We need, but don't deserve, democracy
As the year approaches an end, I went down a rabbit hole. I tried to psychoanalyze the trend of far-right, authoritarian leaders being elected or allowed to stay in power in the last few years. Sure, there are some leaders, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, who manipulated the political system in their favor to keep themselves in power. But Brazil voted for Jair Bolsonaro, a man who looked favorably upon military dictatorships. Hungary and Italy both voted for far-right parties, and Hungary has a supermajority with its far-right parties. Denmark’s far-right party saw a surge in support. Of course, I can’t forget to mention that Brexit happened in 2016, as did the election of Donald Trump. I know why this all happened. I know how history repeats itself. But I wanted to look towards my own understanding of human behavior and apply that to my understanding of what freedom and democracy means. Doing that, I concluded something.
Human beings don’t deserve democracy and freedom.
That is the first part of a two-part conclusion, but I have to explain what this first part really means. Admittedly, I am looking at this as someone more familiar with U.S. politics, but the concept applies to really any democracy. A basic tenet of democracy is that you’re free to vote and you have rights. The trouble is that the authoritarian leaders are elected because voters are willing to sacrifice some of their freedom in exchange for security due to fear stoked by these far-right leaders. In Europe, the fear stems from immigrants, and in Brazil, from corruption and crime. I’m of the opinion that anyone willing to sacrifice freedom and democracy for security and stability out of fear doesn’t deserve freedom and democracy in the first place.
The reason for this is that it gives the leaders carte blanche to enact increasingly undemocratic policies. Many will argue that nothing truly “bad” has happened, which is not true at all. Keep in mind Brexit happened without the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Britain’s far-right party with a platform based on nativism and anti-migrant fear, being in power. In Hungary, the far-right party in power is moving to amend the constitution to limit checks and balances. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, champions illiberal democracy. Italy’s own far-right party has also been threatening the system of checks and balances.
The election of these leaders just seems so hypocritical to me. I understand that there is desperation, hope, and fear. I understand that the situation of many nations like Brazil and Italy is one of strife. But why vote in someone who clearly would facilitate more turmoil? What is Bolsonaro’s willingness to torture and engage in extrajudicial killings going to do for the rate of violence in Brazil? How is turning away migrants going to help the Italian economy or any European economy? If anything, European nations need more immigrants to help improve their economy. A vote for a far-right leader is a vote against democracy and freedom. Anyone who fails to see that or sees it and votes far-right anyway doesn’t deserve either. Frankly, no human does. We are greedy, selfish, fearful, irrational, and unkind as a species. It’s in our nature to want to be led in some way and to have some direction, even if the direction is an authoritarian regime that doesn’t care about anyone. True character is revealed under pressure, and when the pressure is too much, we resort to fearmongering and a desire for stability instead of valuing our basic rights.
However — and this is the key part of my conclusion — even if we humans don’t deserve freedom and democracy, we need it. As much potential as there is for negative change, we have the equal potential for positive change, and democracy provides that. For all my cynicism, there is a part of me that knows that things will improve. It’s in our nature to fear, sure, but that fear is dispelled when we realize we have made mistakes, and we work to amend our mistakes. There will be a lot of damage done for sure, but nothing is irreparable. When we realize that we made a mistake, we will vote to fix things again. This happened in the U.S. midterm elections, and it will happen in Hungary, Italy, and Brazil later on. So for all those like me who feel disillusioned and dismayed about people and about the rise of far-right, authoritarian leaders, hold out some hope. It’s difficult in an increasingly cynical world and we will have to witness a lot of terrible things, but it will get better as long as everyone pays attention and cares about what’s happening.