
<br>21. Id., at 37
<br>22. Id., at 188
<br>23 on-presidential-debates
<br>24 biden-s- n1266443
<br>25 Id., at 218-20

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