Much is discussed about the continued durability of democracy in the United States. With the coordinated efforts by Donald Trump loyalists to overturn the verified fair election of 2020, the dark and dangerous risks of an authoritarian takeover of America remains very real and very near.
I wish this column wasn’t necessary. But we have a clear and present danger…
Dictators don’t just “happen.” They usually start out as elected officials, then slowly consolidate power, packing courts, replace military, justice, and law enforcement leadership with loyalists, and eventually overturn election losses, extend leadership terms, and usually, codifying positions to President for Life. This politician to dictator script is essentially the same all the world over.
In Hungary, neo-dictator Viktor Orban started out as a regular politician. Today, Orban is closing in on Putin status. World pariah dictator Vladimir Putin started out through somewhat real elections to what are now staged events guaranteeing his destructive leadership for life — until he’s deposed by Elites or tossed out of a seven-story window by internal competitors or executed by Ukrainian Special Services. His is indeed a life term – subject to sudden conclusion.
Meanwhile, this same bloodthirsty dictator remains cozied by the very founder of Trumpism; is called “genius” by Donald Trump; and whose absolute dictatorial powers Donald Trump seeks. Even as demon Putin hails down thousands of rockets, drones, and millions of shells at Ukrainian civilians, killing tens of thousands of innocents, maiming multiples more, and destroying entire cities, Putin remains exemplary in Trump’s mind.
Putin as American presidential mentor? George Washington forbid!
War and repression of civilian population are where authoritarianism always ultimately ends. Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy, in our not distant past. North Korea, Venezuela, Myanmar, Russia, in our time. The authoritarian dance to ruin runs over and again like a bad movie on continuous loop.
Humans the world over have a weak spot for strongmen. Rejecting the hard work and frustrations of democracy for a strongman to just “take care of things” has its appeal. Like giving one’s soul to Jim Jones – we are lured to willingly give up our hard-earned freedom to men who want to pull all levers of power, leaving us like the modern-day serfs now trapped in Russia or suffering in Venezuela, or Belarus, or all the various ever-increasing authoritarian states.
Knowing this danger, defending democracy itself comes before any other choice in this election.
Defending democratic guardrails comes before any other choice in this election. Rejecting any persons or paths potentially leading to authoritarianism is paramount before any other choice or issue. This is critical in this election and existential in 2022. Defending democracy is the challenge of our day.
Carrie and I have family friends from Irpin, Ukraine. Near Kiev, Irpin was sacked during the opening months of Putin’s Ukrainian genocide. Sixty percent of the town was reduced to rubble. Women were raped, men and women tortured, and murders by the thousands were indiscriminate. Today, there are new rocket drone barrages targeting residential and civilian infrastructure targets. Pure terrorism. Our friends are reliving their Putin nightmares all over.
By now, most understand that Putin is no genius — but rather, a bumbling, megalomaniac dictator with no conscious for the hell he has created. He has no remorse, only ego and self-dealing. This may sound familiar, domestically.
Trump regards this man as “genius.” “Smart dealer.” “Got a lot of land for cheap.” Our own American wannabe strongman admires the very man who directs the slaughtering of innocents. As scary as this is, it’s far scarier when some 38%-45% of Americans support our mobster-minded aspiring authoritarian.
You and I are at a critical moment in America. Will we choose leaders who unabashedly uphold the rules of our democracy, or will we slip further toward authoritarianism by supporting leaders flirting or otherwise bound to authoritarian powers? The dance to dictatorship always starts oh so slowly, then the slippery slope leaves us powerless before we recognize the full extent of our mistakes.
Ask any Russians recently pulled off the street and thrown to the front lines for slaughter how they’re feeling about their own “genius” dictator right now…
We’re in the middle of important national and state elections. Here in our local congressional district, both candidates Christy Smith and Mike Garcia are highly accomplished. Both qualified. Except for one giant, huge, disqualification – and that is Mike Garcia’s uncorrected alignment with authoritarianism when, on Jan. 6, 2020, Mr. Garcia stood with the coordinated group seeking to invalidate and overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election, furthering Mr. Trump’s attempt to retain power. To my knowledge, he has never recanted his vote coinciding with that election-denier group.
Given the instability in our world and nation, Mr. Garcia’s vote and connection to these groups are simply too worrisome to be overlooked. We can’t take even one more step down that seductive authoritarian slope. Rather, any further acceptance of anything authoritarian must be avoided and rejected in full.
Carrie and I have been helping our Ukrainian friend rebuild their mother’s bombed-out Ukrainian home. With every brick they hand by hand replace, with every board they hammer back, with all the destruction they toil to repair, I know how they would vote in our 2022 congressional election…
They would run as fast as they could from anything remotely resembling authoritarianism, regardless of party, creed, religion, sex, military service – anything. They will forever cast a giant NO VOTE against anyone and anything authoritarian.
And so should we, up and down this ballot, and with eternal vigilance.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.