Authoritarian rule may be just around the corner.
By Paul Krugman/ New York Times/ April 9, 2020
If you aren’t terrified both by Covid-19 and by its economic consequences, you haven’t been paying attention.
Even though social distancing may be slowing the disease’s spread, tens of thousands more Americans will surely die in the months ahead (and official accounts surely understate the true death toll). And the economic lockdown necessary to achieve social distancing — as I’ve been saying, the economy is in the equivalent of a medically induced coma — has led to almost 17 million new claims for unemployment insurance over the past three weeks, again almost surely an understatement of true job losses.
Yet the scariest news of the past week didn’t involve either epidemiology or economics; it was the travesty of an election in Wisconsin, where the Supreme Court required that in-person voting proceed despite the health risks and the fact that many who requested absentee ballots never got them.
Why was this so scary? Because it shows that America as we know it may not survive much longer. The pandemic will eventually end; the economy will eventually recover. But democracy, once lost, may never come back. And we’re much closer to losing our democracy than many people realize.
To see how a modern democracy can die, look at events in Europe, especially Hungary, over the past decade.
What happened in Hungary, beginning in 2011, was that Fidesz, the nation’s white nationalist ruling party, took advantage of its position to rig the electoral system, effectively making its rule permanent. Then it further consolidated its control, using political power to reward friendly businesses while punishing critics, and moved to suppress independent news media.
Until recently, it seemed as if Viktor Orban, Hungary’s de facto dictator, might stop with soft authoritarianism, presiding over a regime that preserved some of the outward forms of democracy, neutralizing and punishing opposition without actually making criticism illegal. But now his government has used the coronavirus as an excuse to abandon even the pretense of constitutional government, giving Orban the power to rule by decree.
If you say that something similar can’t happen here, you’re hopelessly naïve. In fact, it’s already happening here, especially at the state level. Wisconsin, in particular, is well on its way toward becoming Hungary on Lake Michigan, as Republicans seek a permanent lock on power.