We’ve been warned! Authoritarianism can happen here

May 5, 2022 6:00 am

Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning after a rally on April 21, 2018, in Draketown, Georgia. (Photo by Spencer Platt | Getty Images)

The other day, I went to the Great Hall at the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union to listen to a lecture about our democracy at risk.

It was given by NYU history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.”

You may have seen her on MSNBC or CNN. She really knows her stuff.

And after listening to her, all I got to say is, we’ve been warned. “It can happen here,” she insisted. 

We are facing, in her words, a “civic emergency,” and if we don’t rally to defeat the anti-democracy movement, led by Trump, we can quickly descend into authoritarianism.

But we shouldn’t lose hope, she said, adding that we should give ourselves credit for turning Trump out of office.

“We did something amazing and unusual,” she said. “We voted out Trump in the midst of an autocratic capture. We interrupted this, so hang on to the power of what we did.”

She had some specific advice for how to proceed.

First, she said, we need to “build a pro-democracy movement in the streets and in the suites.”

Second, she said, it’s crucial for us to “unite the opposition” against authoritarianism, and she argued that rallying around a progressive alternative, rather than a moderate one, is the best approach.

Third, as for those who don’t agree with us and are tempted by authoritarianism: “Cutting people off is the wrong thing to do,” she said. “It drives them further into their silos.” Better, she said, to “leave the door open for them to come back.”

Above all, she said, we need to have “civic faith,” and uphold our love of freedom and our love of multi-racial democracy.

If we do all that, she said, we’ll defeat this anti-democracy movement in this delicate moment.


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Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild

Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign at the start of 2015, Matt worked at The Progressive magazine for 32 years. For most of those, he was the editor and publisher of The Progressive.