What To Do as Authoritarianism Knocks on America’s Door


This last week has made me more scared for our country than I’ve felt in a while.

Yes, impeachment is coming but the way the president, his associates throughout our (yes, OUR) government, and his supporters are responding is frankly, quite frightening. It’s not hard to imagine this country of ours becoming a hollow shell of the promise the Founding Fathers thought it held.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time about what the signs of authoritarianism look like. So here I’ve reproduced the 15 signs of authoritarianism written by Polish journalist and activist Martin Mycielski which was published on Bill Moyer’s site. You can read his full explanation of each item at the original article HERE.

But, it wouldn’t be Political⚡Charge if I didn’t include what we can do about it. And so, I am reproducing Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder’s list of lessons learned from countries who have dealt with authoritarianism before, which he published on his Facebook page in 2016.

The 15 Signs of Authoritarianism

1  They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth.

2  They will divide and rule.

3  Through convoluted laws and threats they will try to control mainstream media and limit press freedom.

4  They will create chaos, maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger.

5  They will distort the truth, deny facts and blatantly lie.

6  They will incite and then leak fake, superficial “scandals.”

7  They will propose shocking laws to provoke your outrage.

8  When invading your liberal sensibilities they will focus on what hurts the most — women and minorities.

9  They will try to take control of the judiciary.

10  They will try to limit freedom of assembly, calling it a necessity for your security.

11  They will distort the language, coin new terms and labels, repeat shocking phrases until you accept them as normal and subconsciously associate them with whom they like.

12  They will take over your national symbols, associate them with their regime, remake them into attributes of their power.

13  They will try to rewrite history to suit their needs and use the education system to support their agenda.

14  They will alienate foreign allies and partners, convincing you that you don’t need them.

15  They will eventually manipulate the electoral system.


20 Ways to Beat Authoritarianism

1  Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2  Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3  Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4  When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5  Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6  Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying.

7  Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8  Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9  Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10  Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11  Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12  Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13  Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14  Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15  Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16  Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17  Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18  Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19  Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20  Be a patriot. The [incoming] president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

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4 replies

  1. I share your fear. Excellent resource on your part. Sometimes we fail to recognize it until it’s to late. We can’t be complacent….ever.


  1. Wed. 10/16: Today in do-it-ourselves democracy – some basic actions to take. – INDIVISIBLE VENTURA

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