The Attack on American Politics

ABOUT Jim Phelps

Jim Phelps



When someone with authoritarian instincts and impulses enters any political scene, there are few major ways to stop them. First, there's preventing them from getting into power. Demagogues are a dime a dozen. They are harmless if nobody listens to them. Most would-be demagogues and despots just scream into the wind, because their dangerous fantasies are never married to real power. Second, the political system can block a would-be demagogue in power from becoming a despot. When an autocrat seizes power in a place such as those that lack the enough democratic political infrastructure and there aren't enough checks and balances in place to stop them. However, in many countries including The United States, robust political institutions are in place that were conceived and established to divide power. I those institutions fail, the final roadblock to despots is the people. American approach to checks and balances are not imbued with magical powers--they are as strong as those who deploy them when the the US democracy is under attack. The US institutions and those who are in charge of dividing power are not the last stand to protect our democracy unlike so many scholars argue, not institutions nor ink on documents, protect democracy and our way of life. Still , American democracy is resilient. The democratic institutions and democratic beliefs of the people are a serious bulwark against any effort to advance authoritarianism. Democracy in the United States will not fade easily. Well-established democracies like that of the US don't die with a bang; that's a fact; however democracy in its very essence is fragile. Like a sandcastle, it takes a long time to build and longer to perfect and can be washed away with a single powerful wave. Thankfully, those powerful waves are unlikely to happen in the United States. But democracy can also be eroded gradually; Most of the main pillars and components upon which democracy stands firm--the press, voting rights and respect and integrity of individual citizens as well as independent institutions goes under attack. Throughout the course of past few years, I have interviewed hundreds upon hundreds of people on the front lines of the global battle for democracy--in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and beyond that. Living in these countries for extended periods was a crash course in the tactics and methods of despots. I saw how they manipulate the truth, using lies as tools of control. I saw how despots abuse or destroy the press, silencing any independent sources of information that could undercut their lies. I saw how despots jail their opponents and pardon their allies. I saw how despots scheme to rig elections to ensure their own victories. I saw how despots scapegoat unpopular minorities, deflecting blame for their own failures. I saw how despots reward their families and friends. They politicize institutions that dare challenge them, turning popular anger toward the increasingly rare voices of dissent from within their regime. They whip their supporters into a rally-around-the flag frenzy of misplaced patriotism, wrongly equating people who oppose the government with people who oppose the nation. There are now rumblings of these tactics in America.