Democratic Values and Fighting Against Authoritarism

In the past few years, there has been a rise in authoritarian leaders around the world. Many people are looking to greater stability and order as ordinary people struggle to keep up with rising housing prices and longer work hours, their economies gear most of the economic benefits to a smaller portion of the wealthy, and drugs and crime and suicide rates afflict those left behind. Many democratic governments have struggled to cope with the problems brought on by the changing world economies. So many people are willing to give authoritarian figures a chance to solve those problems. This is a big mistake. In spite of its faults, democratic governments in the long run are better than authoritarian governments in bringing about a more just and stable society..

History has shown that authoritarian governments (whether they be right wing or left wing totalitarian governments) always do great damage to their countries. The people that turn to authoritarian leaders are often desperate due to economic chaos, rising crime and ineffective governments in their countries. In the 1930s,for instance, the Nazi Party were elected to a majority of the German Reichstag because the German people were tired of the economic chaos of the 1920s due to the harsh Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression. General Augusto Pinochet led a military junta to take advantage of a time of economic crisis, union strikes and other domestic unrest.

At first, authoritarian leaders may bring temporary stability as they use extrajudicial killings and other security measures to bring down crime and stifle dissent. But as the regime consolidates power, more and more of the people’s civil liberties erode as the authoritarian government tries to force people to agree 100% with their views.

All people deserve to live in a safe environment where they can have a stable job and they don’t have to worry about being a victim of crime. But when people turn to authoritarian leaders in hopes of gaining more stability and order, they don’t see that the cost is the giving up of more and more of their freedoms. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Power corrupts. As authoritarian governments begin to consolidate more power, they demonize those who disagree with them, they scapegoat vulnerable minority groups who can’t defend themselves, they enforce ever more stringent security measures to maintain control. A brain drain of some of the brightest artists, scientists, writers, academics, business people and intellectuals begin leaving the country to escape the oppression and the enforced groupthink.

Without checks to their power, authoritarian governments are capable of great crimes against humanity: the cruel treatment of people occupied by the Imperial Japanese military during World War II; the Holocaust in Nazi Germany; Stalin’s purges and mass executions; the “disappeared” in Franco’s Spain and Pinochet’s Chile; the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s China; the Killing Fields in Cambodia; the death squads in Latin America in the 1980s; Martial Law in Marcos’ Philippines.

As an artist, I’ve become very interested in how artists and writers resist authoritarian governments. Many artists get persecuted by the authoritarian leader and their followers as the artist produces art that is critical of the authoritarian. When their families and friends get threatened, often the artists have to leave their countries for safety’s sake. But if an artist or writer gains enough fame and wins awards, like Anti-Apartheid novelist Nadine Gordimer in Apartheid South Africa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Soviet Union, Václav Havel in communist Czechoslovakia, Kathe Kollwitz and Pablo Picasso in Nazi Europe, or Ai Weiwei in China, their fame protects them from the worst forms of persecution though they are still harassed.

If you believe in democratic values, you have to fight for the rights of people you disagree with as much as the rights of people you agree with. In a healthy democratic republic, progressives, moderates and conservatives debate their ideas, they compromise and find common ground when the debate reaches an impasse, and they forge solutions to issues facing the nation. A democracy is premised on the idea that no one side or ideology has a monopoly on truth. Progressives, moderates, conservatives, democratic socialists, libertarians are all right some of the time and they’re all wrong some of the time. The freedom of speech is important to allow these diverse voices to bring their perspectives to the national debate and to act as checks to each other’s worst impulses.

The great danger that I see in a Tucker Carlson or a Rush Limbaugh or any far Right or Far Left commentator is that they teach their listeners to disdain anyone who has differing views and to not listen and try to understand differing perspectives. When you stop listening to differing perspectives and you see those whom you disagree with as the enemy, it breaks down dialogue and constructive political discourse. Democracies cannot function properly in this hyper-partisan climate. It’s important, as anti-Trump conservative Jeff Flake once said, to see our ideological opponents as competing friends rather than as intractable enemies.

If you believe in democratic values, you have to fight authoritarian governments while you still have your freedoms. If you believe in democratic values, you have to fight for those vulnerable minority groups that may be scapegoated by authoritarian leaders or demagogues. If you don’t speak out now while you still have your freedoms, those freedoms may be lost.

German Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a poem about his experience watching the gradual erosion of freedom in Nazi Germany:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Angelo Lopez has had illustrations published in Tikkun Magazine, the Palo Alto Daily News and Z Magazine. From April 2008 to May 2011, Angelo's cartoons were regularly published in the Tri-City Voice, a weekly newspaper that covers the Fremont, Hayward, Milpitas, Neward, Sunol and Union City areas in California. He did a political webcomic starring his cartoon character Jasper for the progressive blogsite Everyday Citizen. Since December 2011, Angelo does a regular weekly political cartoon for the Philippine News Today, a Filipino American newspaper based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Angelo is a member of the Sunnyvale Art Club, and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. During the 1990s, he was a member of the part-timer workers SEIU unit in the city of Sunnyvale. Angelo won the 2013, 2015 and 2016 and 2018 Sigma Delta Chi award for editorial cartooning for newspapers with a circulation under 100,000. He has also won the 2016 RFK Book and Journalism Award for Editorial Cartoons. Angelo won first prize for the Best of the West contest in 2016 and third prize in 2017. Angelo is married to Lisa Reeber. They enjoy taking walks, watching movies and hanging out with their nieces.
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