Mark Nuckols, If you listen to the liberal media, it’s Berlin 1933 all over again, or perhaps Moscow 1937, or maybe Madrid 1939. The liberals are literally wetting their pants, with hysterical cries that American democracy is under the imminent threat of a fascist dictatorship. And of course, that fascist dictator would be none other than President Donald Trump.
Reacting to Trump’s speech about mobilizing the military to protect our cities from lawless rioting and looting, California Senator Kamala Harris had this to say:
“These are not the words of a president. They are the words of a dictator.”
And Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is heading to the barricades to protect American democracy from mean ole’ Fascists:
“The fascist speech Donald Trump just delivered verged on a declaration of war against American citizens. I fear for our country tonight and will not stop defending America against Trump’s assault.”
So, this is it, The End Of America’s Democratic Experiment, the moment the lights went out in the City Upon a Hill.
Well, let me assure you that American democracy is alive and well. And understanding this essential fact is easier if you look at some real, actual dictatorships. (And note, modern dictatorships are liberal playgrounds compared to the dictatorships of the first half of the 20th century, such as Nazi Germany, a subject I will address next week).
I like to think I have some idea of what dictatorship actually looks like as I have spent quite a bit of time in countries that are ruled by undeniably dictatorial regimes, such as Uzbekistan, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Syria, Burma, and China. I’ve also spent time in countries that are run by authoritarian quasi-dictatorships like Russia, Kazakhstan, and Venezuela. In fact, I spent four years working in Russian state media and saw from the inside how such a regime operates.
Uzbekistan is one of my favorite countries in the world. Samarkand and Bukhara were once important outposts on the famed Silk Road from Europe to China, and their architectural heritage is nothing short of stunning. Uzbek cuisine is equally stunningly delicious. And Uzbeks themselves are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people you’ll ever meet.
After the break-up of the Evil Empire, Uzbekistan gained independence. But its people have been anything but free. Former Communist Party boss Islam Karimov won the first ever presidential election in 1991, and was re-elected in 2000, 2007 and 2015 in blatantly rigged elections, each time with more than 90% of the purported vote. All real opposition parties have been outlawed, their leaders in prison, in exile, or dead. Until his death in 2015, Karimov ruled Uzbekistan for more than 23 years as an absolute tyrant.
A United Nations report described torture by the authorities as “institutionalized, systematic, and rampant.” The police and security services routinely kidnapped and murdered opposition figures; rape of prisoners was common. It is widely rumored that some prisoners were boiled to death. In 2005, there were widespread protests in the city of Andijan. Police closed all exits from Bobur Square in the city center and deliberately drove the protesters into a trap. An estimated 800 people were killed by snipers and machine-gun fire. When I was there in 2007, I knew it was a dangerous topic to discuss. But when I simply asked people, ‘Excuse me, how do it get to Bobur Square?’ I could see raw fear in their eyes.
There is no free media. In fact, when I was there, I could find only one newspaper distributed in the whole country, four pages daily, and mostly devoted to stories extravagantly praising Karimov, one I remember was headlined “President Karimov Receives Phone Call From Ambassador of Qatar.” There are several TV channels, all under government control, and all were dedicated to proclaiming Karimov the best president ever in world history. The internet is strictly regulated, and all websites critical of the regime are blocked. Even private conversations may be monitored for any signs of dissent.
Belarus is much less interesting, except that its capital Minsk is the most perfect example of a city built almost entirely in the Stalinist style of architecture. Alexander Lukashenko was elected president in that country’s first and only free elections in 1994. Since then he has been re-elected in 2001, 2006, 2010, and 2015, always with 80% to 84% of the vote.
I was in Minsk on the eve of the 2010 election. Protests were expected against his one-man rule, mostly peaceful. As I walked around the city’s “Independence Square” around dusk, I noticed dozens of buses carrying the fearsome and widely feared OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Police). These riot police are Lukashenko’s Praetorian Guard, loyal only to him and completely beyond any civilian control. And these guys were clearly amped up, already fidgeting with their riot shields and heavy batons, obviously eager to get out and start bashing heads in. Knowing what they were capable of, and not feeling especially heroic, I decided to wait out the rest of the night in the relative safety of my hotel room.
The next day the Central Election Commission dutifully proclaimed Lukashenko the winner with the predictable 80% of the vote (most post-Soviet leaders are elected with around 80%, to seem like an overwhelming victory, but not so overwhelming as to be farcical). The OMON had arrested hundreds of protestors the night before, many severely beaten. Seven of the main opposition leaders were arrested by the KGB (yes, they still call it that) the day after the election, and an eighth was found dead, officially deemed a “suicide.”
So, what does a real dictatorship look like? Presidents-for-life, elected over and over again in sham elections. Opposition parties outlawed, and dissidents harassed, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered, or merely exiled if they’re lucky. All media under state control, and all access to opposition views blocked. Ordinary citizens cowed into submission by police and security services who stand above and beyond any laws. Plus, rubber-stamp legislatures who allow the dictator to rule by personal fiat, and judicial systems unable and unwilling to defy their employers, who are not the people but their rulers.
Now, as far as I know, Senators Harris and Wyden, as well as former Vice President Biden and the Clintons are not rotting in jail cells in secret prisons. Stephen Colbert, Chris Hayes, and Don Lemon are still on the air. Democrats still get elected to office, and Congress does not do Trump’s bidding merely at his command. The New York Times and Washington Post’s websites were still functioning last time I checked this morning, and neither paper was devoted to lavishly praising President Trump.
In short, Donald Trump is not a dictator, or a fascist. But liberals are desperate to tar him with these brazenly false labels. “Dictator” and “fascist” are boogie-man words designed to scare people into believing that Trump is a threat to their liberty and freedom, and the only way to save American democracy is to vote for Democrats. It’s downright shameful, and it shows their pathetic ignorance of basic reality. We need to fight their lies with the truth.