Can the U.S. slide into authoritarianism? Yes. But we can avoid it if we try.

Truly, together as the United States of America, we are better than this

August 24, 2022 10:27 am

A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

This commentary originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

By Jill Sunday Bartoli

If we think that, during the Holocaust, the Germans were just bad people who blindly followed a horrible dictator, and that nothing like that could ever happen in the United States, we should remind ourselves that:

When people feel hopeless and desperate — when they see no opportunity for a better future — they are willing to blindly follow even an immoral  leader who promises them a better life. Germany was in the throes of an economic depression when Hitler came to power by promising Germans a better life and more respect for their white Aryan heritage. We saw Nazi t-shirts and swastikas as we viewed in horror the Jan. 6 attack on our Capitol. Blind followers are willing to do violent things.


And if we think that we could never follow a dictator like Putin or Hitler, we need only look at some parallels:

Vladimir Putin’s big lie — that Ukraine and the West are responsible for the war — is no less absurd than Adolf Hitler’s big lie that Jewish people were the evil enemy stabbing them in the back, or Trump’s big lie that he won an election he lost. Putin and the past president are funded by billionaire donors whose goal is to maintain wealth and power in their hands. Hitler, Putin and former President Donald Trump weaponized conspiracy theories to gain public support for insurrection and war and to divide their people against each other.

More than half of our fellow citizens are living paycheck to paycheck, and many are in fear of a major expense that could pitch them into bankruptcy, eviction and homelessness.

The legislators who proposed doing something about economic inequality — supporting families with children, taxing billionaires and re-building a fair and just economy — were undermined by legislators who support the unequal status quo that they benefit from, and who blindly follow their leader, rather than those they are supposed to represent.

Are we better than this? You bet we are. But we have much work to do together to keep the promise of democracy and justice for all alive for our children and grandchildren.

While other countries look to the example of the United States as a shining example of democracy, we continue to elect legislators who do not represent us and who oppose the desperately needed changes we need for our citizens to have the opportunity to prosper and for our democracy to thrive.

Over the past six years our citizens have been, and continue to be, fed so many lies and encouraged to distrust anyone who challenges those lies, that it is nearly impossible for them to recognize or trust what is truthful, fair, and just.

Our children and grandchildren watch in horror as climate-fueled catastrophes spread across the country, as mass shootings merely result in more gun sales, as proposals for positive change meet a wall of “just say no” and as our nation’s wealth continues to flow to the wealthiest 1% while more U.S. families continue to struggle and fall farther behind.

Are we better than this? You bet we are. But we have much work to do together to keep the promise of democracy and justice for all alive for our children and grandchildren.

Can we do it?  Is it possible to begin to build a nation of opportunity for all?

I’ll give just one example.

There is a movement to get back to manufacturing things here in the United States, instead of looking for cheap labor abroad and importing what we could be making ourselves. Coupling this with clean energy that could slow down climate devastation, we could build locally grown, nonprofit solar panel factories in the the country instead of importing panels from overseas.

These factories — see — employ and train thousands of workers in the clean solar energy jobs of the future, and they are designed to be locally run and nonprofit rather than a profit-driven corporate model. So the community, rather than a distant corporation, reaps the economic benefits.

This is but one example of the many possibilities that our talented, creative, and innovative citizens can build together to create a fair and just economy that works for all of us. We can build together the kind of democracy that exemplifies our highest values and ideals so that our citizens find hope and possibilities together, and so they do not have to follow self-serving leaders who seek their own power and wealth with false promises.

Truly, together as the United States of America, we are better than this.

Jill Sunday Bartoli is an emerita professor of Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. Her work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s commentary page. 


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