8 min read

Is America Really on the Brink of Dictatorship? Plus, Autocracy vs Dictatorship, and the Slippery Slope of Social Collapse

Is America Really on the Brink of Dictatorship? Plus, Autocracy vs Dictatorship, and the Slippery Slope of Social Collapse

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  1. The Supreme Court May Have Set the Stage for an Imperial Presidency. Biden May Have Set Himself Up for a Fall. How Do We Avert Disaster? (Vanity Fair)
  2. Biden says he ‘screwed up’ but vows to continue as polls show six-point lead for Trump (The Guardian)
  3. New polls give Trump a bigger lead over Biden, increasing pressure on the president to step aside (El Pais)
  4. What to know about U.K. election: Conservative collapse, Labour revival (WaPo)
  5. Britain’s Now-or-Never Moment (Project Syndicate)
  6. “The Potential For Change Gives Me Hope”: Scenes From General Election Day In London (Vogue)
  7. Ultra-detailed brain map shows neurons that encode words’ meaning (Nature)
  8. The universe is built a lot like a giant brain – so is it conscious? (New Scientist)

Hi. How’s everyone? Welcome new, readers, feel free to introduce yourselves in the comments should you feel so inclined, many thanks old friends, and a Big Thanks again to all who’ve joined so far.

Today we’re going to discuss…

Is America Really on the Brink of Dictatorship?

Finally, at this perilous moment, it seems as if my warnings are coming true. The Supreme Court’s decided that Presidents should enjoy “absolute immunity,” thus paving the way for self-declared dictator Trump to exercise absolute power, and meanwhile, Biden’s campaign is in deep trouble, while big media sort of appeases and assents to Trumpism. 

We’re fast approaching the point of meltdown, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Why weren’t my warnings taken seriously, or yours, or those of any number of people? Even when many of us have impeccable establishment credentials, sort of nullifying that factor?

When I say dictatorship, you probably imagine something like Gaddafi’s Libya, or Mussolini’s Italy, Saddam’s Iraq, Kim Jong-Il slash Un’s North Korea, or, of course, Hitler’s Germany.

And so of course it’s to sort of raise the cry: alarmist! Because it’s true that that’s an extreme scenario. And so when we think about this now incredibly crucial question—is America really on the brink of dictatorship—to do it well, we need to understand what you might call the spectrum of dictatorship.

The examples above—Gaddafi, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, etc—are extreme because they’re at one polar end of the spectrum of dictatorship. They’re military dictatorships. Pause to take that in for a second. Why is it that when someone says dictatorship, the picture that springs to mind is of a crackpot in almost caricature-esque military regalia? Because of course they’re at head of a military dictatorship, and they want everyone to know, not just their own citizens, but the world, to signal their power and might and whatnot.

But military dictatorship, of course, isn’t the only kind. And it’s not really what America risks, right away, either. The problem—you’re an alarmist! It’s not going to happen!—stems from misunderstanding tyranny in this much more subtle way.

Think of, for example, Orban’s Hungary. It’s not a military dictatorship. It’s something less extreme. A nation that still putatively calls itself a democracy, and sort of says it respects the fundamental pillars of one, from the rule of law to constitutionality to equality. But in practice, of course, it’s something very different. Rights are severely curtailed, basic freedoms aren’t respected, and the strongman’s word is the nation’s mission, around which little to no dissent is really brooked.

That’s autocracy.

Here’s a pretty good definition:

"A government by a single person or small group that has unlimited power or authority, or the power or authority of such a person or group."

And America risks becoming something much more like that.

Nobody is saying that overnight that America is going to become a military dictatorship, along the lines of Saddam’s Iraq, or Gaddafi’s Libya, or any number of other historical examples. Or at least I’m not. That part comes later, and I’ll get to that. 

The immediate risk is autocracy, which, in the modern era, is dictatorship with a gloss of faux democracy, Branded(tm) as something that it’s not.

Autocracy vs Dictatorship, or Why Dictatorships Pretend They’re Democracies

In the modern era, military dictatorships have grown rarer. There’s a reason for that, and we’ve touched on it before. Being a true military dictatorship limits your access to the world. Think of the way that North Korea’s a pariah state. Military dictatorship have limited access to global financial markets, to trade, to labor, to capital, to innovations, and so on. So the price to be paid is steep.

And over the last few decades, aspiring autocrats have learned that lesson, and found a way around it. They claim the mantle of democracy for themselves—and when someone points out they’re not really that at all, they wax horrified and indignant and sort of pout, insulted.

Who’s probably the best exemplar of nation that followed this model? It’s modern day Russia, of course. There, the idea that it’s still a democracy is sort of broadcast in almost comical fashion. But of course the autocrat always wins some absurd proportion of the vote, and the pillars of democracy long ago cracked. Society is indeed ruled by a single figure with absolute power, and plenty of Russians have learned that much the hard way.

