There are disturbing signs that America’s strength as a democracy has weakened because of significant support for authoritarianism and an autocratic President Donald Trump. And while we think of autocratic states and dictatorships developing as a result of a sudden and often violent revolution, they can evolve slowly, with the changes often either going without notice or not being serious enough for concerted citizen action.
Authoritarian inclinations and support for Trump are strongly correlated by researchers. Authoritarianism seems to be the single attribute that best predicts support for Trump and Trump “wannabees.”
The implications and consequences of support for authoritarian leaders and beliefs on individual freedom, justice and the future of American democracy are profound.
The Prevalence of American Authoritarian Views
Matthew C. MacWilliams, founder of a political communications firm and author of On Fascism: 12 Lessons from American History, published an extensive examination of authoritarianism in America, and conducted four national panel surveys before the 2016 Presidential election. He found that “approximately 18 percent of Americans are highly disposed to authoritarianism, according to their answers to four simple survey questions used by social scientists to estimate this disposition. A further 23 percent or so are just one step below them on the authoritarian scale. This roughly 40 percent of Americans tend to favor authority, obedience and uniformity over freedom, independence and diversity.”
Researchers Rachel Venaglia and Laura Maxwell conducted a study, published in Morning Consult of 1,000 adults surveyed in each of the following countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. Data was collected from April 26 to May 2, 2021. According to Venaglia’s and Maxwell’s survey, Republicans make up a majority of the authoritarian population today. GOP voters made up more than 65 percent of those with the highest authoritarianism scores. Republican respondents made up more than 55% of those who scored as “high” or “very high” authoritarians.
A study used authoritarian researcher Bob Altemeyer’s definition and scoring system of right-wing authoritarianism, which defines it as a “desire to submit to some authority, aggression that is directed against whomever the authority says should be targeted and a desire to have everybody follow the norms and social conventions that the authority says should be followed.”
This results in the following proportions of respondents from each country that fall into the high or low categories.
Table 1. Percentage of respondents categorized as High or Low RWA, by country.
According to a CBS News exit survey conducted in South Carolina, 75% of Republican voters favoured barring Muslims from entering the country. According to YouGov and Public Policy Polling, one-third of Trump supporters want to expel gays and lesbians from the nation. Twenty percent of people thought Lincoln was wrong to release the slaves.
The number of authoritarians is the first thing that stands out from the data. Forty-four percent of white respondents nationwide who completed the survey received “high” or “very high” authoritarian ratings, with 19 percent receiving “very high” ratings. That’s not unusual and is consistent with earlier national polls that discovered the authoritarian temperament is not that uncommon.
And the same pattern was flipped at the other end of the scale. Nearly 75% of respondents with the highest non-authoritarian scores—those who consistently selected the non-authoritarian parenting option—were Democrats.
According to the statistics, Republican support for Trump is “highly predictive of very high/high authoritarianism,” according to Morning Consult data scientist Adam Petrihos. Republicans support Trump by 42 percent, but the survey by Venaglia and Maxwell found that very high authoritarians like Trump by a whopping 52 percent.
According to Morning Consult, there are twice as many high-RWA Americans than there are among populations in peer nations that trend towards authoritarianism. 26 percent of Americans fell into the high-RWA category, compared to 13 percent of Canadians, 10 percent of Australians, and 26 percent of adults in the UK. Between the political left and right, the US had the highest disparity in support for right-wing authoritarianism (39 points), outperforming the other eight nations.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, political scientist David B. Hill of Hill Research Consultants conducted an online and telephone poll of 1,000 American voters. A series of 21 agree-or-disagree questions, which can be used to gauge support for or opposition to authoritarianism, was put to the respondents. The outcomes were then weighted to reflect national demographics. The statement that “Once our leaders give us the go-ahead, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to assist in rooting out the decadence that is poisoning our country from within” was agreed upon by nearly half of the respondents (49 percent).
More than half (56%) agreed with the statement that “returning to our traditional values, installing a tough leader in office, and silencing the troublemakers disseminating radical views is the only way our country can get through the crisis ahead.”
However, some of the strong minority beliefs found in the study are more concerning than those of majority or near-majority responses. More than a third of respondents (34 percent, including 12 percent who said they “absolutely” agree) agreed when told that “We might have to make America a bit less democratic to defend and preserve the most fundamental American ideals, traditions, and beliefs.”
Twenty-one percent of those polled believe democracy is “so perverted” that “a new revolution is required to restore order.” The Constitution “gets in the way of things too much nowadays and should merely be ignored when it interferes with taking action on some matters,” according to nearly as many (18%).
A third of the respondents (33%) say they think the former president’s victory in the 2020 election was “taken” from him. Out of that third, the majority views the individuals involved in the Capitol attack on January 6th as “patriots” as opposed to “insurrectionists.” Thirteen percent, or nearly 5 percent of the total sample, of respondents who support Trump believe that the former president should be “reinstated by all means possible, including armed revolt.” Four percent of the respondents also claim that they would even be willing to “take up arms” to see Trump reinstated.
Research conducted by Bright Line Watch, the group that organized the Yale conference on democracy, shows that Americans are not as committed to democracy as you might expect. Another startling finding is that many Americans are open to “alternatives” to democracy. In 1995, for example, one in 16 Americans supported Army rule; in 2016, that number increased to one in six. According to another survey cited at the Yale conference, 18 percent of Americans think a military-led government is a “fairly good” idea.
Remaking Partisan Politics through Authoritarian Sorting, a book by political scientists Christopher Federico, Stanley Feldman and Christopher Weber examines authoritarianism in America. The authors found that in 1992, 62 percent of white voters who ranked highest on the authoritarian scale supported George H.W. Bush. In 2016, 86 percent of the most authoritarian white voters backed Trump, an increase of 24 percent.
In February, a poll by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life found that nearly 40 percent of Republicans agreed that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”
In September, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 30 percent of Republicans agreed that, “Because things have gotten so far off-track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
In December, an AP-NORC poll found that majorities of Democrats and independents called the events of Jan. 6 either “extremely” or “very” violent. A plurality of Republicans surveyed — nearly 40 percent — described the events as either “extremely” or “very” violent, while 29 percent of Republicans rated the events of Jan. 6 either “not very violent” or “not violent at all.”
What is Authoritarianism?
Authoritarianism is a political system characterized by the rejection of political plurality, the use of strong central power to preserve the political status quo, reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic voting.
Numerous typologies characterizing various authoritarian types of government have been developed by political scientists. The rule of a party or the military may be the foundation of an autocratic or oligarchic regime. Hybrid democracies, hybrid regimes, or competitive authoritarian governments have all been terms used to describe countries where the line between democracy and authoritarianism is hazy.
Interactions with other elites and the masses
The authoritarian must forbid opposition from the populace and other elites to maintain steady power. To quell uprisings, the authoritarian authority may employ coercion or repression (or rewards and punishments). To maintain authoritarian rule, the ruler must strike a balance between the support of other elites (often through the distribution of state and societal resources) and the support of the public (through the distribution of the same resources.)
Manipulation of information
In a 2019 study, Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century, Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman found that authoritarian regimes have gradually reduced their reliance on violence and widespread repression. Instead, the study demonstrates that authoritarians are increasingly using information manipulation to maintain control. Authoritarians are increasingly attempting to present an image of success, hide state persecution, and emulate democracy.
Milan Svolik, a political scientist at Yale University, contends that authoritarian regimes frequently display violence. Because there aren’t any independent third parties with the authority to mediate conflicts between the dictator, his allies, his military, and the populace in authoritarian nations, violence tends to be more prevalent there.
The Authoritarian Personality
Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford were sociologists conducting research at the University of California, Berkeley during and soon after World War II. They wrote The Authoritarian Personality in 1950.
