STRESS TEST FOR DEMOCRACY: Part 1 of 3: History
© 2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
The past two weeks I have been traveling in Europe. Almost everyone I have met in Europe (briefly visiting 10 countries) wants to talk about Trump. "Tell us about your new President. He worries us," they say. On top of that, I must admit that it has been strange getting reports about the Trump Administration while I have been in Russia (St. Petersburg) and Germany (Berlin). These are two countries which have had democracies, only to lose them to authoritarian rulers. The best examples are Hitler in the 1930's and Putin in the 2000's. Of course, an authoritarian ruler couldn't take over in the United States because our democracy has been around so long and is so strong, right? I fear we are about to find out.
America is very young compared to European countries, with histories filled with authoritarian rulers (kings, queens, emperors, tsars, dictators and others) over the last thousand years. It seems to me that, given Trump's authoritarian impulses, he is the perfect person to give our democracy a "stress test."
A stress test is what major banks and investment companies were given after the stock market crash and bank failures of 2007-2008. It was a simulation, to see how they would perform in a future economic crisis. Many failed and were required to keep more cash on reserve, so they could weather such a future scenario. This may be the silver lining in the Trump Presidency. He will force us to see how vulnerable our democratic values are and how committed we are to keeping these values as a nation. If I am right, he will attack and put stress on every institution and long-developed policy of our democracy, with no regard for wisdom, public opinion or even the recommendations of his advisers. You should no longer be surprised with what he does next. We can predict that he will attempt to prove that he is a superior person to every aspect of our hard-earned and carefully-developed democracy. Hopefully, he will activate the majority of the population which does not agree with him and the nation will develop a reserve of resistance to anti-democratic tendencies, like an immunization shot creates resistance to illness.
In my travels, I have learned that the democracy-to-authoritarian-rule in Europe seems to follow a standard pattern:
A revolution against authoritarian rule to establish a democracy.
A period of chaos or perceived chaos as the democracy struggles.
A cult of personality around a new authoritarian leader who gains power by promising to "save" the people from the "chaos," by eliminating democratic laws and institutions.
A period of apparent success, growth and national pride, soon followed by repression of all dissent, economic deprivation and war.
This pattern seems to have occurred throughout European history. Finally, by the 1900's, democracy seemed to be taking hold as monarchies started being phased out. However, this pattern of democracy-to-authoritarian-rule seems to have occurred several times in several countries: In France after their revolution in 1789 (soon after ours), which eventually led to the authoritarian rule of Napolean; in Germany with Hitler replacing the Parliament in 1933; and seems to be occurring now with Putin in Russia in the 2000's, replacing the democracy that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.
The reality is that the people temporarily love these authoritarian leaders during the early years: Hitler was credited with cleaning up the cities, halting the economic chaos of the 1930's, and making Germany great again. Putin is supported by the Russian majority. He is on the path of making Russia great again, by annexing Crimea, fighting for Eastern Ukraine and overall eliminating the chaos or perceived chaos which followed the establishment of democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. While they may prefer democracy, they really prefer the stability and lack of chaos that Putin has produced for them. That appears to be why the arrests of protesters this week in St. Petersburg, Moscow and over 80 other cities is tolerated by the majority.
The key point in all of these historical examples is that chaos or the perception of chaos created the willingness of the people at large to accept and love a new authoritarian leader. In my next blog I will address whether Trump has the personality characteristics of an authoritarian ruler. In my third blog on this subject, I will address how the "perception of chaos" may be falsely promoted by the news media, both far right and mainstream, and how attacking a loved authoritarian ruler actually strengthens him. Then, I will discuss some ideas of what reasonable people can do.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.