By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
In discussions involving private citizens and politicians, there is one sentiment that is widely heard: people do not like him. I have heard more than one person say that he or she hates this president.
But there is also another sentiment that is operative: fear. People are afraid to confront him and challenge him, even at the risk of losing our democracy as we have known it. They are afraid of him, they say, not because of him, but because of his voters. More than anything, they want to be politicians, even as the definition of being a politician is changing right before their and our eyes, according to a CNN report.
It has been a surprise to me that many people who love being American do not like or respect democracy. Some pundits surmise that many people love this president and will not challenge him because he is helping them to achieve their goal of crushing democracy, as stated by Salon.com.
According to Plato, the driving force behind democracy is a desire for freedom, as noted by Qz.com. But making freedom work in a government requires strong leaders, Plato says, and strong leaders can often become tyrants.
The saving grace of America’s democracy has been its three supposedly co-equal branches of government, but that system appears to be failing under the thumb of this president, and many in the GOP are silently watching it happen.
They are afraid of losing their next bid for election. They are afraid of “the base” which seems to kiss the ground upon which this president walks. They are being guided by their fear, a fact that could very well lead to the fall of the government they say they want to represent.
In their book, How Democracies Die, authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Zieblatt lay out the means that leaders intent on becoming dictators take in order to achieve and keep power. They co-opt the judicial and law enforcement agencies. They likewise co-op the courts, packing the courts with judges who will support them and getting rid of judges – by any means necessary – who will prove to be gnats in the ointment they are making in order to have complete control of the government. They co-opt the media by finding means to shut them down, and they go after wealthy people who dare challenge them.
The book gives explicit examples of all of this.
Not surprisingly, but also not something we often talk about, this country has been in a struggle like this before. It was after Reconstruction, where there emerged an “authoritarian, one-party regime” in “every post-Confederate state,” say Zieblatt and Levitsky. White Southerners, enraged at the freedom given to Black people after the Civil War, went to work to undo the gains that had been made. The right of Black people to vote tipped the balance of power away from white supremacy toward real democracy, for the first time since the founding of the country. Those in power changed the rules, disenfranchised Black people, and kept an authoritarian southern regime in power for at least 100 years.
Politicians and preachers operated in fear back then, just as they are acting in fear now. To oppose the work being done in the late 19th, early 20th century meant that one put oneself in danger of losing his office or his church, and certain lose his status and respect among fellow Southerners. To oppose and challenge this president today means much the same. He has been successful in riling up the raw anger of his supporters, which means not only that the politicians who oppose him could lose their seats, but this nation could also be thrust into a cycle of violence caused by the emotions this president is stirring.
What is being done is being done in spite of the law and the constitution; Zieblatt and Levitsky say that such a course of action is common, so that people will not see – until it is too late – that what has been touted as being legal and constitutional has been so only marginally. By the time people realize what has happened, it is too late. The democracy has been compromised; fear of the tyrant-leader has produced its desired effect.
That this country is in an international crisis – created by this president – means that seeds of fear that have been planted will grow and more will be planted. Fear is the enemy of democracy; it is the opposite of love, and it is the single most damaging emotion that traps people and governments in bad places. This crisis will be an opportunity for this president to continue watering the garden he is planted, and because so many fear what he will do to them, they will remain silent.
The question is, “can this progression toward authoritarianism be stopped?” Only if we trample the fear. Surely this is the time for people to act upon the words of scripture which say “greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.” If ever there was a time to live the words of scripture we say we love, it is now.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.