My father, my first political tutor, used to tell me that America could never become a dictatorship, because there was too much diversity throughout the country for people to settle on one ideology. I’ve believed this throughout my entire long life, and it’s been the basis of my optimism about my country; that is, until these past 5 years. I saw Trumpism as a blip on the long screen of democracy, much as I saw the Nixon years and the Reagan years.
What my father’s theory didn’t take into account, however, was that we didn’t have to all believe in one ideology to become an authoritarian state. We simply needed a ruthless and powerful minority, that would overtake the wishes of the majority. I would have imagined that my father, born in pre-revolutionary Russia, would have known that, but perhaps the revolution colored his thinking, as an instance when the majority rose up and overthrew the minority ruling class.
Our ruling class, at this moment in America, seems to be more and more a minority. According to Pew Research, the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans dropped to 40% in the first quarter of 2021, while the number identifying as Democrats is 49%. Other reputable polls indicate similar percentages. And yet, the ultra-slim Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as the Republican push to overtake state legislatures and the judiciary attest to the very real threat of a minority takeover of the country.
What’s interesting is that, despite the principles stated in our Constitution, we were never intended to be a democracy. Suffrage was, at that time, and for more than a century after, limited to white, male citizens (at one time, I believe it was limited to landowners). Over time, with more of the population included under suffrage, we became more and more democratic, culminating in the voting rights act of 1965. And now, we move backward.
There are close to 400 bills now circulating across the states that would practically limit voting for eligible voters. Most of those impacted by these bills, if enacted, will be people of color, young people and the elderly, the most reliably Democratic voters. This would be an enormous move towards authoritarianism: a political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite that is not constitutionally responsible to the body of the people (brittanica.com).
What has been unique about the United States of America, is that we are founded on an idea, rather than on a nationality. A nation is defined as a group of people who share the same culture, history, language or ethnicity. The U.S., a country of immigrants from all over the world (with the exception of Native Americans) is anything but that. When a nation organizes itself under a government that is the ultimate authority, it becomes a country. Since we are founded on an idea, we are a country. The question now becomes, what kind of country we are, and what kind are we becoming?