Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the American experiment?
While we haven’t slipped into full-on fascism yet, a recent Global State of Democracy (GSoD Indices) report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance includes the United States for the first time in its annual list of “backsliding” democracies.
One indicator of our backsliding came in the wake of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, marking a “decline in the quality of freedom of association and assembly during the summer of protests in 2020.”
Other factors include voter apathy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report’s co-author, Alexander Hudson, explained:
“The United States is a high-performing democracy, and even improved its performance in indicators of impartial administration (corruption and predictable enforcement) in 2020. However, the declines in civil liberties and checks on government indicate that there are serious problems with the fundamentals of democracy.”
According to the report, the “historic turning point” came last year “when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States.”
“Trump’s baseless allegations during the 2020 US presidential election have had spillover effects, including in Brazil, Mexico, Myanmar and Peru, among others. Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021.”
“Clean elections” are those defined as free, produce no evidence of irregularities and government intimidation, where fair electoral competitions are present.
The GSoD Indices pronounces the United States has not met those criteria since 2015.
Our decline is being compared to those in Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mauritius, Namibia, Slovenia, and Poland.
United Nations special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, lamented:
“It is almost a tyranny of the majority where minorities’ right to vote is being denied in many areas, in many parts of the country and that this cannot be a positive development, this cannot be consistent with the fundamental values of democracy and certainly it does not seem to consistent with the United States international human rights obligations.”
Authoritarianism is spreading across the globe.
20 countries are considered “hybrid.”
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance secretary general, Kevin Casas-Zamora, explained:
“We are talking about 70% of the population in the world. That tells you that there is something fundamentally serious happening with the quality of democracy.”
Given its naked embrace of anti-democratic policies, legislation, behavior, and individuals over the past several years, it’s clear this backslide is exactly what the modern republican party wishes for the United States.
This summer, Fox News’s top-rated personality, Tucker Carlson, spend a week in Budapest, Hungary showcasing president Viktor Orbán, the fascist that former Trump adviser (and recently indicted) Steve Bannon boasted was “Trump before Trump.”
Consider the parallels.
Nine years after being elected Prime Minister in 2010, Orbán successfully transformed the conservative Fidesz Party into an autocratic, oligarchic “Christian” purity faction intent on “making Hungary great again.”
He campaigned on building a wall across Hungary’s southern border.
He altered Hungary’s constitution to enact what our republican-led states are pushing to change ballot measure processes, restrict voting, criminalize peaceful protest, revoke authority from state courts and local election boards, and discard votes that aren’t for them.
He’s packed the courts.
Consider in just four years, Donald Trump replaced three US Supreme Court justices and scores of federal circuit court judges.
This year, Hungary passed laws requiring “conservative” sex education in schools and banned portrayal of LGBTQ+ individuals on television.
Consider the republican-majority state legislatures ramming through record numbers of anti-LGBTQ legislation.
His party opposed teaching multiracialism and racial tolerance because “it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist”, and rewrote school textbooks to frighten Hungarian students into believing refugees entering the country are a threat.
Someone else did that here too.
Right-wing domestic terror groups are on the march in Hungary.
The Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum wrote in a recent piece titled, “The Bad Guys Are Winning“:
“If the 20th century was the story of liberal democracy’s progress toward victory over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.”
The United States is not lost.
We still have time to pull ourselves back from the precipice.
Just look at our history.
Our “Great Depression” of the 1930s was part of a global depression that sent people scrambling for anything and anyone who would promise them respite, succor, and hope.
Most European countries embraced fascists, namely Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Japan did as well.
We could have gone that way too.
Instead, we elected Franklin Roosevelt, who not only promised relief from our economic and social woes, but returned us to a more democratic, prosperous society by implementing progressive reforms intended to lift people up instead of cutting them down.
If we hadn’t risen to the challenge, we likely wouldn’t have been prepared to take on and ultimately defeat European fascism when it came to our shores.
Don’t think there weren’t Nazi sympathizers and fascists among us.
The difference was, we chose democracy, for all its frustrations and imperfections.
We still can.
The first thing we need to do is get up off the couch and demand the democracy we deserve.
Authoritarians thrive on limited civic engagement.
Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
One of the things that made Franklin Roosevelt and other successful presidents who followed him, like Lyndon Johnson, successful was people vociferously demanding change.
We must push our lawmakers to do the right thing–as frustrating as that is.
No, they aren’t going to jump to our every request.
But when enough of us demand something, it gets noticed.
If you need proof, consider how the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed under President Johnson.
Consider how the current Joe Biden pales in comparison to the slightly right-of-center politician he was most of his life.
We need to vote.
We need to organize.
We need to demand money is not speech and corporations are not people.
We need to demand a media structure that doesn’t consider white supremacists and domestic terrorists, like those who tried to overthrow our democracy on January 6, as “the other side.”
We need to stop crying about “getting along” with our “friends across the aisle” and realize those “friends” are in no way interested in “bipartisanship”.
We need to be indefatigable in our calls for a fairer system.
And when we fail to get what we want, we need to get up off the mat and get back in the ring.
Will it be easy?
Of course not.
The right will not allow any progressive trajectory if it can help it.
Republicans don’t win unless they cheat, which they are not even hiding isn’t beneath them.
Next year, following mid-term elections, we could be headed in a very different direction.
Where that is, is up to us.
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