The Authoritarian Personality “developed a set of criteria by which to describe personality traits, graded these characteristics and their intensity in each particular person on what it named the ‘F scale’ (F for fascist).”
Nine characteristics that Adorno et al. considered to cluster collectively as a result of early experiences make up the personality type they identified. Conventionalism, authoritarian obedience, authoritarian aggression, anti-interception, stereotypy and superstition, strength and “toughness”, destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity, and excessive sex-related concerns are some of these features.
Gaslighting is a tactic used by dictators to control and manipulate their subjects. The phrase “gaslighting” derives from the 1930s play Gas Light and its 1940 Hollywood adaptation, both of which star Charles Boyer as the manipulative husband who attempts to detach his wife by playing with her vision of reality. As the rooms get darker, he dims the gaslights and then acts as though she is the only one who notices that they are flickering. By raising questions about what is true and what is false, he [seeks to] exercise authority and control. In George Orwell’s book 1984, a biting satire of totalitarianism where facts, opinions, conspiracies, and fabrications are all interchangeable, gaslighting is a hallmark of “Big Brother.” In Orwell’s dystopia, the government promulgates laws proclaiming things like “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength,” “War is Peace,” and “2 + 2 = 5.”
The tendency to defer to and respect powerful people without question characterizes the authoritarian personality. The term “authoritarian personality,” which is conceptually derived from Erich Fromm’s ideas, is generally used to characterize those who have an oppressive and harsh attitude toward their subordinates.
Along with destructiveness and cynicism, the authoritarian individual also demonstrates a thirst to exert power, a hard exterior, and a cynical and scornful perspective of people. These characteristics are a result of anti-intellectualism and general hostility to intellectuals. They are also a result of generalized tendencies to target individuals who violate societal norms and conventions and act oppressively toward them (authoritarian aggression).
The authoritarian personality is created from the first years of a child’s existence, significantly impacted and shaped by the parent’s personality and the family’s organizational structure, and can result from parent-child relationships that are “hierarchical, authoritarian, [and] exploitative.”
Authoritarian personality traits are known to be cultivated by parents who forcefully threaten their children to enforce the rules and who have a psychological need for dominance. Such authoritarian parents also worry about their kids’ social standing, which they demonstrate by having them adhere to rigid, outside standards. The child feels emotional suffering as a result of such dominance because he or she is unable to express feelings of hatred and violence towards the dominating parents, whom the child admires but does not criticize.
These personalities may be related to scientists’ 2006 study on personality and political beliefs in preschoolers, which indicated that some of the kids identified as having such personalities also had political opinions. Researchers found “that ‘building close relationships, self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominant, generally under-controlled, and resilient’ were characteristics of toddlers who were ‘quite liberal’ 20 years later. On the other hand, 20 years later, children who were ‘relatively conservative’ were labelled as ‘relatively over-controlled.’ Preschoolers were reported as being extremely conservative, easily offended, unsure of themselves, fearful, stiff, constrained and generally over-controlled by the time they turned 23.”
Republicans are somewhat more likely than Democrats to possess psychopathic personality traits, according to new psychological research by Olivia C. Preston and Joye C. Anestis. The study’s researchers stated in their article, which was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, “Psychopathic qualities with their accompanying empathy deficiencies appear important to the debate of political attitudes and political candidates.”
Researchers discovered that Republicans tended to exhibit more psychopathic aggressiveness and meanness than Democrats. Consequently, Republicans were more likely to concur with ideas like “I don’t care if someone I don’t like gets injured,” “I taunt others merely to stir up trouble,” “I can get over things that would traumatize others,” and “I never worry about making a fool of myself with others.”
The researchers also discovered that whereas meanness was linked to conservative attitudes on social issues, boldness was linked to conservative opinions on economic matters. Boldness was associated with hostility to LGBTQ rights, immigration, and government expenditure. Meanness was linked to hostility to affirmative action, equal pay for women, legalized marijuana, and universal healthcare.
The 2013 and 2014 studies that indicated that political conservatives tended to have higher levels of psychopathic tendencies are built upon in this current study.
“Considering the political success of presidential candidates with higher levels of psychopathic traits (i.e., fearless dominance) in the US, it may be surmised that popular political candidates championing conservative opinions (e.g., restricting free speech and immigration, decreasing gun control and taxation) may possess elevated psychopathic traits,” the authors of the study concluded.
The right-wing authoritarian personality was defined by Bob Altemeyer, the author of Right-Wing Authoritarianism, as a refinement of the research of Theodor Adorno. Adorno was the first to propose the existence of an authoritarian personality as part of an attempt to explain the rise of fascism and the Holocaust.
According to Canadian-American social psychologist Altemeyer, the right-wing authoritarian personality is characterized by:
- a high level of submission to the authorities who are viewed as being established and legitimate in the society in which one lives, and a high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
- a generalized hostility that is aimed at different people and is thought to be approved by established authority.
- a strong commitment to social norms that are thought to be supported by society and its governing bodies.
Right-wing authoritarians are sometimes referred to as “authoritarian followers” in Altemeyer’s works. This is done to underline that he is not talking about authoritarian leaders, which is how the term is usually used. Altemeyer uses the term “social dominator” to describe authoritarian leaders, and he has written extensively about the interaction between Social Dominators and Authoritarian Followers.
Here are some characteristics of the authoritarian personality and character:
Submissiveness. Right-wing authoritarians generally accept the truth of what their rulers tell them and obediently carry out their directives. They believe that submitting to authority is a moral virtue that every member of the community should possess. They typically place strong limits on the kind of criticism that can be directed against the government and believe that individuals who do so are troublemakers who don’t have the necessary understanding. RWAs are very obedient, even too dishonest, dishonest, unscrupulous, and inefficient authority people. They will vehemently defend the goodness, competence, and sincerity of their leaders, dismissing any evidence to the contrary as inaccurate or unimportant. They believe that the government has the authority to impose its laws, even if doing so would entail disobeying the laws that everyone else must abide by.
According to Altemeyer, the Republican Party in the United States and Canada’s Conservative or Reform parties are more prone to have authoritarian politicians than other parties. In general, they reject social equality, favour the death penalty, oppose gun control laws, have a conservative economic worldview, and have a strong sense of nationalism.
The “leader” is whoever the authoritarian believes has the moral, if not legal, power to make decisions for his community. Right-wing authoritarians, in contrast to those who perceive authority figures as unjust, can be very disobedient to those they regard as legitimate. An example of the latter is how American conservatives feel about President Barack Obama. Even though Obama was legally their president and had won the election fairly and transparently, many American conservatives thought he had no moral right to hold the office. The “birther” movement, which propagated the lie that Obama was born in Kenya and bought a phoney birth certificate to qualify for office, was one example of this mentality (in the United States, only natural-born citizens may serve as president).
Dominance. Authoritarians frequently compete and cause harm in simulating settings to gain the upper hand over others. In a study by Altemeyer, 68 authoritarians participated in the Global Change Game, a three-hour simulation of Earth’s future. The simulation by authoritarians became heavily militarised and eventually reached the point of nuclear war, in contrast to a comparative game played by people with low RWA scores, which led to global peace and widespread international collaboration. The whole human population had been deemed dead by the time the high RWA game ended.
Aggression. People who are perceived by authoritarians as threats to the existing social order or who have been identified as rivals by their leaders may experience unusually aggressive behaviour. Even though anyone can experience authoritarian animosity, outsiders or people who are socially different are frequently the victims. Examples include gays and Communists in the United States, as well as Jews and Communists in Nazi Germany. An authoritarian is more likely to attack even common people than a non-authoritarian is, though, if his authority figures support the attack. In addition, Altemeyer has observed that authoritarians prefer to attack when the conditions are favourable, even going so far as to call authoritarians “cowardly” since they typically target helpless victims like women.
