By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend
The United States must decide if it will continue its progression toward a more democratic republic or backslide toward a less democratic authoritarianism. For a model of the latter, one can look at Victor Orban’s Hungary. Orban has made it tough for his opponents to vote, although he hasn’t shut down every facet of democratic rule – there are some civil liberties and elections. Former President Donald Trump’s politics represent its American counterpart.
Although Trump is no longer our president, his authoritarian brand of politics is still alive and well. His followers are convinced that he will be reinstalled in August of 2021. In recent surveys, 53 percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the 2020 election. This reflects the total giving of oneself to the “great leader,” a mentality that is common in authoritarian politics. When it comes to voter suppression, the Republican party looks to copy Orban and other authoritarian leaders. The Republicans successfully pushed voter suppression legislation in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, signed into law by their Republican governors to great fanfare. This is a widespread effort, as similar legislation is pending in 40 states.
Those who support such legislation claim it is necessary to stop illegal voting. This legislation is based on “the big lie” that Trump won the 2020 election, and that it was stolen from him by Democratic voter fraud. However, elections are already highly regulated. The Department of Homeland Security said that recent elections were the most secure in history. There are representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties and independent representatives at every polling station in America. There are only a few cases of illegal voting in each election. For instance, in the cases of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, the only people trying to vote fraudulently were Republicans who tried to vote for Trump using their dead parents’ identification. So, the real reason for these laws is simple – to suppress the non-white, Democratic-leaning vote which grows more as the years pass. In addition, suppressing the Democratic-leaning youth vote is also a goal. There’s a larger plan at work, making it so that the will of the majority cannot be heard, keeping the minority in power – just like in Hungary! Voter suppression laws work alongside the gerrymandering of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate’s provision of two senators for each state to ensure minority rule in today’s America.
Authoritarian democracy appeals to certain segments of various countries who want to keep the opposition from gaining power, even though the opposition isn’t outlawed outright, like in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Authoritarians consider democracy to be a game played by those who they deem fit to play. Trumpism in the United States seeks to enhance the power of the racial majority, whites, despite the country becoming less white. This is an ideology that is empowered by white supremacy. The Trump coalition includes white evangelicals, who have already lost the culture war battles of the previous decades; former Dixiecrats, multinational corporations, and disaffected working-class former Democrats.
Orban’s authoritarianism appeals to racial resentment. Vladimir Putin’s Russian authoritarianism appeals to those who want to maintain Christian civilization against a changing world, Narenda Modi’s Indian authoritarianism appeals to those who feel Hindus share too much power with non-Hindus, and Recep Erdogan’s Turkish authoritarianism appeals to those who feel Islamic ideas have been suppressed by the secular nature of Turkey’s history. Such movements sometimes inspire independent actors, terrorists, to turn the aforementioned movements violent. It must be added that sometimes such people are directly inspired by the words of political leaders, like the Jan. 6 insurrection, by Trump supporters or by the violence against non-Hindus in India.
Social Democrats USA promotes democracy in every aspect of our civil/political lives. The popular/democratic authoritarian movements gaining strength in the USA and throughout the democratic world will destroy all that we hope for if we do not deal with them appropriately. If the Republicans take the House and/or the Senate in 2022 through voter suppression laws or overturning elections, our democracy will be over – period. Moreover, if right-wing media and social media can continue to spread their big lies without any regulation, our populace will never agree on what our problems are, let alone on how to fix them. It is time to take these people (right-wing Republicans/Trumpist) and their media very seriously. They are not simply “a little nuts”, or way too prejudiced against non-whites, young people, and women, or grieving over the loss of power and white privilege. They are dangerous, violent, and delusional. Too many of them believe that Democrats are literally baby-eating sex traffickers who want to destroy all that is good about the Western world, including the white race, and the ones who do not believe in the Qanon claptrap still believe our democracy is being undermined by their enemies.
They are also committed to overthrowing President Biden and doing bodily harm to everyone who gets in the way. Furthermore, if the Republican state legislators can overturn elections that they claim were fraudulent without any real evidence backing up their claims, and if they are allowed to gerrymander their congressional and state legislative districts, Democrats (some social democrats) will never be able to gain power outside of California, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon, New Jersey, Washington, and maybe a few other states. Beyond all of that, if we do not take actions to deal with these elements, especially those who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, there’s no telling what they will do to gain or keep power. We know that history shows us that if we do not confront any totalitarian or authoritarian movement with every tool in our box to defeat them, things do not get better – they only get worse.
What must we do to hold on to our democracy in the USA? First, we must establish a commission or select committee (Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional leaders should determine the structure) with subpoena power to get to the bottom of who organized or funded the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection; what were their goals or objectives; and how much did Donald Trump and others (name names) actually direct events? We must also expel Republican members of Congress who were involved in the insurrection. Second, we must insist on a new and accurate amended census in every state of the union because the 2020 census was not as accurate as it must be. Thus, the redistricting that will take place this year based on census outcomes that will benefit the Republicans immensely and unfairly. Third, we must pass the PRO Act so the labor movement can be revived and thrive, and in terms of education, we must bring back civics and teach critical thinking as well as critical American history in all schools all over the country. Fourth, we must stop Republican attempts to rig state elections and pass federal legislation which would deny all state courts from hearing any case involving voter fraud for federal elections. Going forward, only federal courts could process such disputes. This law would bypass state courts and avoid Republican corruption by limiting state jurisdiction. Other federal legislation should be passed establishing evidentiary standards for all other claims of voter fraud by local boards, and federal law should make any attempt to process any claim of voter fraud without standards of evidence as invalid. Such legislation would make it a federal crime punishable by years in federal prison for throwing out any vote, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t utilize such standards of evidence. Also, pressure must be put on the Garland Department of Justice to prosecute the lawbreakers involved in conducting the illegal audits that are being conducted in Arizona and possibly all over the country. The key to winning this battle in organizing and rallying our vote like never before…as if our lives depend upon it! Fifth, pass S1 and S4 and eliminate the filibuster for civil and/or human rights legislation.
Authoritarian movements are gathering steam throughout the democratic world. They are based upon racial and/or religious supremacy and what their followers think of as former glory days. The refugee problem (which will only get worse as the greenhouse effect becomes more of a crisis) and globalization have been weaponized over the last 20 years. In the United States, globalization and the refugee crisis have terrified white middle-class and working-class people, and this has fueled a popular authoritarianism present in other countries. Leaders like Trump, Putin, Orban, Erdogan, and Modi are demagogues who have taken advantage of the hatred aimed at religious and racial minorities. Other demagogues like England’s Nigel Farage and France’s Marine LePen represent similar movements, even though they haven’t led countries. This political tide must be turned back if we are to save ourselves!
Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.
Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.