Although the advent of reality TV star Donald Trump as the 45th President threw most of us for a loop, in truth the authoritarian impulse goes back centuries in America. Not the first authoritarian leader, Don the Con surely won’t be the last — but maybe we can prevail against the slide into fascism by warning the general public about the dangers of authoritarianism and what it could wreak here.
In their excellent book How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt chronicle the signs and signposts along the way to autocracy. They offer a simple test for how to identify a potential authoritarian leader — see if they exhibit these signs:
- Rejects the democratic rules of the game
- Denies the legitimacy of opponents
- Tolerates or encourages violence
- Shows a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media
We can see many of these warning signs in the Republican leadership today: Florida governor Ron DeSantis, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Texas governor Greg Abbott, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and others all have the makings of a demagogue and a would-be authoritarian leader.
It’s a dangerous time in America politics: get prepared. Read up on authoritarianism and warn the folks you love about the consequences of electing another wrecking ball to democracy — it’s not at all certain the nation would stand.