We may find ourselves as subjects, not citizens


Over the years as a student and teacher of history and political science, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live under a dictatorship. My experience and knowledge in such a situation had been academic.

I know from studies that incipient dictators admire current authoritarian regimes.

They learn that some of the useful strategies for accomplishing an actual dictatorship is to get elected to an office by insulting and dehumanizing their political opponent(s); and claiming that certain religions, ethnic groups and political opponents are generally inferior to and generally dangerous to the welfare of the community as the potential dictators define the community.

Further, such individuals claim that their political opponents ought to be imprisoned or, in the worst case, executed.

Such potential dictators appeal to a portion of the population who feel left out or disenfranchised.

These authoritarians also claim that portions of the media are misrepresenting or outright lying about the news.

Such situations can occur when the pace of technological and social change is so rapid that many feel that they have lost any chance for advancement or find themselves falling further and further behind either economically or culturally.

This feeling can only get worse when the perceived economic and social disparity between groups becomes so great that many lose hope of ever achieving whatever they believe they have lost.

While there is often a stated ideological basis for the proposals of the potential dictators, these individuals usually simply desire naked unregulated power for themselves and their allies.

Such a situation appears to be happening in our nation today. As a result, many individuals and groups are tempted to respond to demagogic appeals from the authoritarians who promise to change things for the disgruntled and alienated at the expense of the so-called enemies the potential dictators claim are causing all the problems.

In the United States today it appears to me that we have the potential for such a dangerous situation. The nation approaches a degree of political and social polarization that I haven’t encountered in my lifetime, including the protests during the Vietnam War and the events of Watergate.

In order for a civil society to exist, if we choose to live in such a society, we all need to resist and denounce appeals to racism and fanaticism and use the processes provided by our Constitution and laws as well as our willingness to treat each other with the dignity and respect we all deserve as humans.

Otherwise, we may very well find ourselves living in a nation of subjects, not citizens.

George Westergaard


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