Authoritarian aggressiveness is most effectively sparked by dread, especially fear of others. This can apply to anyone they perceive as morally reprehensible, such as LGBT people and atheists, as well as aggressive people like bullies, terrorists, and invading enemies.
The oppressive are ardent advocates of punishment. When all else is equal, they often support harsher penalties than non-authoritarian judges. They are more in favour of harsh punishment including the death penalty. However, they are frequently forgiving or even supportive if the crime was committed by a person of high status against an odd or low-status victim. In this way, authoritarian aggression works to maintain social hierarchies and norms. Altemeyer cites several examples, including a police officer beating up an “uppity” demonstrator, an accountant hitting a beggar, and an anti-gay protester assaulting a homosexual rights activist.
Conventionalism. . For authoritarians, the established social norms are crucial. They like to blend in with the rest of their group since they don’t want to stand out and they want everyone else to do the same. Diversity irritates them. Following these laws is not only socially acceptable but also ethically correct. Authoritarians reject the notion that social standards are arbitrary and that norms from other cultures are just as valid as their own. Authoritarians’ conformism reveals a traditional understanding of how people should behave, which is not always representative of how the majority of people behave. Fundamentalists in terms of religion are typically identified as authoritarians. Another aspect of conventionalism is sexual norms. Homosexuality, nudity, and even various forms of sex between married partners are all viewed as perversions by the ruling class.
Dogmatism. Authoritarians usually hold tenaciously to their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. This is particularly true of the convictions that serve as the cornerstone of a group’s identity. When opposing information is offered, if anything, their opinions are typically strengthened.
Ignorance. According to Altemeyer, authoritarians frequently have a poor understanding of both general knowledge and current affairs. The broad knowledge of authoritarians is frequently insufficient, especially in areas where they disagree. Authoritarians have poorly integrated ideas in their heads. Contrary to human norms, they frequently have substantially more opposing beliefs in their minds. High-RWAs don’t think about how their peers’ ideas fit together; they just absorb them. The booklet that Bob Altemeyer gave his students had the following statements on various pages: “When it comes to love, men and women with opposite points of view are drawn to one another.” When it comes to love, those who are like-minded tend to stick together. Although they are completely irreconcilable, his students who had authoritarian inclinations were more likely to agree with both statements. High-RWA people tend to compartmentalize information, making it difficult for them to absorb information that contradicts their strongly held beliefs. They won’t even notice the contradiction if they accept the evidence as factual.
Altemeyer asserts that authoritarians usually have limited awareness of both general knowledge and current events. Authoritarians frequently lack sufficient expertise, particularly on subjects with which they disagree.
Using a Likert scale answer, the RWA scale quantifies right-wing authoritarianism. The questionnaire has 22 assertions, and the subjects are asked to indicate their level of agreement with each one. In general, authoritarians agree with the following example statements:
- In most cases, the established authorities are correct, whereas radicals and protesters are mostly merely “loud mouths” flaunting their ignorance.
- When women become married, they should swear to obey their husbands.
- Our nation urgently needs a strong leader who will take decisive action to combat the wickedness and radical new ways that are destroying us.
- It is always preferable to trust the judgement of the right government and religious authority than to pay attention to the obnoxious rabble-rousers in our society who want to sow doubt in people’s minds.
- Returning to our historic principles, electing some tough leaders to office, and silencing the troublemakers who are disseminating false notions are the only ways our nation can survive the next catastrophe.
- If we do not eradicate the perversions that are eroding our moral character and foundational principles, our nation will one day be annihilated.
- Before it’s too late, God’s commandments regarding marriage, pornography, and abortion must be firmly upheld, and anyone who disobeys them must face severe penalties.
In a 2009 book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in Politics, Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler identified evangelical Christians as the most authoritarian of voting blocs in the United States. Furthermore, the former Confederate states (ie “the South”) showed higher levels of authoritarianism than the rest. Rural populations tend to be more authoritarian than urban ones. The authoritarianism levels of these demographics were assessed with four items that appeared in the American National Election Studies.
In addition to examining the idea of authoritarian voting, Federico co-authored the book Open vs Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistribution with Christopher Johnston of Duke and Howard G. Lavine of the University of Minnesota. According to Johnston, “Over the last few decades, party allegiances have grown more closely associated with a central aspect of personality we term ‘openness.’”
While those who are more open-minded appreciate social cohesion, certainty, and stability, less open-minded people prefer independence, self-direction, and novelty. Many social and cultural disagreements, such as those about the importance of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, traditional values, and social norms, appear to be rooted in individual differences in openness.
“As these social and cultural conflicts have become a bigger part of our political debates, citizens have sorted into different parties based on personality, with citizens high in openness much more likely to be liberals and Democrats than those low in openness who are more likely to be conservatives and Republican,” writes Johnston. “Personality traits like closed-mindedness, along with an aversion to change and discomfort with diversity, are linked to authoritarianism.”
Karen Stenner’s seminal book The Authoritarian Dynamic describes how authoritarianism has grown more rapidly and in greater force than anyone had imagined, in the personage of Donald Trump and his norm-shattering rise.
A particular fraction of persons has latent authoritarian tendencies, according to Stenner’s theory. These tendencies can be “activated” or “triggered” by the impression of physical dangers or by disruptive societal change, which makes those people want policies and leaders that we might more commonly refer to as authoritarian.
Strong linguistic skills, an indication of superior cognitive ability, according to Stenner, have a very large ameliorative effect in lowering authoritarian impulses. However, one study found that some of the apparent inverse relationships between cognition and RWA could be explained by methodological issues. Authoritarians frequently rank conscientiousness somewhat higher and openness to experience slightly lower when compared to other personality qualities.
In their research study, Research, Ethics and Risk in the Authoritarian Field, Dutch political scientist Marlies Glasium and his colleagues encourage us to devote less attention to focusing on authoritarian regimes such as those in Russia and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and more on the authoritarian practices and behaviours that could occur in any country, including the U.S.
Glasius defines authoritarian practices as “actions … sabotaging accountability to people over whom a political actor exerts control, or their representatives, by disabling their access to information and/or disabling their voice.” For example, voter suppression, minority scapegoating and harassment, withholding important information from the other branches of government and the free press, digital surveillance, manipulating and corrupting the country’s financial system for personal gain and using government institutions and apparatus to centralize power are part of the authoritarian playbook.
Authoritarianism and the Decline of Democracy
Every year, Freedom House releases a report on the state of the world’s democracies. Global freedom “faces a serious threat,” according to the study for 2022. The adversaries of liberal democracy, a type of self-government where human rights are upheld and everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law, are stepping up their attacks all around the world.
One year after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Americans are deeply pessimistic about the future of democracy.
A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that 64% of Americans believe U.S. democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing.” That sentiment is felt most acutely by Republicans: Two-thirds of GOP respondents agree with the verifiably false claim that “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election” — a key pillar of the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Fewer than half of Republicans say they are willing to accept the results of the 2020 election — a number that has remained virtually unchanged since we asked the same question last January.
“There is really a sort of dual reality through which partisans are approaching not only what happened a year ago on Jan. 6, but also generally with our presidential election and our democracy,” said Mallory Newall, a vice president at Ipsos, which conducted the poll.
“It is Republicans that are driving this belief that there was major fraudulent voting and it changed the results in the election,” Newall said.
The institutions and norms intended to protect fundamental freedoms have become more easily co-opted or avoided, and authoritarian regimes have gotten more adept at helping others who want to do the same. Internal forces have taken advantage of the flaws in long-established democracies, distorting national politics to further hatred, violence, and unchecked power.
Meanwhile, those nations that have struggled to find a balance between democracy and authoritarianism are moving increasingly in the direction of authoritarian autocracies. The authoritarian model will triumph if those who support democracy do not cooperate to help ensure freedom for everyone as the world order is about to tip.
