Monday, May 21, 2018

Why I am not certain of American democracy's future

Updated and revised: 7/16/2018
1958-1959 I was spending my university junior year abroad in Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering what did happen and why what was happening now was going so wrong and so right simultaneously. It was  twelve years after World WW II ended. I walked through the rubble and desolate stretches of bombed out spaces  on both sides of the Brandenburg Gates. The Wall had not yet been built. It was a hands-on view as one form of fascism lay in ruins and the Soviets consolidated control of their conquered eastern sector.  I met a young medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by dictator Tito. We later married, and we were together for over the next 50 years until he passed away in 2015. He became a US citizen, active in civic affairs, with certificates and plaques hanging on our walls to attest how much he loved life in America, democracy, and the freedom to pursue his dreams. We visited Yugoslavia and his family when it began to loosen up beginning in 1972  and then on the average of every two years until 2015. I experienced it in their Stalinist era, their period of more  benign dictatorship with limited capitalism,  their pains of a war for independence  to become Croatia,  and transition to democracy.
This is what I have learned from these life experiences.  When people are fearful, confused by chaos out of their control, feel victimized or losing economic and political power they once had, communism and fascism find fertile ground. There is a human streak longing to be part of the ruling group (some call that tribalism or racism) and to point blame so they can put down the offenders and rationalize abuses of democratic institutions to gain absolute power. At the same time, those feeling wronged look for a leader to lead them from the wilderness.   These totalitarian dictators like Hitler and Mussolini seized the reins of government by manipulating existing democracies. They then began consolidating power, little by little,  often under the public' radar or with majority’s approval. The fascists gained control of media by  destroying opposition press. They demanded total loyalty to them personally instead of to the rule of law  Theirs were the only truth and facts..

In current times, dictators and autocrats like Putin of Russia and Erdogan of Turkey cloak themselves with words and sham  elections  and seize power by abusing democratic practices. Trump is trying  to join their ranks.. Like them ,Trump is promoting TV and social media outlets that suppress news and data that puts him and his agenda in a negative light, calling critics "enemies of the people", .dishonest,  and  facts they present as fake news.    He gins up fear of migrants from central America as he repeats lies about crime rates of immigrants, increases in migrant border crossings, and the cost to the treasury of immigrants, which, if based on his own government's data, are the exact opposite of his claims.  Like modern autocrats, he contends he can act above the law, claiming he cannot be prosecuted for certain actions, and he has power to pardon himself and his administration’s loyalists. 
So why am I not certain of democracy's future? It is because  44 percent of Americans still approve of Trump. Do they  think Trump's anti democratic tendencies are unimportant, or are they oblivious,  or like  his policies more than his methods? Do  they not care if we have elections vulnerable to being determined by  an adversary's cyber attacks. Do some  consider Putin on their team?. On July 16 in Helsinki Trump said he trusts Putin's denial Russia interfered in the 2016.elections  ignoring evidence presented by his own intelligence services and his public invitation to Russia to find Hillary's emails (Russia began the task that sane evening)  as if he does not care if they do it again  in 2018 and 2020.  Democracy is fragile, and its survival depends upon the support of the governed. That support is teetering on the edge in a closely divided nation and a GOP dominated , Trump loyal Congress that refuses to check and balance his behavior. 

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