Authoritarianism or Republican Self-Government?

I’ve been concerned about “the allure of authoritarianism” for quite some time now. Why do citizens who ostensibly live in a self-governing republic tolerate authoritarian attitudes and behaviors in their representatives and those hired to serve the public? Don’t they understand that authoritarianism is antithetical to democracy?

Is republican self-government even possible when we have representatives who don’t respect democratic values? Who refuse to engage in civil discourse with colleagues? Who malign the character, capacities, and intentions of those who disagree with them, either publicly or behind their back? Who don’t even pretend to put the common good ahead of self-interest, their desire to be reelected? Who seek vengeance against opponents for even the pettiest offences? Who think they are entitled to remain in office? Who think they get to pull the strings and draw the lines to control who gets elected, instead of letting the People decide?

Is it possible to have republican self-government when citizens don’t respect democratic values? When they tolerate (or even applaud) the anti-democratic behavior just described? When they allow fellow citizens to be mistreated, disrespected, or worse, as long as it doesn’t affect them? When they actually enjoy identifying with aggressors to the point of relishing the mistreatment of others? When they are willing to betray their own values as long as they can bask in the glow of power, as long as they have access?

As Ben Franklin famously noted, we have a republic, only if we can keep it. We cannot keep it, if we continue to tolerate an authoritarian disposition in our public servants and in ourselves.

Sadly, we currently see the allure of authoritarianism on the Right, as Donald Trump gains support acting like a quasi-fascist strongman. I am stunned that he has support among the white working class. I guess some think his massive police state will create good jobs.

Trump clearly gets the racist vote, but he also gains support from people who like that he’s not a typical politician. Even though he exemplifies incivility, they see him as a straight talker who can’t be bought and sold.

Luckily, Trump is not the only option for people who are fed-up with the state of politics in this country. Bernie Sanders is also a straight talker who can’t be bought and sold, but unlike Trump, he respects democratic values, civil discourse, and the dignity other people. Indeed, his supporters include many folks who have previously opted out of the political process because they are disgusted by politicians and party operatives who behave in ways no normal person would recognize as decent.

We are at a critical moment in our democratic society. We the People need to rise up, take our country back, prove we still have a republic, and that we want to keep it.

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