The current threat to democracy is the result of 16 years of declining freedom worldwide. Over the past year, 60 countries overall saw reductions, while only 25 had improvements. Today, 38 percent of the world’s population resides in non-free nations, which is the highest percentage since 1997. Currently, just 20% of people live in free countries.
According to a recent report by the democracy watchdog group Freedom House, the US has reached a new low in a ranking of political rights and civil liberties on a global scale. This decline was caused by the unfair treatment of minority groups, the destructive impact of money on politics, and increased polarization.
In this year’s annual Freedom House rankings of freedoms throughout the world, the US scored 83 out of a possible 100 points, a decrease of 11 points from its ranking of 94 a decade ago. The US is now ranked behind nations like Argentina and Mongolia and on par with others like Panama, Romania, and Croatia.
However, in recent years it’s democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as evidenced by rising political polarisation and extremism, partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, harmful policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and expanding disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence, according to the report’s assessment of the state of the American democracy.
There should be no mistaking the potential consequences of the decline of established democracies for the fight for freedom around the world. America and its strongest allies have never been ideal role models; according to Freedom in the World research, the United States is ranked 51st out of 87 Free nations.
The annual ranking of national electoral systems by the Economist Intelligence Unit is called the Democracy Index. In 2022 the US is ranked 30th in the index, barely above Botswana and below Estonia. Since 2016, the US has been viewed as a fragile and not full democracy due to the country’s significant decline over the previous ten years.
Francis Fukuyama, a conservative political scientist, examined the factors that have contributed to the deterioration of American democracy in his 2014 article “America in Decay.” He pointed out that one of the major contributing elements, in particular, was the allocation of power. According to Fukuyama, market economies — which frequently result in winners and losers and enhance what James Madison referred to as the “various and unequal capabilities of gaining property” — are almost usually connected with liberal democracies.
A significant cross-party poll was commissioned by the George W. Bush Institute, the Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Freedom House, an organization that monitors the health of democracies throughout the world. To track the health of the American system, the three organizations have teamed up to form the Democracy Project. According to 50% of Americans, the United States is in ” danger of becoming a non-democratic, authoritarian society.” 55 percent of people say that democracy is “weak” and 68 percent think that it is “becoming weaker.” According to 80% of Americans, the state of democracy is either “extremely” or “somewhat” concerning.
The resurgence of this type of state-level, bottom-up authoritarianism, which has an impact on national elections, poses a threat to US democracy. It poses a silent threat that develops gradually, as is typical when democracy turns into a rivalry between authoritarian regimes.
According to Hadas Aron, a political scientist at New York University who specializes in weak and failing democracies, “if people think that there is one day that you wake up and you’re in a competitive authoritarian regime, that’s not the reality.” It takes a long time and is pretty complicated.
On how close we are to go over the line, experts vary. Republicans, according to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, might severely weaken the democratic system as early as 2024 by employing a combination of illegal congressional action and state-level meddling with vote tallies to prevent a Democratic triumph.
The experts are beginning to agree with this point of view. In a letter published recently, 100 of the world’s top experts on democracy expressed concern that “Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months suggested or enacted what we consider significant modifications to key electoral procedures. Collectively, these activities are changing the political systems of various states so that they no longer comply with the requirements for free and fair elections. As a result, our entire democracy is now in danger.
According to some observers, the Capitol riot and its aftermath have normalized a perception among Americans that the nation, its economic structure, and its place in the international community are in decline. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll backs up this assertion: The United States is “under crisis and at risk of collapse,” according to 70% of Americans.
In the New York Times, Max Fisher observed that “dictators have moved the emphasis from blunt-force repression (although this still occurs) to subtler measures like manipulating information or fostering division, geared at preventing opposition over repressing it.” The past is currently being rewritten in countries like Russia, Hungary, and China where governments are erasing and cleaning portions of national history in favour of modern politics, just like in the US.
Now, a Pew Research survey found that, on average, only 17% of respondents believed that American democracy is a suitable model for other countries to follow.
Professors of government at Harvard University and authors of the best-selling book How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, write in their exhaustive, illuminating, and terrifyingly timely new book. “Democracies may perish at the hands of elected officials, not of generals.”
Four criteria are laid out by Levitsky and Ziblatt to determine whether a leader is authoritarian: they must reject democratic institutions, deny the legitimacy of political opponents, tolerate or even encourage violence, and restrict civil rights. No major-party presidential candidate throughout the past century, they write, “met even one of these four criteria, except Richard Nixon.” All of them were met by Donald Trump.
In an essay published in the Journal of Democracy, political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way discuss a particular phenomenon of a “hybrid” regime that was coming into prominence after the end of the Cold War. Contrary to the positive trend of the 1990s, they maintained that polities all over the world should be viewed as places where a sort of quasi-authoritarianism was ingrained through mostly conventional election processes, rather than as nations transitioning to democracy.
Competitive authoritarianism is growing and moving west as well. No democracy may be assumed to exist, according to Levitsky and Way. Similar trends have also spread to the US, where the Trump administration has appropriated the “deep state” terminology that autocrats in Turkey and Hungary have used to defend the stuffing of courts and other important state institutions.
They draw attention to the poisonous polarisation of American politics, the Supreme Court’s partisanship, the prevalence of gerrymandering, which skews election results in districts in favour of the party that draws the maps, and the Republican Party’s electoral rejectionism, which has seen the steady advancement of legislation in several Republican-controlled states that critics label as anti-democratic measures that could threaten popular sovereignty.
It is now completely plausible that Republican politicians in several competitive states may hold enough sway over their constituents if the results of the 2024 election are unfavourable to them. Republicans are slyly manipulating the system at the state level: A gerrymandered Republican plan may give the GOP a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature, even though Wisconsin, for instance, is a 50-50 state.
Donald Trump the Authoritarian Autocrat
Donald Trump was just a few steps away from being ensconced as a despot.
The thing that most distinguishes Trump from the rest of the GOP field of presidential candidates isn’t his particular policies. Instead, it’s his argument and delivery. It’s the way he simplifies things to strong versus weak, best versus worst, black-and-white extremes His straightforward assurances that only he can handle difficult issues easily that other politicians are unable to handle.
And probably most significantly, it’s his readiness to disobey all socially acceptable discourse norms when discussing the marginalized groups that authoritarians view as particularly threatening. Trump is letting his authoritarian followers know that he won’t allow “political correctness” to stop him from targeting the outgroups they dread whether he accuses Mexicans of being rapists or boasts joyfully of massacring Muslims with pig-blood-tainted guns. Trump is a textbook example of an authoritarian leader: simple, strong, aggressive and punitive.
There are several indicators that Trump is attempting to transform the United States into an authoritarian state, some of which, according to many experts, have echoes of a fascist country.
Here are some examples of Trump’s authoritarian behavior:
Unrelenting attacks on mainstream media. There is little doubt that Trump and his associates have repeatedly attempted to intimidate mainstream media organizations. Whether through tweets criticizing the allegedly “failing” New York Times, the repeated references to the “Amazon Washington Post,” or former White House chief strategist and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon referring to media organizations as “fake news,” there is little doubt that Trump and his associates have repeatedly tried to intimidate mainstream media organizations.
The New York Times was wrongly accused by Trump and Fox News of obstructing efforts to kill or capture prominent Islamic State leaders, and Trump’s White House has unilaterally barred several publications’ correspondents from press conferences, press pools, and other events. Additionally, Trump constantly lectured his audience in the run-up to the midterm elections and after about the “criminal and diseased” immigrant caravan that was coming to the country and planning to attack defenceless Americans.
