As times turn uncertain, many will turn toward authoritarianism

It’s a trend both Republicans and Democrats follow.

“Populations experiencing economic distress or external threat have often turned to authoritarian, hierarchicalist leaders promising security and stability” (Adrian Barden. “Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Bad at One Thing, But Neither Can Admit It”: “The Conversation”).

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, I felt like my world was turning upside down.

There was a war in Vietnam that reminded me of my father, who was involved in naval combat in World War II. He came out of the war not quite right in the head. My mother had him committed to the Veterans’ Administration psychiatric ward my senior year of high school. The Vietnam draft threatened to have me repeat his story. I wanted no part of it.

Sexual mores were in upheaval with the development of “the pill” in 1960. Established sex roles were in flux as the feminist movement challenged traditional behavior between men and women. Drugs such as marijuana and LSD became common and easy to obtain.

The civil rights movement challenged me to acknowledge the brutality of the times. John F. Kennedy ran for president and won. My mother, having grown up with the 500-year Protestant distrust of Catholics, feared the prospect of the first Catholic president.

Barden’s quotation above reflects how I responded to the feeling of external threats that were beating on the door of my consciousness. I succumbed to my fears and uncertainties and joined a religious cult for seven years of my young life. I turned to an “authoritarian and hierarchialist leader” who offered security and stability.

In many ways in our politically polarized nation, history seems to be repeating my youth.

According to Barden, “A 2015 metastudy showed that ideological polarization over the reality of climate change actually increases with respondents’ knowledge of politics, science and/or energy policy. The chances that a conservative is a climate change denier is significantly higher if he or she is college-educated. Conservatives scoring highest on tests for cognitive sophistication or quantitative reasoning skills are most susceptible to motivated reasoning about climate science.”

Barden continues: “This is not just a problem for conservatives. As [Yale] researcher Dan Kahan has demonstrated, liberals are less likely to accept expert consensus on the possibility of safe storage of nuclear waste, or on the effects of concealed-carry gun laws.”

Are the conservatives in our nation looking for “security and stability” through President Trump who inarguably represents an “authoritarian and hierarchialist leader”? If that is the case then that explains the baffling tribal decision of Senate Republicans to ignore impeachment evidence and acquit the president.

Many young adult liberals are actually doing the same thing in their support of “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders. Sanders offers programs that forgive student debt and promise free college tuition. The question of paying for these benefits is solved by “taxing the rich” or deepening the deficit. Demagoguery is thriving on both ends of the political spectrum.

When I left the cult in my early twenties, I faced a dilemma: Would I return to blindly and ignorantly following the dictates of American culture, or would I totally reject every lesson I had learned while in the cult? I decided to take the “Middle Path”, the “Golden Mean”, the “Yin and Yang”, and search for the “Goldilocks Zone” between extremes. I had trusted hierarchical leaders while in the cult and found them wanting. I decided that in order to avoid repeating my history, I would not meekly follow the very human tendency to search for authoritarian leaders in times of social instability and upheaval. Instead, I would choose to think for myself.

In regard to the 2020 elections, we have three choices: follow a president who favors dictatorship and denigrates democracy, elect a democratic socialist, or, we can follow a moderate who will return this nation to its moral ideals and values—respect for the rule of law. I’m going to choose moderation in this election. I hope you will, too.


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