Authoritarian Democracy: A Disturbing Trend Around the World

The rise of authoritarian democracy in democratic republics around the world represents a challenge to those who believe in a peaceful, law driven world and to those who care about human rights.

Authoritarian democracy exists within the framework of democratic systems. However, the party in power uses the power they earned in elections to muzzle dissent in various ways. President Donald Trump in America, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Narendra Modi in India, Recep Erdogan in Turkey and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines all embrace certain ideas that define authoritarian democracy. Trump attacks the media (a critical institution in a democratic society) peddles conspiracy theories, praises autocrats like Putin and encourages our country to scapegoat Muslims, minorities and outsiders. There are similar trends in smaller countries like Hungary, South Africa and Venezuela.

The politics of Putin, Modi, Erdogan and Duterte converge in different ways even though their countries differ in so many ways.  All politicize opponents. In Modi’s India, it is not uncommon for politicians to bring legal cases against opponents; similarly, and during the last election cycle Trump threated to jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton. All of these leaders use the law to muzzle media that does not sing their praises. Modi has conducted tax audits of media organizations critical of his rule. Such actions keep the audited organizations under scrutiny and undermine them in the eyes of the public. During the election, Trump threatened to bring a Federal Trade Commission suit against in retaliation for the coverage that the Washington Post, owned by, gave his campaign. In Russia, there is the suggestion that Putin has murdered journalists. Duterte has killed drug dealers and users without due process. It is worth noting that Trump has not trampled on the judicial process as much as these other leaders.

Leaders of authoritarian democracy movements also use libel laws to discredit critics. During his campaign for the presidency, Trump threatened libel suits against women who claimed he had sexually assaulted them. Another tactic used by these leaders is undercutting traditionally non-partisan government institutions. In Turkey, Erdogan replaced huge numbers of civil servants with loyalists after an attempted coup. Under Modi, India replaced the leader of the country’s reserve bank after he expressed concern about the rising intolerance in the country.

All of these leaders remain silent in the face of violence. In India, Modi has remained silent while Muslims have been attacked in the name of Hindu ideology. In the United States, there has been an increase in hate crimes against women, minorities and Muslims in keeping with the rise of Trump. The central thrust behind these movements is the use of power to intimidate and discredit the opposition, even though the opposition isn’t outlawed outright.

Democratic-republics thrive on dissent, a free media, civil liberties, a nonpartisan civil service and tolerance of differences of opinion. These are all defined as human rights by advocates of the concept and therefore these movements toward authoritarianism in democratic-republics constitute a threat to human rights.

Authoritarian democratic movements also are typically defined by an excessive nationalism. Putin, Erdogan, Trump, Duterte all have groups they do not consider to be a part of their version of their respective nations. Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants, Modi’s promotion of Hindu nationalism (excluding other religions), and Putin’s demands that Muslims conform to Russian culture (even though there have been Muslim in Russia for years) are all examples of exclusion. The list of people not to be trusted extends to the peoples and governments of other countries. Trump’s rhetoric on trading partners, our Mexican neighbors, Europe and China are an example of authoritarian democracy’s hostility to the outside world. Leaders of authoritarian democracies, who have little trust in much beyond their own borders, are unlikely to participate in arms control agreements. Since Trump was sworn in, he has directed criticism at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for not spending enough on the military. In response, some NATO members upped their defense budgets, but Trump has not responded by suggesting that the U.SA. could now spend less. He has responded by the biggest peacetime defense buildup in the history of the republic. The result is that the world as a whole is now spending more on arms.

The rise of authoritarian democracy means the rise of a more armed and less peaceful world. Fortunately, there is resistance to these movements in every country. Curtailing the thirst for power by authoritarian politicians is important to the cause of peace.

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