Building an official pro-Trump media network. There’s little doubt that Trump has attempted to favour media organizations that support him, which is why the White House granted press credentials to the right-wing blog Gateway Pundit and granted the consistently absurd and pro-Trump Breitbart privileged access. And as one might anticipate, the Trump administration has supported the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s expansion plans. But rather than being independent news institutions, Fox News and Sinclair function more like the administration’s public relations agencies. And although Twitter banned Trump from Twitter for his consistent lying, a sympathetic new owner Elon Musk has subsequently reinstated him.
Politicizing the military, National Guard, civil service, or domestic security organizations. Career civil servant employees who maintain sensitivity to precedents, have a wealth of knowledge and have the propensity to uphold the rule of law are an obvious antidote to executive overreach. Furthermore, having a professional military with a constrained direct political role is a key deterrent to excessive militarization, as Samuel Huntington, a former director of Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter, noted many years ago. Trump has made attempts to politicize the civil service in several ways or to transform the military, intelligence, and domestic security organizations, including the Department of Justice, into tools of the White House instead of independent defenders of the Constitution.
Senior officials who refused to carry out his orders, such as former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, and more lately independent Inspector Generals, have been called upon to quit or be fired by Trump. “Many of those roles, I don’t want to nominate because they’re unneeded,” he once told Fox News. He declined to make top nominations in several departments. Trump crossed another line when he instructed uniformed military troops to phone Congress and advocate for his defence spending and healthcare initiatives. He has also questioned the objectivity of the nonpartisan, highly regarded Congressional Budget Office. He has also publicly criticized employees in the EPA, CDC, and intelligence services
Applying the law unfairly. Although there hasn’t been a systematic crackdown on left-wing dissent, Trump and co. appear to be completely unconcerned with the rise of right-wing extremism both domestically and internationally. Trump has been quick to denounce Muslim terrorist attacks and Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) shooting in June, but he was silent after a disturbed right-wing sympathizer killed an unarmed black American, an Israeli-American teenager made a series of bizarre threats against Jewish synagogues and community centres, and more recently, Democratic politicians received death threats. It is difficult to avoid getting the feeling that Trump believes the law only applies to other people, primarily to those who most likely did not vote for him.
Challenging the legitimacy of the electoral process unless it is in his favour. Trump’s present attempt to declare the 2020 Presidential election results illegal and corrupt and assert that he won is a time-honoured tactic used by dictators. And the vast majority of Republican voters and lawmakers back him. Electoral fraud is neither widespread nor politically significant, according to any credible scholar of American voting behaviour, but Trump and other Republican leaders want to make it as difficult as they can for people they believe are unlikely to vote their way to cast a ballot. Even more, he implied that his followers would need to “do something about it” if he lost the election since it would not have been fair.
Fear mongering. Trump has kept up his ominous warnings about numerous threats from which he claims he must shield us, just as he did during the campaign. In his inaugural speech, he described “American devastation” in an odd, Gotham-like manner, and in a speech in Poland, he directly questioned whether “the West” still had the resolve to defend itself. He has persisted in disparaging Muslims (apart from the wealthy Saudi Arabians) and exaggerating North Korean and Iranian dangers. And he has fueled anti-immigrant sentiment. Observe the propaganda about the immigrant caravan from Central America travelling to the U.S. border, which Trump said was made up of rapists, killers, terrorists from the Middle East, and sick people.
Creating scapegoats who want to “destroy” the United States. Hispanic immigrants in particular and non-whites in general have been singled out by Trump as the “enemy” posing a threat to American “national security” and safety. This involves putting immigrant children in detention centres and separating them from their parents.
Vilifying anyone who disagrees with him. No American president has ever been as likely to treat his opponents with disrespect, outright antagonism, and contempt. Trump spent the majority of the election season disparaging his Republican rivals and pledging to “lock up” Hillary Clinton. He is currently running a campaign accusing the previous president Obama and his cabinet of “crimes.” He has persisted in blaming others except himself for America’s ills, branding anyone who disagrees with him as traitors to the nation, and engaging in self-pitying “tweetstorms” about the intense opposition he faces from his alleged foes (some of whom used to be allies).
Surrounding himself with sycophants and crooked individuals who are obediently acting in their self-interest and blindly devoted. There are significant constitutional, legal, and ethical questions raised by Trump’s unwillingness and inability to keep his own financial and personal interests (as well as those of his enterprises) apart from those of the Presidency and the nation. His devoted supporters and appointees have already become involved in corruption and immoral behaviour after taking his lead by attempting to primarily function through the Presidency and his administration (eg: Executive Orders and Directives). He views Congress and the courts as equally valid and useful, but only if they support his goals and his point of view.
Intentionally and regularly deceiving and lying to the American people. Fact-checking of Trump’s claims has been done by The Washington Post, CNN, and other media organizations. Every questionable remark made by the president is examined, categorized, and tracked in the Fact Checker’s database. He made 4,229 false and misleading assertions as of day 558 of his presidency, an increase of 978 in just two months. That amounts to an average of over 7.6 claims every day. Lies and false information have been used by autocrats and dictators to manipulate the population throughout history.
In How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, describe the warning indicators Trump displayed while running for office. They contend that those characteristics ought to have prevented him from being elected president in a functioning democracy.
Levitsky told Newsweek that Trump was “clearly identified as someone who is not devoted to the democratic principles of the game.” “Our democratic institutions’ health is a significant matter for concern.” Levitsky identified four indicators of an autocrat:
- Ignoring or displaying a lack of devotion to democratic principles.
- Ignoring political opponents’ validity.
- Supporting or tolerating violent behaviour.
- A willingness to restrict or impede the rights of opponents, including the media.
According to Levitsky, “they are things that democratic politicians in the United States just do not engage in.” For good reason, the checklist is intended to be a litmus test for contenders rather than incumbents, according to Levitsky. “It’s too late once they’re in power,” he remarked. The key takeaway is that the best approach to resist an authoritarian is to ensure that they never gain power in the first place. It becomes harder to stop them after they are elected to power.
“This is how democracies now die,” Levitsky wrote. “Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box.”
Revolution or a military takeover used to be the usual routes to tyranny. not anymore. Today’s strongmen, including Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and others, were elected to office before using the institutions of government to undermine democracy and enlarge their power. Trump frequently compliments the current crop of autocrats and aspires to rule in their manner.
How was it possible for an elected autocracy to establish itself in the US? After all, there are built-in checks and balances between its three branches of government. However, it is no longer so evident that the American constitution could easily thwart Donald Trump’s dictatorial tendencies, especially when the Republican party is committed to carrying out Trump’s wishes.
Trump has made it obvious that he respects foreign leaders who have amassed executive power and destroyed democratic institutions. Instead of praising them because their policies are in line with American interests and values, he does so because they openly reject them. Trump is setting out a plan that would allow him to take after the authoritarians, with the help of his allies in Congress and possibly the Supreme Court.
These innovations and tactics are similar to those employed by authoritarian regimes abroad to expand and solidify their control. As they work to consolidate their power, they nearly always target the three fundamental institutions that can hold them accountable: independent courts, a free press, and civil society organizations.
Trump surrounds himself with ardent sycophants, lackeys, and puppets who are expected to swear allegiance to him rather than the American people or the U.S. Constitution. As a result, it is claimed that the United States under Trump is becoming a “banana republic.”
As an authoritarian, Donald Trump is publicly desiring unrestrained power and, if feasible, ultimate control, and is moving closer and closer to converting the USA into a one-man regime. He intends to turn the USA into a militaristic and neo-fascist state with all the trappings, under his authority, and with the fewest restrictions possible, disregarding the U.S. Constitution and its basic ideals.
He is without a doubt the least morally upright and dangerous president the United States has ever had. If he believes that American institutions are standing in the way of him using his full authority, he has no qualms about demolishing them.