And yet it’s not a military dictatorship, in the old school sense. Berets and uniforms aren’t worn by leaders. They wear the garb of the modern-day technocracy, a sober blue suit, with an inoffensive tie. The pretense is that of democracy, as if to make the point all too emphatically: why, this isn’t a dictatorship at all!

That’s autocracy, at least in the modern sense. This sort of trick of absolute power hiding behind the facade of a perfect democracy—indeed, one that’s never been more perfect. That part’s almost Orwellian. Why, everyone loves the head of state so much that they elect him with 98% of the vote! Nobody objects because there’s nothing to object to! Everyone’s behind the project. Our society’s that perfect.

Meanwhile, basic rights and freedoms cease to exist. And that part’s already happening in America, at lightning speed. When Roe fell, women lost many of their basic freedoms, from privacy to expression to association to movement. And now it’s clear to see that’s just a beginning: everything from IVF to divorce itself is in the crosshairs of the fanatics. Just how regressive a society do they want?

Our society’s that perfect. See how Orwellian this game gets? As society loses its democratic substance, the pretense put forth by modern day autocrats is that things have never been more democratic, fair, equal, just, noble, good. This is the way that nations fail in the 21st century.

The Slippery Slope From Autocracy to Dictatorship

So the risk isn’t that America becomes a military dictatorship overnight. And that’s why it’s easy to dismiss the warnings, because of course, if you don’t actually read what we “alarmists” say, then that’s what you’ll probably imagine we were saying, but nobody’s saying that at all.

The risk is that America becomes an autocracy. In the way of many, many nations today, from India to Russia to China and beyond. A place that puts forth this glossy mirage of perfection, in order to conceal the truth that things have gone badly wrong.

At least at first.

Autocracy’s a slippery slope.

It’s not as if autocracy’s a sort of stable place for a society to be. In the end, autocracies of this form—dictatorships garbed in the cloth of democracy—tend to shed their garments, so they can stand naked before the world, roaring in rage, beating their chests in violence. 

Autocracies tend to decay into military dictatorships. Or at least militarized dictatorships, because, well, how else do you keep an entire society under authoritarian control?

That’s the next stage of risk that America’s taking. At first, it becomes an autocracy in the modern sense, a pretend, counterfeit democracy. But in the end, something much closer to military dictatorship does arise.

Let’s imagine that Trump wins. Now he has absolute immunity. Big media’s done a terrible job—barely one at all—of helping people understand what this means, so imagine what could easily happen next, because it’s exactly what tends to when aspiring tyrants are given absolute power. 

That absolute power, and absolute immunity, trickles down. Now a tyrant can create all sorts of agencies and departments and forces with absolute power, too, since he has it. American discourse tends to miss the forest for the trees, focusing on the minutia of procedure and precedent, so let’s just say that in this case, a President could pardon in advance anyone he liked, for anything, and bang, there you go, absolute power trickling down.

This is how the SS was created. It’s how every sort of militarized force carrying a tyrant’s aims and wishes was. And this is a key mechanism by which autocracy decays into dictatorship proper.

That part’s what we think of more properly as “authoritarianism.” But what does that word, mean, really? It means: you don’t have rights, but those overseeing you have absolute powers, and absolute immunity, which gives you no recourse, either. That is what authoritarianism means, in practice.

So the danger of the Supreme Court’s decision hasn’t been fully grasped by America yet—not even nearly. It’s much, much worse than “The President could order SEAL Team Six to assassinate anyone he wanted.” He could, but he could also turn the SEALS into an SS, a morality police, or whatever else he wanted, in order to enforce whatever he wished, against anyone at all, for any reason. Similarly, he could impose his will on the judiciary, and basically intimidate the legislature into signing Nuremberg Laws, to invoke another example. 

It’s that bad. This decision paves the way for autocracy, and autocracy has a natural tendency to harden, calcify, degenerate into a martial nightmare for a society, because that is the only way that authoritarianism can happen, through overt force, intimidation, coercion, and violence.

This is the risk America takes. And it’s not that it gets there overnight. Rather, it’s that it gets there in time, which might even seem slow at first, but to history, is the blink of an eye. One term. The refusal of a peaceful transfer of power, or one at all. The corrosion of any semblance of a next election. The imposition, piece by piece, of martial oversight of a society, disintegrating what democratic norms and values are left, at a faster pace than can be understood now, still standing in democracy’s twilight.

This risk, of a kind of an end stage cycle of implosion from autocracy to true dictatorship setting in is now real, grave, and lethal. It’s a red zone level risk now.

I doubt you’ll find another survivor or scholar of democratic collapse who won’t agree with the broad outlines of what I’ve said to you here. America’s challenge now is getting it, before it’s too late.

We alarmists. The point isn’t that we were “right all along.” It’s not about point scoring. But it is that the establishment was wrong. Because it refused to listen to the best minds that it had. Don’t make–don’t repeat—that mistake.

So let me say it to you as plainly as I can.

This is the last chance democracy has. 

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