How authoritarians, despots and 'autocrats' are prevailing all over the world: journalist

How authoritarians, despots and 'autocrats' are prevailing all over the world: journalist

Although the 20th Century had more than its share of human rights abuses — from communism in the Soviet Union, Maoist China and Cambodia to a long list of far-right fascist dictatorships in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa — it was also a century in which liberal democracy prevailed in many places that once had authoritarian rule. But during the 21st Century, far-right authoritarianism has been on the rise in many places that were democratic in the past, from Turkey to post-communist Hungary to the Philippines. Journalist Anne Applebaum takes an in-depth look at this trend in a disturbing essay recently published by The Atlantic.

Applebaum is not optimistic in her article. The journalist warns that authoritarians are winning in many countries, including Belarus — and she offers extensive analysis of Belarus' strongman president, Alexander Lukashenko. Applebaum, stresses, however, that the model of far-right authoritarianism one sees with Lukashenko differs from the fascist model of the 20th Century in that many of 2021's despots and tyrants pretend to favor voting rights in their countries when in reality, they don't.

"All of us have in our minds a cartoon image of what an autocratic state looks like," Applebaum explains. "There is a bad man at the top. He controls the police. The police threaten the people with violence. There are evil collaborators, and maybe some brave dissidents. But in the 21st Century, that cartoon bears little resemblance to reality. Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services — military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance — and professional propagandists."

Applebaum continues, "The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources — the troll farms that promote one dictator's propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another — and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America."

Indeed, the far-right authoritarians of 2021 — Russia's Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary's Viktor Orbán — do not enjoy dictator-for-life status in the way that Spain's Francisco "El Generalísimo" Franco or Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet did during the 20th Century. Franco seized control of Spain following the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and stayed in power until his death in 1975.

Technically, Erdogan or Orbán, in contrast, could be voted out of office. But as Applebaum explains, they have undermined the systems of checks and balances in their countries so much that voting them out of office is extremely difficult.

For that matter, MAGA Republicans — by undermining voting rights, trying to seize control of bipartisan election boards and making false claims of widespread voter fraud — have been trying to implement the Orbán/Putin/Lukashenko/Erdogan model in the United States. There's a reason why MAGA Republicans have such intense hatred for Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger even though all of them are right-wing conservatives: Cheney, Romney and Raffensperger, as right-wing and Ronald Reagan-inspired as they are, at least acknowledge President Joe Biden as the loyal opposition.

Applebaum concludes her article by warning that the Biden Administration needs to fight authoritarianism as aggressively as it can around the world — and that includes home-grown authoritarians in the U.S.

"If America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, then autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding, and ideas," Applebaum warns. "If Americans, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home; indeed, they are already here. If Americans don't help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity. They will continue to steal, blackmail, torture and intimidate inside their countries — and inside ours."

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