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April 2, 2022

Now is the Time to Fight against Authoritarianism.

When I turned 10 years old, I was allowed to take New York City’s public transportation to school.

On board, one of the advertisements in particular caught my eye. It proclaimed in bold block letters, “Stand up and be counted in the fight against Communism.” The slogan included a graphic of an all-American everyman standing up, arms akimbo, gazing upward to the beacon of Liberty.

No doubt, he would stand up to Communism by denouncing his liberal neighbors to the House Un-American Activities Committee (when my parents were stationed in Texas during World War II, their neighbors thought they were Commies because they had honeymooned in Europe!).

While the world watches in horror as Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine destroy maternity hospitals, apartment buildings, shelters housing women and children as well as other civilian targets, I’m watching in equal horror as American right-wing conservatives cheer Putin and openly support Russia.

The American Right has degenerated to the point of mimicking Putin’s big lies about Ukraine’s nonexistent Biolabs and its “Neo-Nazi genocidal” government, an odd accusation seeing that it is headed by a Jew whose ancestors were murdered by the Nazis. To add to the lunacy, QAnon, the racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy cult believes that COVID-19 began in Ukraine, not China.

Lost in the footage of the Ukraine invasion is a short clip of a Russian tank proudly flying the old red flag of the Soviet Union, emblazoned with the hammer and sickle of Communism.

American conservatives supporting Vladimir Putin, a former Communist KGB operative? Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.

Global pundits have joined President Zelensky in casting the Ukraine war as a struggle between Democracy and Autocracy. But this struggle began in the United States years ago and has only gotten worse for those of us who favor the former.

It has taken the form of sleazy Republican voter suppression tactics in a myriad of states and lately in the assault on free speech, gender equality, and the blatant censorship of thought-provoking literature. The poster child of American authoritarian dictatorship is, of course, Donald Trump, an open admirer of Putin’s “genius” who has never been shy about his distaste for the democratic process and his wish of making himself president for life. The fact that 70 percent of Republicans still believe his big lie about a stolen 2020 election is frightening proof that our cherished institutions are in danger.

Historically, in times of stress and uncertainty, people gravitate toward a strongman, especially if the preceding democracy has been weak and ineffectual. Examples include the Weimar Republic of pre-Nazi Germany, the Russian Kerensky provisional government before the Bolsheviks overthrew it in 1917, and more recently, the upheaval endured during the inept administration of Boris Yeltsin. Adolf Hitler was elected by a popular majority, and despite his seizure of absolute power, was adored by the German people.

The attack on American democracy has not gone unnoticed. Freedom House, which has tracked the rise and fall of global democracies for over 75 years, now ranks the United States 59th, below Argentina and Mongolia. In their report, they warned that we faced “an acute crisis for democracy” due to our limiting of political and civil liberties. A Swedish-based think tank specializing in the same subject added the United States to its list of “backsliding democracies.”

Another aspect of autocratic dictatorship is the need to have a convenient scapegoat to channel the anger, fear, and resentment of the people. It should never be forgotten that Donald Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign by targeting Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. That’s all it took. It was like setting a match to a puddle of gasoline. The puddle being the innate racist fears of dark-skinned people taking over when, in fact, all they really want is to be included in the American Dream. The Republican attack on Critical Race Theory has less to do with “protecting our children” than it is to rewrite history from a white supremacist standpoint.

So now is the time for Americans to stand up and be counted in the fight against Authoritarianism. While democracy can be flawed, Winston Churchill got it right with his famous quote.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

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