In an essay at the Atlantic, George Packer describes this ominous and pitiful moment in which America under Donald Trump appears more like a failed state than a great nation.
Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign sent an email to supporters that referred to a “Trump Army,” which should not entirely be understood as a metaphor. “The President wants YOU and every other member of our exclusive Trump Army to have something to identify yourselves with, and to let everyone know that YOU are the President’s first line of defence when it comes to fighting off the Liberal MOB.”
Donald Trump is a sociopath (psychopathic personality type), according to Dr. Lance Dodes, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and current training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He has warned that Trump will do anything to maintain his position of power. Dodes also discussed Trump’s use of the word “dominate” and what it reveals about his willingness to use all means necessary to maintain control over the American people, the country’s elected representatives, the military, and other institutions of power. Dodes also gave a gloomy caution over Trump’s moral weakness, cowardice, and bullying, warning that our president will continue to lash out at each and everyone whom he perceives as having hurt or disregarded him. Dodes claims that Trump’s ultimate goal is to put his boot on the neck of every person on the earth.
A petition signed by 350 psychiatrists in December 2019 and other mental-health professionals claimed President Donald Trump’s mental health is rapidly deteriorating. The group believes former President Trump suffers from a combination of anti-social personality disorders and extreme narcissism.
Toxic Masculinity and Authoritarianism
There is a rise in support for authoritarianism which has clear connections to toxic masculinity in American politics, particularly in the Republican Party.
Kirk Swearingen, writing in Salon about toxic masculinity in the Republican Party comments: “This hyper-focus on anything and everything sexual extends to the right’s self-proclaimed tough guys, the seeming adults who so much enjoy playing dress-up. Tucker Carlson’s bluster about masculinity (including his risible special ‘The End of Men’ whose promo included a fair amount of plausibly-homoerotic imagery.”
As historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat noted in an article for the Atlantic: “Illiberal political solutions tend to take hold when increased gender equity and emancipation spark anxieties about male authority and status. Conquest-without-consequences masculinity, posing as a ‘return to traditional values,’ tracks with authoritarianism’s rise and parallels the discarding of the rule of law and accountability in politics.”
Jennifer Rubin also wrote a blunt editorial in the Washington Post which argued amongst other things:
- “In their head-spinning transition from apologists for Russian President Vladimir Putin to proponents of World War III, Republicans reveal their utter lack of principle and their obsession with toxic masculinity. Winston Churchill’s favoured saying ‘The Hun is always either at your throat or your feet’ neatly sums up the Republicans’ abrupt shift . . . “Both expressions of wish fulfillment — admiring Russian ruthlessness and going to war — are features of a party in constant need of masculine affirmation.”
- “This is not a new phenomenon. As the saying went during Trump’s administration, cruelty — or the raw assertion of power over the powerless — was the point. It still is. Whether they are separating children from parents, spying on and infringing on women who do not want to be compelled to complete their pregnancy, or threatening to take away transgender children whose parents seek appropriate medical care, manliness manifesting as bullying has been the Republicans’ defining feature of late.” “And they’re using the full force of the state to impose their will. All to enforce the frantic assertion — as Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) laid out in a ludicrous 11-point platform — that ‘men are men, women are women.’ Does anyone remember a national party running on such a naked appeal to masculine insecurity?”
Rubin noted that following the Capitol insurrection, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) went on to “sell a mug depicting his fist pump to the Jan. 6 mob,” and “his speech decrying that ‘traditional masculine virtues‘ are under attack illustrated precisely how masculine insecurity masquerades as manliness.” She added “Declaring that the left has been systematically destroying masculinity and Republicans will stage a ‘revival of strong and healthy manhood in America‘ might sound comical. But in today’s GOP, this is red meat for the MAGA crowd.”
As an indication of the Republican Party’s focus on masculinity, The Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 values survey found, ‘Majorities of Republicans agree with both the statement that society punishes men just for acting like men (60% agree) and that society has become too soft and feminine (63% agree).’”
Toxic Masculinity in Far-Right Extremist Groups
Ron Filipkowski, a former lawyer turned far-right observer, recorded and shared a telling scene from The Proud Boys’ demonstration in California. With a bullhorn in hand, one speaker announced, “had some single real males over here searching for some housewives,” pointing to a group of Proud Boys. The men in the video then posed together for a picture while flashing the “OK” sign, which has been adopted by white nationalists as a means of communication while also — always — taunting the left.
It was a minute-long demonstration of the two-step strategy the far-right has employed for years to gain new supporters: First, use illusions of feminine subjugation to entice insecure men. Once inside, enlist them in the white supremacist movement.
The relationship between misogyny and white supremacy has long been well-documented, with the rise of QAnon the Proud Boys. The importance of gender fear to far-right recruiting, however, has been strongly underscored.
The video that Congressional Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, shows Gosar saving the nation, attacking President Biden with swords and killing Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Democrats called for Gosar’s expulsion from Congress and passed a measure to formally censure him. GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy said and did nothing.
Throughout history, male virility has been married to authoritarian politics, which is driven by the need to possess and exploit bodies, minds, national resources, and more. While we can laugh at the bare-chested poses of Mussolini or Putin and dismiss the rape jokes made by Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, the strongman style of leadership responds to perceived threats to male authority by upholding patriarchal privilege and the rights of men to satisfy their “natural” male desires.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the author of, writes in the Atlantic, “ a United Nations Commission report warned that persistent portrayals of women as ‘sex objects’ by politicians and the media lowered women’s social status, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination.”
Ben-Ghat writes about how authoritarianism has evolved over the past century, from traditional dictatorships to electoral autocracies. She says: “Yet at least one constant remains: Illiberal political solutions tend to take hold when increased gender equity and emancipation spark anxieties about male authority and status. Conquest-without-consequences masculinity, posing as a ‘return to traditional values,’ tracks with authoritarianism’s rise and parallels the discarding of the rule of law and accountability in politics. We commonly associate autocracy with state restrictions on behaviour, but the removal of checks on actions deemed unethical in democratic contexts (lying, thievery, even rape and murder) is equally important to its operation and appeal.”
She argues that “ it’s unsurprising to see a culture of lawless masculinity developing within the GOP, which adopted an authoritarian political culture during the Trump years. Renouncing democratic norms, the Republicans have normalized disinformation, election subversion, and violence as a means of governance, as expressed in their support for the January 6 coup attempt and the fiction that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 election.”
Trump made the ultimate pronouncement about masculine authoritarianism: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he asserted in January 2016. In October of that year, his assaultive approach to women became public through the leak of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump said). Despite widespread predictions that the leak would be the end of the Trump campaign, it merely enhanced his macho profile and popularity.
Charismatic authoritarians spread their models of power based on the brute force like a virus and soon the political system is populated by individuals who earn status by imitating them. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had surrogates and proxies who repeated his hypermasculine performances and bombastic oratory, starting with his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who mimicked Il Duce’s chin thrusts, earning the nickname “The Jaw.” The Italian writer Italo Calvino, who grew up during the dictatorship, recalled how his generation internalized Mussolini’s gestures, opinions, and behaviours from an early age. And images abound on the Internet of Mussolini’s jaw-jutting face beside similar-looking pictures of male politicians wanting to look masculine.
Authoritarianism and Autocracies
Two degrees of government control over people’s private lives are authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Although an authoritarian state has some influence over citizens’ private life, it does not have total control. Fascist Italy and Tito’s Yugoslavia serve as excellent instances of authoritarian governments.
Totalitarianism has occurred when the government has complete, or nearly complete, control over every living thing and is fully aware of every aspect of its citizens’ private lives. The Soviet Union under Stalin, Nazi Germany, and North Korea of the present are all examples of totalitarian governments.
