America has so little personal experience with authoritarian leaders that we don’t believe our own eyes

by Bob Schwartz

Much of the world has had personal experience, historic or current, with authoritarian leaders: more benign in the form of enlightened monarchies or more dangerous in the form of pure dictatorships.

Not America. That’s why observers who saw the first signs of authoritarianism from the start of the Trump administration were mostly dismissed as alarmist or paranoid. Even at this late date, two months before the election, almost four years into the presidency, some of that dismissal continues, even though the evidence has gone from suggestive to definitive.

We could listen. We could pay closer attention to history and political science. We could read the stories of our authoritarian enemies (or those who used to be our enemies) and learn from the experience of our now-democratic friends (or those who used to be our friends).

Authoritarianism happens to the greatest nations—precisely because people think their brand of democracy is too good to fail. Tragically, that isn’t how it works.