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Our View: Threat of authoritarianism is real

This week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who came to power in 2010 with his Fidesz Party, has taken over the

Orbán already has taken over Hungary’s judiciary and news media, refused immigrants from war-torn Syria, stoked anti-Semitism and hatred against LGBTQ people and stifled dissent of all kinds.

This is authoritarianism. And although Hungary is 5,750 miles from the United States, it is cause for great alarm. And it is part of a worldwide pattern of rising authoritarian regimes described by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum in her important book published last year, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.

Applebaum, a former longtime Washington Post columnist and now Atlantic staff writer, traces the right-wing radicalization of Poland, where she lives, over the last two decades.

Applebaum describes herself as “center-right,” aligned with the European Christian Democrats and the Republican Party of Sen. John McCain. She describes in frightening detail how, beginning in the late 1990s, Poland’s Law and Justice Party appealed to the authoritarian predisposition of that nation’s citizens. Many of her center-right friends and former colleagues defected to the new regime.

The political narrative sounds jarringly familiar: Law and Justice violated the Polish constitution by appointing new judges to the constitutional court; worked to pack the Polish Supreme Court; fired thousands of civil servants, replacing them with political appointees; wrecked cultural institutions; focused hate on LGBTQ people; and inflamed anti-Semitism. The events mirror what has been happening in Hungary, and to a certain extent, what happened in the U.S. under Donald Trump.

Applebaum is careful to explain that authoritarianism is not by definition liberal or conservative. Instead, it “appeals, simply, to people who cannot tolerate complexity … It is anti-pluralist. It is suspicious of people with different ideas. It is allergic to fierce debates.”

It is this “new right” in many countries, including the United States, that wants to “overthrow, bypass, or undermine existing institutions, to destroy what exists .... to promote chaos, as a prelude to imposing a new kind of order.” (A goal eerily similar to those of some Jan. 6 insurrectionists.) In that new order, “Polarization is normal .... [as are] attacks on the rule of law, on the press, on academia, and on mythical ‘elites.’ ”

Applebaum details how this same scenario is playing out in Hungary, Spain, France, Venezuela, Britain, and yes, in our own country.

She predicts that, “Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.” She avoids suggesting solutions, instead offering, “Because authoritarianisms divide, polarize, and separate people into warring camps, the fight against them requires new coalitions.”

The coalitions we in the U.S. form must, first and foremost, fight the rising tide of voter suppression.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, by April 1 of this year, 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions had been proposed in 47 states – and already passed in some.

Colorado, with its safe and efficient mail-balloting system, has only bills intended to expand voter access on its legislative docket. Yet it is important for us to support the federal For the People Act of 2021, which will expand voter access and ensure fairness in redistricting.

“We always knew, or should have known, that alternative visions of our nations would try to draw us in,” Applebaum concludes. “But maybe, picking our way through the darkness, we will find that together we can resist them.”