While opposing Socialism and Communism, fascism is not based on any one particular doctrine. Fascist movements typically advocate militarism, fervent nationalism, anti-communism, and opposition to social progress. Some, like the Nazis, cited racial purity as another important reason to embrace fascism. This is why fascism is frequently referred to as “Nazism” to distinguish it from Mussolini’s Italy. The political Right’s extreme right is where fascism is found. The best examples of fascist regimes are Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and Nazi Germany.
Because Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party and was at war with the Allied Powers, the Western Allies used the term “Hitlerism” to refer to anyone who supported Nazi Party policies and racial ideology.
Though they don’t necessarily have to be, autocracies are frequently associated with totalitarianism and military tyranny. Totalitarianism can be autocratic, with a supreme leader in charge, or it might be governed by a commune, junta, or single political party.
Burt Neuborne, the Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties and the first head of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, has taken part in over 200 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. When at Times the Mob Is Swayed: A Citizen’s Guide to Defending Our Republic, by Neuborne, raises the alarm by drawing a comparison between Trump and Hitler. “But I can’t ignore the fact that Trump’s savagely divisive political rhetoric, both as a candidate and as our 45th President, closely resembles the cliches that Adolf Hitler employed from 1932 to 1936 to persuade a critical mass of the German people to exchange their democratic birthright for a Nazi brew of xenophobia, bigotry, and scapegoats,” he says. Hitler did not use force to seize power.
Constitutional democracies are held together by the deterioration of the ties of respect for one another and basic decency. In the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, two small green plastic cubes that are surviving examples of the miniature radios the Nazi Party gave away for free in the years after 1932, rest almost unnoticed on small display tables. This is one indication of how successful Hitler was in talking about German democracy to death. The free radios only picked up one frequency, which was Adolf Hitler’s unceasing, pure voice spewing his witches’ brew of bigotry and hatred into the ears of 35–40% of the German people. This was the only catch. The equivalent of those green plastic radios in the twenty-first century, Trump’s mastery of Twitter and other mainstream and social media platforms gives him a direct line of unfiltered connection with 40 million Americans and allows him to incite widespread dissent and sow division on demand.
Hitler claimed to restore Germany to its former glory before World War I, screaming against a mysterious international order determined to hold Germany in slavery, continues Neurone. In his campaign against a mysterious worldwide system he claims is out to rob America, Trump pledges to restore greatness to the United States. Germany was expelled from the League of Nations by Hitler. Trump has already withdrawn the US from multilateral agreements and has threatened to do the same with NATO.
“Both Trump and Hitler waged war on the concept of objective truth, fervently peddling a patchwork of lies and half-truths intended to sway a populist jury in favour of the Leader’s skewed perception of reality. To criticize the mainstream media outlets determined to expose his lies, Hitler developed the phrase “lugenpresse” (lying press). Trump is adamant that the mainstream media is fabricating “fake news” about him. Hitler mocked scientists who held opposing views to his illogical racial and economic theories. Trump criticizes economics and climate scientists who oppose his ideas.
Trump and Hitler were both masters at scapegoating. Hitler blamed Jews, Roma, and the “elites” in his toxic rants for Germany’s troubles. Trump attributes the nation’s issues to ‘the elites,’ Muslims, and undocumented Central Americans.
“Hitler fortified Germany’s border, limiting travel to and from the nation and waging trade wars to the advantage of German industry. Trump has started trade conflicts with China, India, Europe, Canada, and Mexico. He also wants to erect a wall along the Southern border. Hitler used the 1933 Reichstag fire as a pretext to proclaim a “national emergency” and deploy his executive authority unilaterally. Trump has repeatedly ignored Congress by declaring fictitious national emergencies.
Trump’s propensity for inciting violence against demonstrators at his rallies as well as his urging of police to be “rough” with suspects and demonstrators is well known. Of course, he also ordered the use of extreme force and violence, including the use of unidentified “paramilitary or mercenary” personnel, to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C. This, along with his remarks that White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis are “fine people,” emphasizes his willingness to employ the use of violence and government security forces to further his objectives.
The Character Miscalculation of Hitler and Trump
Hitler was viewed as a fool by many. He was absurd. He wasn’t given any credit. They alternatively believed that once he took on the duties of office, he would become more composed. That misconception of Hitler was fairly widespread. There is a noticeable difference in the way that Trump speaks spontaneously and without hesitation. I believe his tweets support that. Hitler prepared each of his speeches with great care. Although they appeared unplanned, they were well-planned.
Henry Ashby Turner, a historian, details the political manoeuvres that permitted Hitler to become chancellor of Germany in his book Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power. The vote share of the Nazi party had started to collapse in January 1933, and the party was going through a significant internal crisis as a result of declining dues, members leaving, and other leaders doubting Hitler’s strategy. At the time, it was widely believed that Hitler would not and could not become chancellor since Germany’s esteemed conservative president, Paul von Hindenburg, had long promised to deny Hitler such a post.
Hitler was perceived by Hindenburg and the German right in remarkably similar terms to how Republican elites see Trump. Yes, despite Hitler’s outward downplaying of his zeal, they seriously misjudged it. Hitler was viewed as a clown by them, even though they could not foresee him starting a total war and an industrial-scale genocide. The German elite thought that his attraction came from being an outsider, which allowed him to take a stand against the political establishment and make lavish promises to his supporters that would never be put to the test. Furthermore, even the authoritarian German right was hesitant to give Hitler power because of his open disdain for democracy.
That fact is harsh. Trump’s long history of political ideas has been guided by his admiration for tyrannical leaders in countries like North Korea, China, and Russia. Trump has veered left and right over the years on subjects like health care, abortion, taxes, and even those that are currently important to his campaign, like immigration and trade, but he has never deviated from his core conviction that good leaders kill their foes without mercy. Whatever standards or restrictions we believe place a cap on the harm a president can cause are certain to be exceeded if that president is Donald Trump.
The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, by Hunter College and City University of New York history professor and author Benjamin Carter Hett, makes the following claim: “Poor economic conditions would not have brought Hitler into power if it weren’t for several very powerful people in high positions in government and business. In essence, they remarked, ‘This man Hitler is sort of vulgar and he’s kind of rough—but we can utilize him.’” Hitler was able to enter the halls of power because of their accommodation.
That could serve as a rough analogue for how establishment Republicans have come to either want Trump or feel forced to accept him as their leader.
From an Authoritarian State to a Fascist State: A Slippery Slope
People’s confusion between fascism and Nazism is the primary obstacle to comprehending fascism. Since they are aware that Hitler was a fascist, they believe that America can never be that way.
“Will we stop Trump before it’s too late?” is the title of an opinion piece by Madeleine Albright, a highly regarded historian by training who served as the US secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. Fascism: A Warning, her most recent book, was also released. Donald Trump, whom she refers to in the book as “the first antidemocratic president in modern U.S. history,” is similar to other leaders who have sought to undermine democratic standards, such as Turkey’s Erdogan, Venezuela’s Maduro, and Hungary’s Orbán.
The definition of fascism and fascist administrations has long been a complex and hotly contested issue. Since Benito Mussolini first coined the phrase in 1915, historians, political scientists, and other academics have disagreed about the precise definition of fascism and its fundamental principles. Although not all authoritarian governments are fascist, a sizable majority of academics concur that a “fascist regime” is first and principally an authoritarian type of government.
Thus, authoritarianism serves as a differentiating feature, but most academics agree that additional characteristics are necessary for a regime to be classified as fascist. In a similar vein, it is challenging to describe fascism as a philosophy. It originally refers to a corporatist and authoritarian political movement that ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943 and was led by Benito Mussolini. In a broader sense, many historians use the word “fascist” without capitalization to refer to an ideology (or combination of ideas) that had an impact on numerous nations at various points in history.
