The last few months have not been good for liberal democracy around the world. And while we can almost understand that any form of democratic institution in Afghanistan is both fragile and, in many ways false, when we look at the other threats on the globe, it is here that worrying times are ahead
America, Hungary and Poland; Regardless of what their political systems are, all have western, capitalist and even democratic based lifestyles. In any of these countries, you buy an iPhone, get a coffee at a franchised outlet or buy a Maserati. You can travel from these countries to any destination around the world and you can even emigrate to find work without any recourse. On the face of it, all these countries look like great places to live.
But looking under the commercial carpet, you see a sinister set of plans that are clearly coming to fruition and all based on manipulation of the masses though fear, lies and nationalism. Fascist-lite, it may be, but unlike its predecessors in Germany and Italy of the 1930s, this modern version has a more sinister goal which is to exploit the population and make as much profit in as little time as possible. These modern fascists are not concerned about going to war with their neighbours. They are more interested in becoming rich and so influential that citizens will pay for their leadership. It started with evangelical ministers in the 1970s US and now has been honed into a political tactic, culminating in the rise of Trump and his money-making machine, which still purrs nicely along via donations to his movement to denounce the last Presidential election as a fraud.
And it’s no different in Hungary or Poland, both ruled by regimes who, in order to survive, must always have a bogeyman to fear. Be it the refugee, the lesbian couple or the foreigner trying to steal local businesses. In Hungary, the government under Viktor Orban has developed its tactics almost into a fine art. The consistent chipping away at Hungarian democracy though overnight votes in an already controlled parliament resulting in LGBTQ+ communities being portrayed as demons, determined to turn our Christian children gay with subtle books and videos.
While to the moderate person, this is preposterous when the government controls all of the media, it’s not too difficult to start influencing the public as if you were a right-wing Instagram celebrity. You only need to look at how people can fall for any sort of gimmick that someone on YouTube or Facebook is peddling, be it some miracle lotion or a get rich scheme. And it’s the governments of Hungary and Poland who are adopting these tactics – becoming populist influencers.
Poland is far more fundamentalist, pulling from the strong Catholic faith-led population and invoking times past when Poland was a defender of Christian values. Those values are now: fight the evil of promiscuity, abortion and same sex relationships. The current Polish regime, led by long term leader, Jarosław Kaczyński is using these so-called traditional values to do one thing and one thing only – stay in power and make as much personal profit as possible. As with Hungary, it is never about any of those values and it never will be. Each of the two regimes are on a mission to maintain control and will keep pushing until they have a situation where it is impossible to remove them.
America has a far more dangerous path to avoid, but as we go along, it is becoming more and more difficult to do so. The Republican Party, once a rich collection of moderate conservatives with a sprinkling of hard right believers has now become the opposite: filled to the brim with senators, governors and supporters who are determined to return to power and hold on to it by any means necessary. They have also chosen the same targets –LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants and foreigners; but they have also added some more: the black community and most worryingly, women. Only this month, the state of Texas all but banned abortion when it ruled that abortions can only happen within a six week period while denying rape or incest as reasons for termination. On top of that, the Texan administration not only turns a blind eye to a horrific set of actions that allow people to sue anyone who assists in the act of termination or indeed goes ahead with a termination; but actually rewards people for reporting acts that help women get abortions. This effectively means that it is open season on anyone who bears a grudge or simply wants to make a quick buck.
There is no moral goal here. It is simply an act by men in power to stay in power and prevent any other social group from taking it away from them. They have an agenda based on profit and influence, just like our friends in the Hungarian and Polish regimes. They use the tools of social media to sow distrust and division, in the hope of reaping as many believers as they can to donate to their righteous causes.
Many more examples of these types of attacks on democracy exist, and on the face of it; it looks like we are losing. We are now in the month of the twentieth anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers in New York, and while that danger has not gone away by any means, it is being joined by a danger from within our society. We can try to fight back and it can get bloody. But if Western society fears one thing, it is civil conflict because it not only is the most brutal type of conflict, it can also leave societies scarred for decades to come, some never fully recovering at all.
As bleak as it may seem, there is hope but it is fading quickly. We may not know it but it is happening in all democracies. Look on Facebook or Twitter and see this new crowd of fascists – empowered by anonymity while grouping with others and eventually taking to the streets to protest against masks or the vaccine. If they receive no challenge, soon it will be workers’ or even women’s rights, shouting for them to know their place or get back in the kitchen. And if you think this is ridiculous, how ridiculous would it have been to suggest that in 2021, the right to choose would be taken away in one of the largest states in the US?
Time is running out to protect the rights and values that have protected us until now. Those rights and values were fought hard for and we must not take them for granted, but stand up for them in any legal and dignified way we can. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Featured image by Lorie Shaull under CC licence.