Despite jealous crowing by the American political establishment over China’s lack of respect for civil rights, most critics have to admire how the country has raised hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, become a wealthy financier nation, built strong economic and political partnerships in Africa, and is quickly becoming a leader in technology.
Chinese authorities have paid no attention to the carping from the United States, dismissing it as sour grapes from a country envious of China’s rapid growth, international influence, and ability to effectively neutralize those separatist movements which threaten national integrity. Only with a stable, disciplined, Confucian, and orderly populace, Chinese leaders say, can the country continue its impressive economic and political success and regain the greatness of its former dynastic empires.
Russia is another target for American politicians who hammer Vladimir Putin for everything from imperialist hegemonic ambitions to homophobia. Yet most other observers have to admire the way the Russian President has acted with impunity in Ukraine and the Crimea, engaged the Syrian regime as an ally against radical Islamic extremism, flexed its renewed military muscle with no fear of the United States, and used its vast energy reserves as a political tool if not weapon.
Putin has approval ratings that any Western politician can only dream of. He has understood the resentment of the Russian people for the humiliation by the West after the fall of the Soviet Union, the arrogance of NATO pushing its borders farther and farther east in a direct challenge to a still-weak Russia, and a nostalgia for the greatness of Imperial Russia and yes, the Soviet Empire.
Authoritarianism is no vice, he implies, when it is employed to united a nation in a common cause.
Religious authoritarianism is quickly replacing both secular autocratic rule and the last vestiges of liberal democracy in the Middle East. Although many in the region are dismayed by ISIS’ brutal tactics, still more applaud its commitment to the expansion of Muslim influence and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.
In such a Caliphate Islam would provide the moral foundation, the system of law, the social code, and the rules of governance. Secular authority is meaningless, say Muslim fundamentalists, compared to the supreme authority of God. Submission and surrender to Allah is one of the principles of Islam and the origin of its name; so an authoritarian theocracy in which the rule of God rules above all is not shocking or even surprising.
Right wing parties are ascendant in Europe largely because of the waves of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Africa. European countries unused to the assimilative nature of countries like the United States and Great Britain feel a multi-faceted threat – foreigners, people of color, Arabic-speaking, and non-Christian. They might be able to deal with new immigrants if only one of these factors existed, but all of them? For all the initial outpouring of generosity and mercy, a strong backlash against refugees is occurring and with it the rise of conservative, nationalist parties who promise a return to civil order, civic harmony, and traditional Christian values. Their policies would be authoritarian and decisive.
France which has long championed laïcité and the principle that ‘We are all French’, and that ethnic, religious, or racial distinctions will never be recognized or even acknowledged because championing such distinctions will only lead to the erosion of secular harmony.
However, after the riots in the northern suburbs ten years ago and especially after the terrorist attacks in Paris within the last year, France has moved from its racial and ethnic ‘neutrality’ and realized that it must identify, name, and challenge the enemy even if it means abandoning old and cherished principles of secularism. The Rightist parties of France have never been stronger, and their leaders promise authority, discipline, a return to absolute secularism, and civil order.
Brazil is the latest country to wish for a return to a more strict authoritarian rule. Despite the brutality of the military during its reign from 1964-85, many Brazilians look back to that era with nostalgia. Current-day Brazil seems without governance with charges of corruption reaching from the top to the bottom of public authority. Disparities in wealth and social privilege are extreme. The favelas are breeding grounds for violent crime, and paramilitary extra-judicial raids are routine. Although the country prides itself on racial integration and points to the palette of skin colors in Brazil, it is still racially segregated and exclusionary. It is no wonder that Brazilians want a return to a simpler, more civil age.
Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative member of Brazil’s National Congress has explained this nostalgia:
Authoritarian nostalgia now seems to be a trend. Mr. Bolsonaro says that what Brazilian people miss most are the moral values of the military: “There was decency and respect for the family. Things today are disgraceful,” he said in an interview with a news website… (Vanessa Barbara, NYT 5.2.16)The United States, despite its long history of the peaceful integration and easy social elision of foreigners from Europe, Africa, and Asia, and its fifty year history of undoing the wrongs of slavery, shows signs of futility, exasperation, and frustration with the extreme divisiveness in the country today. Everyone has a gripe, many people say, and rather than find ways to join the mainstream quietly and purposefully as generations of Americans have done before them, minority groups of all kinds want separatism and recompense for their perceived oppression.
The political Left has been complicit if not directly responsible for this civil chaos. In arguing for ‘diversity’ and ‘celebrating’ ethnic, sexual, and racial identity above, beyond, and distinct from ‘American’, they have encouraged the aggressive airing of grievances. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and ethnic bigotry are such serious offenses that there is no room for compromise nor any opening for negotiated settlement. This political Left is also responsible for the political correctness which is prevalent everywhere. Not only do minority groups have special rights, but no member of the majority should ever question their legitimacy.
It is no wonder, therefore, that during this presidential election (2016) that Donald Trump has won over tens of millions of Republican voters. He is brazenly outspoken and refuses to capitulate to progressive criticism and demands. It is time to take the gloves off, raise the curtain on the real drama, dispel the cant and ceremonious sanctimony of the Left and return America to a more stable, culturally homogeneous country.
A Trump presidency would indeed be authoritarian within the limits of a constitutional democracy. He would be absolute and unequivocal in his desire to restore respect for the majority, return to equal opportunity and reject entitlement; shake the foundations of the now arrogantly ex cathedra Supreme Court and help to restore an electoral democracy; acknowledge the principle, premier role that religion continues to play in America and refuse to give in to secularism; and draw convincing lines in the sand in foreign affairs and never vacillate or compromise when it comes to American interests.
At this point (May 2016) it is difficult to predict the outcome of the election; and impossible to know how committed Americans are to turning back the progressive tide. Given the revolutionary nature of Trump’s policies (even more revolutionary than Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan), it may be that those who have shouted hurrahs at his campaign rallies and voted for him in the primaries may get cold feet in November and opt for the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, the resentment expressed by Trump and his supporters may be almost as angrily felt by Democrats who feel they have hewed for far too long to a faded liberal dream.
In any case liberal democracy is being challenged from all quarters. Few people believe that it is the political system for all or, as Churchill stated, “The worst political system in the world….except for all others”. It is wrong to view liberal democracy as permanent, universal, and God-given. It is, like everything else, only a temporary blip in world history.
American exceptionalism is dead; and American national myths are showing their age. The world is changing and changing fast, and it seems that only America doesn’t get it.