We all want to think that we are badasses, the kind of people who would smirk at death and shout at Russian warship, “Go fuck yourself!“
But no, most of us would not do that. In fact, one of humanity’s chief problems is our willingness to acquiesce so easily.
As a Norse god once said, “It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation… you were made to be ruled.”
This unpleasant fact has manifested itself in every culture at every time in human history. Some of the wisest minds of the ancient world thought it was perfectly natural to install tiny children or drooling morons or insatiable murderers as rulers because their great-grandfathers had seized power and passed it down.
Hey, somebody had to be in charge. Why not Caligula?
And in our modern era, there is just something about an overly aggressive, hostile, boastful jerk masquerading as a tough guy that makes huge swaths of any given population say, “Sure, go ahead and arrest my neighbors, control the media, and kill foreigners, because you’re the boss.”
For example, you might think that a tyrannical sociopath who launches a disastrous invasion of a sovereign nation—creating a brand-new kind of war and destabilizing the entire world—would be unpopular at home. But the joke’s on you. He’s a big hit with his people, even as he leads them into needless death and economic collapse.
Good thing we don’t have that horrendous drive in America, right? Because here in the “land of the free,” nobody would cheer on an ill-tempered narcissist who hurts innocents in a pathetic attempt to inflate his tattered ego.
Well, maybe 74 million Americans would, but that’s it.
In any case, one positive aspect about a cataclysmic war is that you can easily gauge which Americans love totalitarianism and hate democracy. For example, even members of the GOP now admit “that an ‘affection for authoritarianism’ has led some Republicans to advocate for Vladimir Putin.”
We’re not talking about legitimate policy disagreements about the best way to respond to Russian aggression. We’re talking about people who see Russian aggression as innocuous, even admirable.
Of course, the wish for a strong man who will magically take care of everything is a powerful desire among conservatives. But the current American strain of right-wing fanaticism has amped up that drive to grotesque levels. They “see in Putin someone with a shared worldview—authoritarian, fiercely nationalistic, happily bigoted.”
As such, trust-fund racists are insisting that oligarchy is good for America, and they spew unhinged nonsense “in service of [a] white nationalist, right-wing populist worldview.” College students, who should be fighting the power with their youthful idealism, are instead endorsing “a ruthless authoritarian who has embraced a xenophobic nationalist ideology and wants to pursue what can only be described as an autocratic white Christian ethnostate.”
Again, this is not a difference of opinion over how to contain a madman. It is an assertion that we should cheer on the madman and get one of our own.
Now, as any Native American, Puerto Rican, or Hawaiian can tell you, the United States has no moral standing to lecture others on respecting sovereignty. Also, it is disturbing to note how countries with non-white populations don’t get similar press coverage when bombs fall on their civilians.
But some people are using those legitimate points to make the illegitimate argument that we should coddle dictators and shrug at war crimes. That’s absurd, because we can point out the horrors of American colonialism and advocate for Syrian refugees, while still denouncing the slaughter of Ukrainian children.
In this case, it’s not that tricky to multitask.
Ultimately, though, is there anything we can do to counter the GOP’s love for neo-fascist overlords?
Well, conservatives will view appeals to common decency or our shared humanity as signs of weakness, and ringing up principles like democracy or ethical behavior will elicit shrieks of laughter. Plus pointing out that despots usually fail will have no effect on people who ignore every basic fact that is the slightest bit troubling.
So maybe we can tap into their need for self-preservation. After all, “the Republicans who venerate would-be dictators like Trump and [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán assume that the strongman will always be in their corner.”
But as we know, the despot eventually comes for his original supporters. There is always betrayal and a fierce reckoning for those who were once useful but who have displeased the emperor in some way.
Would the conservatives who clamor for authoritarianism be so happy when they are the ones being oppressed?
Knowing them, they would probably smile as that boot smashed down on their faces.
Featured image: Russian President Vladimir Putin (firdaus omar/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)