king memorial
WORKING TO MAKE THINGS BETTER — Activists inspired by him gather in Central Park in New York City in 1968 at a memorial service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The photo was contributed to the Library of Congress by the photographer. PHOTO BY BERNARD GOTFRYD COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS


Any and all societies can have dominant races and classes, or mafia-style cabals, locked into place by repressive authoritarian politics. Most societies do have such authoritarian systems, to the demonstrated detriment of their social and economic development (and, as the Russian case so aptly demonstrates, to the detriment even of their once-vaunted military capabilities).

Authoritarianism is tyranny of the powerful few over the disempowered many, plain and simple. But it’s also corruption, nepotism, denial of science and fact-based knowledge, censorship, stifling bureaucracy, and self-destructive divide-and-rule fear-based politics.

The thing that has actually made the U.S. of America great has been the ability of dominated and exploited groups, races and classes to fight back against their domination and exploitation and to do so by democratizing politics rather than overthrowing one exclusionary authoritarian regime in favor of another.

This country became a democracy because people believed in making politics better, fairer, more inclusive, more just. And they fought for that: women, unions, African Americans, Democrats. They didn’t fight to overthrow the system. They fought to make it better.

Those struggles, and the narrative about who we are as a nation that they defined and reinforced with each new struggle, are what has made the U.S. of America great over all these generations.

E Pluribus Unum.

Now (again!) we have white nationalists and pseudo-Christian crusaders who believe that repressive authoritarian politics are necessary to allow the “superior people” to rule the country. That’s Confederate talk. That’s Taliban talk. That’s Trump talk. It’s not what made the U.S. of America great.

On the contrary, such talk and behavior have been a consistent drag on making us even better than we could be. If they are successful in upending this centurieslong U.S. of American narrative of inclusion and democratization, they will plunge the country into the type of has-been dynamics currently on display in Russia.

— Nylen, of DeLand, is professor of political science and director of international studies at Stetson University.


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