Authoritarian rule threatens America’s democracy

Steve Corbin, Professor Emeritus of Marketing, University of Northern Iowa

Never in my wildest dreams did I think America would be on the verge of changing from democracy to authoritarian rule. But, overwhelming evidence abounds that voters and a political party are purposely changing their behavioral traits.

With three grandchildren — ages 11, 8, and 4 — I truly fear for their freedoms of speech, press and religion, and rights of petition and assembly.

Freedom House is the oldest American organization (circa 1941) that conducts research on democracy, political freedom, and human rights (www.FreedomHouse.org). The not-for-profit organization’s fact-based Freedom in the World 2022 report assesses 210 countries’ degrees of political freedoms and civil liberties. Content within the first paragraph of the report is daunting: “Global freedom faces a dire threat . . . the enemies of liberal democracy . . . are accelerating their attacks.”

United States, Hungary, Nauru, Poland, and India are identified as the top five countries in the world with the largest 10-year decline in democracy attributes.

The report notes, “elections, even when critically flawed, have long given authoritarian leaders a veneer of legitimacy.” Examples include Russia’s 2021 parliamentary elections (Vladimir Putin vs. Aleksey Navalny; Navalny was sent to prison by Putin), Nicaragua’s 2021presidential election (Daniel Ortega arrested seven opposition candidates), and USA’s 2020 presidential election with Republicans’ “stop the steal” fraudulent claim (100% of America’s 3,006 county auditors certified the vote, 64 court cases and GOP Attorney General Bill Barr authorized the election results, and there were only 16 charged cases of voting illegally out of 158,397,726 ballots cast).

The report further states, “Leaders who fear losing power in a democratic system have taken to sowing distrust in elections. The assault on the U.S. Capitol was the culmination of a months-long campaign by outgoing president Donald Trump to cast Joe Biden’s victory as illegitimate and fraudulent.” On Jan. 6, 2021, we witnessed over 2,000 pro-Trump rioters’ illegal entry into the Capitol, plus 147 Congressional Republicans voted to overturn the election results; authoritarianism is in action.

Most authoritarians are narcissistic, demand complete control over their subordinates, the fault is always due to someone else, and love to scare people with disinformation and misinformation. Does anyone come to mind?

Authoritarian leaders like to collaborate and praise one another. Donald Trump praised North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, China’s Xi Jinping, Philippine’s Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin over 15 times.

Authoritarian attributes also include invoking discrimination against racial and ethnic minority groups, anti-asylum, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ, voter suppression, book banning, and private school preference. Sound familiar?

Republicans’ unfettered control of Iowa’s Capitol since 2017 with their extreme populism actions resembles authoritarian rule.

Two other authoritarian-focused political party, politician and candidate-for-office characteristics include tying themselves to organizations engaged in illicit behavior and refusing to condemn political violence (“very fine people,” Charlottesville, VA, Aug. 15, 2017, and “Proud Boys: stand back and stand by,” Sept. 29, 2020; by Donald Trump) and lambasting the media and criticizing the government (e.g., FBI, CIA, IRS, DOJ, etc.).

If the above-noted examples don’t wake you up to America’s democracy is in jeopardy, then it’s safe to say A) this is the first time you’ve read about the democracy-authoritarian conundrum, B) you’ve been hoodwinked, deceived, duped and outwitted by autocrats or C) your inductive or deductive reasoning skills to differentiate democracy norms from fascism and the authoritarian rule needs fine-tuning.

Two succinct quotations about this topic come to mind: 1) “the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all” (John F. Kennedy, 35th Pres.) and 2) “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy” (Montesquieu, French political philosopher).

Steve is a non-paid freelance opinion editor and guest columnist (circa 2013) contributor to 192 newspapers in 31 states who receive no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, not-for-profit organization, political action committee, or political party.

Steve is Professor Emeritus of Marketing, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls (1975-2013); Marketing Department Head (17 years); State of Iowa Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in Teaching, Research, and Service (2003)

Steve graduated from Nevada H.S. (Nevada, IA) in 1966; University of Northern Iowa (1970 bachelor’s degree); Colorado State University (1972 master’s degree); Virginia Tech (1975 doctoral degree)

Steve was elected to public office three times and served on the Denver Community School District Board of Education (Denver, IA) for 11 years, and serves on the Advisory Board of Discerning Wealth (Ameriprise Financial.

Services affiliate, Cedar Falls, IA) and is a member of the Cedar Falls Lions Club, Lions Clubs of Iowa, and Lions Clubs International.

Steve is married to Doris J. Kelley (Iowa House of Representatives, 2007-2011; Chair/Vice-Chair/Executive Director, Iowa Board of Parole, 2011-2014; Chair, Iowa Committee on Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, 2020-present; Board Member, Iowa’s Bipartisan 50-50 in Iowa, 2010-present)

Steve has three sons, three daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren