Why democracy loves authoritarianism

Democracy is small beer where dictators are concerned. Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch was meant to overthrow the Weimar Republic.

Published: 17th January 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2021 10:22 AM   |  A+A-

Crumbling democracy

For representational purposes. (Illustration | Amit Bandre)

Democracy is small beer where dictators are concerned. Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch was meant to overthrow the Weimar Republic. On November 8, 1923, he and hundreds of his followers marched into the Bürgerbräukeller, one of Munich’s largest beer halls, to kidnap the Commissioner of Bavaria. It failed in its purpose but was a symbolic triumph that led to eventual victory.

Ever since he lost the elections, outgoing US President Donald Trump has filed over 80 lawsuits to overturn the results. When all failed, he incited his MAGA gang to storm the Capitol, the seat of American democracy. The vandals erected a gallows on the premises to hang Vice President Mike Pence. This act of terrorism steeply divided the Republican Party which had become the Trump Party by losing its original identity. But the President could be impeached next week. Trump is considered the most unpopular man in the US. But is he, really?

Donald Trump got over 70 million votes, the highest in US history for a losing presidential candidate. Almost one-third of Americans are diehard Trumpers, who are willing to fight for him and die for him. Psychologists unanimously agree that Trump is mentally deranged, like Hitler was in the last days of the Reich. Trump is no Hitler. He is only a caricature of the Fuhrer, the reason is because America is a functioning democracy with a military that answers only to the government and will not heed calls for a coup, and a Press that is fiercely proud of its independence.

The Trump administration gave a $5 billion Pentagon contract to Microsoft by sidelining Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon. Bezos also owns the anti-Trump Washington Post. Instead of caving in, the paper blitzed Trump more brutally. It is the nature of the American Press where owners will not let their business interests decide editorial policy in spite of threats from the federal government.

2010s was the decade of strongmen. Voters prefer authoritarian rulers over mild alternatives. Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt and Vladimir Putin in Russia are democratically elected leaders. The threat of Islamic terror and dilution of national identity by outsiders created fear among citizens. They wanted change and their newly elected gods gave it to them. Nationalism replaced patriotism as leaders demanded loyalty to an ideology than the nation as a whole; very often both became the same.

In the process, the rulers changed the nature of democracy. Putin after winning the elections immediately returned Russia to Soviet-style terror. Autocrats like Erdogan silenced their opponents by shutting down businesses, arresting and jailing journalists and civil rights activists, and murdering the regime’s opponents. Citizens identified themselves with their infallible rulers so strongly that political Opposition withered away. Though Donald Trump and Narendra Modi call each other friends, Modi is perceived as a disciplinarian leader who roots for India over sheer self-interest.

Trump lost because Biden is no Rahul Gandhi and the Republicans are not the Congress party. The Donald has lost his mind, and his base and party partially. Once out of power his financial crimes, sexual misdeeds and endangering national security for Putin are likely to land him in prison and tarnish his divinity. Democracy can make a leader and break him. Trump’s fate is a warning for rulers like him. The Beer Hall Putsch did fail after all, until Hitler won the elections.

Ravi Shankar


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