Editor’s note: Added opinion disclaimer at the end of the article. We will continue to add this disclaimer to all following opinion pieces.
What if the United States became an autocratic state? Given recent political upheaval, the ability to see past political deception is critical. Rising scholars, particularly younger adults, find themselves in a confusing political environment — one that is fraught with misinformation, online extremism and general dislike for bureaucracy. In addition to trustworthy information, recognizing the stepping stones to authoritarian systems is key to the prevention of autocrats.
Political Thought Experiment
Conjure an image of an autocrat: the figurehead of an authoritarian government that holds all the power, according to Cornell Law School. The potential threat of assassination and struggle to maintain power would necessitate a degree of paranoia among members of the ruling party and its leader. The depth to which the regime would go to maintain power would be unprecedented and harken back to the banana republics of Latin America and the labor camps of North Korea. These thoughts ought to be disturbing. The question is, how can this be prevented? A more in-depth question would be: what is the turning point leading to the responsible regime? Perhaps what we should look for is a political transition.
Mike Duncan, author and podcaster at VICE News, commented on a similar topic and warns of a transition from “a representative democracy to a presidential autocracy.” Contemporary parallels would include but are not limited to Russia, China and potentially Venezuela. They consist of presidents with limitless terms upheld by rigged elections and a cult of personality. The leader is elevated to an almost demigod status. In a sense, there is a transfiguration of government. It’s not just that the government replaces God — instead, it becomes God.
Given this information, maybe what the citizenry ought to focus on is the danger posed by charismatic agitators — leaders who can play into the resentment of their party. Hollywood civil wars may not be an accurate representation of what countries like the United States are susceptible to.
The American system could be forced into a state of chaos if rule of law, sanctity of government entities and American political discourse are threatened. We should be aware of politicians gaining power while claiming to be the only solution to a divided government; they could abuse the democratic system to establish themselves as an autocrat.
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