Democrats Should Worry About Their Own Authoritarianism

Democrats Should Worry About Their Own Authoritarianism

Stop the pearl-clutching. The Left is just as likely to embrace illiberalism to get what it wants
David Harsanyi
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On Sunday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Bernie Sanders whether he was intentionally downplaying his Jewish heritage. The socialist candidate, demonstrating just how much he cherishes faith, immediately politicized the topic:

Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Like Bernie, I grew up in a family with Holocaust victims. And since we’re on the subject, some of them were also survivors of oppressive collectivist economies.  Sanders, who honeymooned in the worker’s paradise of Yaroslavl in the 1980s, may have more personal insight into this misery than I.  But if we’re going to panic about looming despotism, it’s only fair to point out that Sanders has much in common with Stalin as Donald Trump—who is less popular among Republicans than Bernie is among Democrats—has with Adolph Hitler. His class warfare and anti-capitalist rhetoric is often indistinguishable from conventional Marxist hokum.

At this point, Hillary “Let’s topple the wealthy” Clinton’s watery progressivism isn’t far behind.

Does Jewish heritage make a person more cognizant of such crazy, radical, and extremist politics? Perhaps. Certainly, anti-Semitism—and Marx was a heavyweight—is often a precursor of authoritarianism. Yet not once have I heard or read Sanders push back against the rising of anti-Semitism within the progressive movement—which is flourishing, not on the Twitter fringe, but in the heart of American college campuses. For that matter, neither has “progressive”  Clinton, who was part of an administration that coddled the BDS movement and helped create a nuclear Iran.

Both of these Democrats traveled to Harlem to have a sit down with anti-Semitic mob-inciter (and Trump pal) Al Sharpton. To me, and I suspect many others, he’s no better than David Duke.

So Bill Maher, Louis C.K., or “Saturday Night Live” can all equate today’s political environment to the German 1930s—an ridiculous overstatement—because they’re comedians using rhetorical excesses. (Oh, how brave they are, right?) But if Trump’s rise deserves this kind of sort of ominous warning, others do as well.

At Vox the other day, Amanda Taub took an entire chilling deep dive into the rise of “authoritarianism” without once mentioning the socialist Left. Yet, using the benchmarks of authoritarianism—strong centralized power and limited political freedoms—we can just as easily describe the modern Democratic Party’s agenda as we can Trumpism. Almost every policy position of the contemporary Left relies on some form of state coercion, mostly through Washington. It’s only relativism that blinds people to this fact.

After offering its distorted view of conservatism, for example, the Vox piece contends: “Democrats, by contrast, have positioned themselves as the party of civil rights, equality, and social progress …”

Social progress? Guess what? Authoritarians can be legitimately concerned about the condition of people. They can worry about income equality and “social progress” (ask Woodrow Wilson or FDR) and they can be popular with the citizenry (ask Mussolini and Putin.) In the book “Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America,” for instance, John Patrick Diggins writes (emphasis mine):

In general, and with some variation in emphasis, both the Republican and Democratic administrations accepted these assumptions: that Mussolini was generating economic and social progress; that although a dictator he enjoyed the overwhelming support of the people.

Democrats refuse to accept that this is not only a debate about what “progress” looks like (which is often subjective) but whether how you achieve “progress” matters. This is why progressives aren’t offended when the state forces the Little Sisters of the Poor to buy birth control or a virtual mob descends on a pizza shop that fails to adhere to the Left’s moral directives or a president demands “economic patriotism” from citizens. These events please liberals in much the same way Trump’s agenda will please others.

We would never have to worry about a fascist presidency if we hadn’t degraded the process.  So, needless to say, I had to blink heavily when reading a Christopher Hayes tweet that said:

In all seriousness, functioning democracies rely more on norms than laws and those norms are being degraded with terrifying abandon.

Liberals have spent years decimating norms of discourse. Pushing through a generational reform bill without half the country participating degrades the norms of democracy. When they lost Congress over this abuse, not only did they accuse Republicans of standing against the American people (even though the GOP kept expanding its majority) but said their position comprised nothing more than racism. Conservatives were no longer political opposition, they’re people who hate decency, democracy, the poor, the black, the infirm, America, and the system. As this thinking coagulated on the mainstream Left, Democrats had the moral justification to do what they liked.

Pushing through a generational reform bill without half the country participating degrades the norms of democracy.

Nearly the entire Obama presidency has been an exercise in figuring out ways to work around checks and balancesUnilaterally changing the status of millions of illegal immigrants because you can’t achieve your political goals may strike you as morally sound, but it oversteps any conception of executive power found in the Constitution. If you’re a fan of that executive action, you aren’t nervous about authoritarianism, you’re worried about how Trump would use it.

If you support a candidate like Hillary, who pushed the administration to get involved in the Libyan war without congressional approval, you’ll have little moral standing to be upset when Trump bombs people to “take their oil.” If you believe Obama has the right to assassinate suspected terrorists abroad without a trial, you have less authority to be upset when Trump threatens those associated with terrorists.

If you’re nervous about Trump’s plans to “open up” U.S. libel laws to punish journalists who unfairly attack him, I definitely join you. Unlike some people, I’ve never supported Fairness Doctrines. It’s unlikely this effort could get past the Supreme Court. Then again, consider how the First Amendment has being degraded—at every campaign stop and every speech, in fact—by Democrats who promise to undo a Supreme Court decision that bars government from dictating what people can hear, see, and read during elections.

Democrats would be a lot more believable on Trump’s rise if they hadn’t succumbed to the cult of personality in 2008.

Overturning Citizens United would allow the state in certain instances to control political books and movies—like the one that was critical of Hillary.  Democrats believe Americans can be bought off with an ad buy and some flyers. The progressive Left, once home of free-speech absolutism, is now home to safe spaces, microaggressions, IRS oversight of speech, and Justice Councils ferreting out thought crimes.

Democrats would be a lot more believable on Trump’s rise if they hadn’t succumbed to the cult of personality in 2008, which was no less creepy. The attacks on dissent, the chilling of speech (remember the White House’s efforts to collect “fishy” comments from dissenters; one could easily imagine Trump setting up the same thing of system), and the accusation of unpatriotic behavior were all unhealthy for a free society. Yes, Americans are increasingly willing to accept extraconstitutional government if it accomplishes the things they desire. That includes Democrats.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

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