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GUEST COLUMN

GUEST COLUMN: Cult of personality threatens democracy

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Gerald Seib, a columnist for Rupert Murdoch’s conservative Wall Street Journal (Murdoch also owns Fox News), referenced Freedom House, a nonprofit nongovernmental democracy-based research organization in a July 13 op-ed noting “freedom across the globe declined for 15 straight years.”

Among the countries cited by Freedom House — a global research firm founded in 1941 — for losing the tenets of democracy include ... gulp ... United States of America, China, Russia, India, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, to name a few.

While there are 146 countries less democratic than America, 57 countries are cited as being more democratic, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

Why did Freedom House note America is becoming less democratic and more authoritarian? They reported “After four years of condoning and indeed pardoning official malfeasance, ducking accountability for his (Trump) own transgressions, and encouraging racist and right-wing extremists, the outgoing president openly strove to illegally overturn his loss at the polls, culminating in his incitement of an armed mob to disrupt Congress’s certification of the results.”

Furthermore, “Trump’s actions went unchecked by most lawmakers from his own party, with a stunning silence that undermined basic democratic tenets. Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States.”

The Business Insider, an American financial and business news organization revered for factual reporting, claimed in a March 4 article, “The GOP has fomented a personality cult around Trump, similar to authoritarian regimes.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University historian and expert on fascism and authoritarian leaders, told the Insider “the fact that GOP lawmakers continue to perform their loyalty acts to him (Trump) on television bodes nothing good for the health of our democracy. The Republican Party is no longer the party of Lincoln – a party that advocates smaller government and few constraints on free enterprise and civil liberties – it’s now the party of Trump.”

Among the Republicans who are loyal – to a fault – to Trump and openly admit the GOP is a cult of personality, are Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Ben. Sasse (Neb.) and Bill Cassidy (La.). Former GOP Rep. Charlie Dent (Penn.) told CNN “the fringe elements of the party have too large a voice ... it’s a cult of personality” (March 1).

Iowans know firsthand that GOP elected officials Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Reps. Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson and Marianette Miller-Meeks — did not challenge Trump’s authoritarian demeanor before, during or after his presidency.

History has taught us that when political leaders are portrayed as larger than life and exhibit narcissistic behavioral characteristics (i.e., USSR’s Joseph Stalin, China’s Mao Zedong, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin), authoritarianism reigns and democracy is extinguished.

With America ranked as the 58th best democracy in the world and knowing who brought us to this point, reality therapy must occur for America’s nearly 170 million registered voters. When Rupert Murdoch’s GOP-focused enterprises express fear America’s democracy is in decline it should be a clarion call to all Republicans to question their unbridled support of Mr. Trump.

Continuation of the current cult of personality could quickly turn America into a totalitarian, autocratic country. The principles of democracy — capitalism, free enterprise, human and civil rights, fair elections, free press and speech, inclusiveness and equality, right to life and peaceful coexistence – are in jeopardy.

Restoring America’s beleaguered democracy and defeating authoritarianism must be our first priority and collective duty.

Steve Corbin is an emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and former Denver Board of Education member. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.

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