A Cautionary Tale in Democracy


Photo Courtesy of Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

The iconic U.S Capitol has long been a symbol of democracy both in the U.S and other countries, but autocracy endangers the values this building represents.

Laura Slater, Staffer

For the past two decades or so, the far right has seemed to have sunk into the woodwork. In the last few years though, the appearance of political figures and the eruption of right wing movements seem to be a trend not only in the U.S., but around the world.

The 2016 election of Donald Trump was significant for many reasons, but notably for the rise of far right dialogue after – events like 2017’s Charlottesville white nationalist riots, and other, similar rallies around the U.S. White supremacist groups and ultra-right wing advocates seemed to suddenly rise up with websites, YouTube channels, and social media. They’ve been here all along, but the election of Trump seemed to embolden them. It’s been years since America has experienced aggression this bold, and we aren’t alone.

Brazil has just elected a president who seems to parallel Trump. 49 countries in the world are considered “not free,” including China, Russia, Turkey, Thailand, Cuba, Venezuela, and Egypt, to name a few. Still more countries are on edge, considered “partly free” – even ones as close to home as Mexico. “Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets -including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world,” according to the annual Freedom in the World report.

In comparison, America is nothing like these countries, at least on the surface. It’s true, white supremacist rallies are really mild in comparison to an actual dictatorship, but as Venezuelan journalist Luz Mely Reyes said, “Democracy is very easily lost.”

Today, America’s democracy is intact and functioning, but the patterns around the world are disturbing. In many of the countries now considered to not be free, the leader came to power as a president-elect. In Venezuela, the President rewrote the Constitution, and banned the main opposition party. In the Philippines, the elected president has become and authoritarian, and freedom of the press is under direct assault. It is easy to say that this would never happen in America, and that Trump or any other could never become a dictator, but it’s essential to understand that many of these countries began as democracies just like ours. We ignore Trump’s quips about changing the Constitution and frightening white supremacist rallies that we think will amount to nothing, but democracy is not guaranteed, if these countries are any indication, and we should take that to heart as a cautionary tale.