By Robert A. Vella
The rise of authoritarianism around the world today, mostly of the right-wing fascist variety, rekindles extremely disturbing memories of the 1920s-30s when ultranationalist regimes seized power in Italy, Japan, Spain, and Germany. By 1941, the entire globe was embroiled in mankind’s most destructive war. Now, the number of countries which have succumbed or are succumbing to this scourge even exceeds that tumultuous period in human history. From Belarus, Hungary, Poland, and Russia in Europe, to Brazil and the United States in the Americas, the pervasiveness of authoritarian movements has reached alarming levels.
In a C-SPAN Book TV interview with the author of a new book on this political phenomenon which is threatening to destroy our hard-won achievements at democratic governance and free societies, Anne Applebaum discusses the reasons why authoritarianism takes root in populations and how it gains and consolidates political power (watch: Twilight of Democracy – Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum talked about the rise of authoriitarianism and nationalism around the world.). She cites the current example of Poland, which unlike more demographically diverse nations such as the U.S., is quite culturally homogeneous. So, if there is little ethnic, racial, and religious variation within the populace, why would it become so culturally polarized? Applebaum relates the story of two brothers where the elder one gained success in journalism for a leading news organization (the Polish equivalent of The New York Times) while the younger one struggled to succeed and eventually found work at a propagandist state television agency (an even more extremist version of Fox News). As is the case for Trump supporters in the U.S., the younger brother felt aggrieved by his lack of social achievement (which he blamed on others including his elder brother) and focused his anger on rising social movements like the LGBT community. Does this example sound familiar to you? It should.
The rebirth of fascism today, plus a general public unawareness of the dangers it poses, was a big topic of discussion on social media over the weekend. As the celebrated writer Sinclair Lewis satirized in his 1935 fictional novel It Can’t Happen Here, people are slow to recognize such political threats until it is too late to stop it. Most people prefer to live in safe little bubbles created from their own imagination because reality is frequently too painful for them to bear. Also, some people have a subconscious affection for, or at least an acceptance of, authoritarianism if they perceive it as serving their personal interests or as aligned with their subjective beliefs.
So, that’s our focus for this Monday in addition to our regular news coverage.
We can no longer trust that our federal government will oversee fair elections this November. The repeated statements and actions of the president, his attorney general and leaders in the Republican Party have demonstrated that not only will they seek to cheat to ensure their “victory,” they will do so in multiple ways as part of a massive, systematic effort to defraud the American people and undermine our democracy.
The time has come for those of us who seek to protect and preserve democracy in America to step up. We must commit ourselves to ensuring the results of these elections represent the will of the people. And since we can’t trust the government to protect our elections, that means we must organize independent efforts to do so now.
Our efforts should begin with a statement from our four living past presidents identifying the threat, underscoring that it is real, condemning it and announcing their support for an extraordinary national effort to ensure we have the fair elections our people deserve. The threat we face is so great, it requires this kind of show of resolve and unity from past national leaders to protect what is at risk and to commit themselves to putting their considerable political weight behind identifying, opposing and undoing efforts by the president and his allies to rig the elections or muddle the results.
There was once a time in our history when to suggest that a president or party would attempt to steal a national election would be unthinkable. But that time is long past. Even a cursory review of the events of the past several months and years and the public statements of the president, his attorney general, their Cabinet associates and the leadership of the GOP underscores how very real this threat is. From Russia to Ukraine, to years of systematic efforts at voter suppression to the president’s public threats, the evidence of the intentions and actions of Donald Trump and his allies is irrefutable.
Fights broke out in multiple states Saturday in clashes involving a variety of groups, including the far-right Proud Boys, counter-protesters supporting Black Lives Matter and police officers in riot gear.
In Michigan, a planned rally by the alt-right, male-only Proud Boys met with counter protesters, leading to escalating tensions and arrests in Kalamazoo.
In Portland, a rally by a small group of alt-right demonstrators devolved Saturday as they traded paint balls and pepper spray with counter-protesters. Earlier in the day, police said they made four arrests overnight.
At the Oregon Capitol in Salem on Saturday, several people with the Black Lives Matter movement were shoved down steps and into a crowd of BLM protesters.
And in Georgia, hours of mostly peaceful demonstrations escalated in Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta as large numbers of police moved in to disperse the crowds when fights broke out.
Vast crowds of protesters flooded Belarus’ capital of Minsk on Sunday in the largest political demonstration in the country’s history, demanding that its authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, step down.
Demonstrators in the capital were estimated to number well over 100,000.
Thousands more protested in towns and cities across Belarus, building on the movement that has been growing since last weekend’s contested election and posing a colossal challenge to Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator,” who has ruled the former Soviet country for 26 years.
In Minsk huge processions of people, cheering and carrying red and white flags, converged on a monument known as the Stele, which just last week police violently kept them from reaching — part of the brutal crackdown that has seen thousands detained and hundreds injured.
Testing for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has dropped nationwide the past two weeks even as the evidence builds disease spread is picking up in many states.
Nowhere is the danger of the testing slowdown more evident than the South. In Mississippi, more than one in five tested for the virus in the past week were positive, the highest rate in the nation as of Friday. The average number of daily tests in Texas and Florida dropped, but the ratio of positive tests in each state is more than double what the World Health Organization recommends.
Official case counts have dropped nationally but reporting problems and generally reduced testing in some states makes it hard to place any confidence that infection rates are improving. And in some states with more reliable data, testing slowdowns coincide with increasing or stable positive rates.