The core elements of fascism are:
- A tendency towards conservatism on the right. Marxism, Socialism, Anarchism, Communism, Environmentalism, etc. are all fiercely opposed by fascists; in essence, they oppose the entire progress left, even moderate leftists like social democrats. Although it can be opportunistic, fascism is an ideology that belongs to the extreme right.
- Patriotism and nationalism are highly valued under fascism. Criticism of the country’s core values, particularly those related to war, is derided as, at best, unpatriotic and, at worst, treason. State media often disseminates attack threats while defending pre-emptive war. Fascism constantly aims to establish in its populace the warrior mentality, which stresses constant vigilance, caution around strangers, and suspicion of outsiders.
- Hierarchical: A “righteous” leader who is backed by an elite hidden vanguard of capitalists rules a fascist society. Every street, office, and school will have its own local Hitler, a mix of police informants and bureaucrats, and society is always ready for war. Hierarchy permeates all parts of society. A totalitarian society is created when the social hierarchy has absolute power over all other factors. Direct democracy (such as Communism) is the worst of all sins; representative government is only acceptable if it can be controlled and governed. Anyone who challenges fascism’s social structure risks being put to death or imprisoned.
- Anti-equality: The ideas of economic equality and equality between citizens and immigrants are despised by fascism. Fascism in certain forms expands the struggle against equality into other areas, such as gender, sexual, minority, or religious rights.
- Reactionary religious ideas are a significant component of fascism, which harkens back to a time when religion was seen as “strict, potent, and pure.” Fascist governments are almost universally Christian and are backed by Protestant and Catholic churches.
- Capitalist: In a capitalist society, fascism can thrive without a revolution since fascists can be voted to office (though their disdain for elections usually means manipulation of the electoral system). They will make every effort to limit the influence of the parliamentary and legislative systems of government over their policy agenda because they believe that they are ineffective and unreliable. The worst form of capitalism, in which corporate control is unassailable and all remaining worker rights are abolished, is demonstrated by fascism. Fascism is capitalism at the stage of helpless imperialism, which is militaristic. Because war causes such severe destruction to a society, which necessitates restoration, it can open up businesses that would not otherwise exist! Thus, fascism can “liberate” the survivors and give that society substantial loans so that fascist firms may start the reconstruction process.
- “Voluntarist” Ideology: Fascism employs a particular form of “voluntarism”; they hold that, with enough force, an act of will may bring about the reality of something. Thus, in the conviction that they can be realized, all kinds of views about racial inferiority, historical destiny, and even physical science, are reinforced using violence. Fascism is subjectivist in this regard.
- Anti-Modern: Fascism despises all forms of modernism, especially creativity in the arts that reflect life in ways that do not align with the fascist ideal or express unconventional or avant-garde viewpoints. Additionally, fascism is selectively pro-science, favouring research that advances its goals. Fascism always destroys books and targets artists; those who don’t support their principles are labelled “decadent.” The supremacy of fascist beliefs is threatened by broad education and curiosity in other cultures, which fascism despises. The objective study of history is typically replaced by the marketing of conspiracies.
Fascism assails us with newer, more heinous offences that render yesterday’s crimes obsolete and whittles away our morality. Being your better self becomes more and more expensive under fascism. Hitler referred to this Nazi method of moral transgression as the “Big Lie technique,” which aims to tell a greater lie each day so that the previous one would quickly be forgotten.
It’s a tactic that the Russians still employ today to initially overwhelm us, leaving us speechless and immobilized by the magnitude of all these crimes against civilization and unsure of which one to condemn first. As a result, we grow weary of morality itself.
What is the result? The price of being your best self goes up. Instead of having a vision for a better society, fascism relies on fear, hopelessness, and a desire to go back in time. People crave a return to “better times” in the past because they are afraid of what will happen to them, feel disenfranchised or that their country no longer cares about them.
Each authoritarian collapse that fascism experiences are a little more terrible than the one before it. People may experience a sequence of the leader’s behaviours, often daily, to the point where they start to accept them as usual or grow numb from the effects of the intense stress.
Fascism is comparable to an outbreak of a deadly virus. The followers of the leader take their cues from him and are free to act in the same manner because they are aware that there would be little to no repercussions. Behavior spreads quickly. In a survey conducted by two researchers, 68% of respondents agreed with President Trump’s repeated allegations that massive “voter fraud” cost him the popular vote in the 2016 election, and 52% supported delaying the 2020 election to ensure that only “legal” citizens cast ballots.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they would back the legislation if Trump and Congress did. According to Ariel Malka and Yphtach Lelkes of the Washington Post, “at the very least, [the survey results] suggest that a considerable proportion of Republicans are open to transgressions of democratic standards that are more egregious than what is normally recommended.”
The Militarization of the Authoritarian State
Authoritarian/autocratic states often are characterized by militarism. The U.S. has been virtually continuously at war since the end of WWII, and its military is the largest and most powerful in the world, consuming a substantial part of the federal budget.
Yet there are also signs that militarization has occurred internally.
According to journalist Todd Miller, author of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security “the once thin borderline of the American past” is “an ever-thickening band, now extending 100 miles inland around the United States—along the 2,000-mile southern border, the 4,000-mile northern border and both coasts… This ‘border’ region now covers places where two-thirds of the US population (197.4 million people) live… By now, the ‘border’ has devoured the full states of Maine, Florida, and much of Michigan.”
As part of its so-called efforts to keep the nation safe from a host of threats, the U.S. government has declared that ever-expanding border region a “Constitution-free zone.” Miller explains: “In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement and drug interdiction mandates.”
There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within twenty-five miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant.”
According to federal statutes, regulations, and court decisions, CBP officers have the authority to question and detain, without a warrant, any person trying to gain entry into the country and seize their belongings. CBP can also question individuals about their citizenship or immigration status and ask for documents that prove admissibility into the country. And finally, CBP officers can arrest and detain individuals for up to 14 days without filing a charge against them.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, comprises more than 60,000 Customs and Border Protection employees and is supplemented by the National Guard and the U.S. military. Government agents continue to roam further afield of the so-called border as part of their so-called crackdown on illegal immigration, drugs and trafficking. Consequently, greater numbers of Americans are being subject to warrantless searches, ID checkpoints, transportation checks, and even surveillance on private property.
In addition, America’s police forces—which look like, dress like, and act like the military— have undeniably become a “standing” or permanent army, one composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband, which is exactly what the American Founders feared. With the police increasingly posing as pseudo-military forces—complete with weapons, uniforms, assault vehicles, etc.—a good case could be made for the fact that SWAT team raids, which break down the barrier between public and private property, have done away with this critical safeguard.
The third largest federal agency after the Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It has 240,000 full-time workers, a $40 billion budget and sub-agencies that include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The DHS now extends its tentacles into every aspect of American life.
Many questionably legal and ethical government actions can be traced back to the DHS–its police state mindset and the billions of dollars it distributes to police agencies in the form of grants to transform them into extensions of the military– militarizing police; incentivizing SWAT teams; spying on protesters; stockpiling ammunition; distributing license plate readers to police agencies; contracting to build detention camps; tracking cell-phones with Stingray devices; carrying out military drills and lockdowns in American cities; using the TSA to carry out soft target checkpoints; directing government workers to spy on Americans; conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers; utilizing drones and other spybots on civilians; funding city-wide surveillance cameras; and carrying out Constitution-free border control searches.
Matthew MacWilliams, in his article in Politico, concludes by citing Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith who delivered a more pointed articulation of these principles in her Declaration of Conscience, about the McCarthyism of the 1950s: “It is high time that we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedoms. It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.”
Americans need to understand and be concerned that the slippery slope from democracy to autocracy doesn’t necessarily occur with a violent overthrow of the government, but slowly through legal means and the consent of the public, one that increasingly embraces authoritarianism.