Are your fellow ordinary Americans your enemy? Or are strongman leaders who exploit your fears and insecurities to secure their private gain the ones you need to watch?

Because this week it's clear two dangerous viruses are finally being defeated: the coronavirus and Trumpian authoritarianism

It's appropriate their end should come within days of each other, they were deeply entwined from the start.

Since coronavirus first appeared in 2019, it has been ignored or dismissed by the current administration, even as they foolishly held giant rallies to acclaim their strongman leader, and even as that strongman, his wife, and almost all of his staff fell ill with it.

But can a nation built on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness also fall prey to a form of centralized authoritarian government, increasingly in the grip of a paranoid figurehead who calls all the shots from his Twitter account? 

In fact, yes. What we have learned in the past four years that every Republican leader will hold their tongue and fall in line with every pronouncement made by their anointed leader, no matter what the cost to themselves, American governmental traditions, or the rule of law.

Worryingly, we have also learned that if given the option almost half the people in this country will choose authority, obedience, and silent uniformity over freedom, independence, and diversity if it means that their party stays in continual power.

So it turns out that voter insecurity and fear about the future are handily offset for many by strongman promises to deliver law and order.

It turns out that hard-won civil liberties that have already been granted can be stripped away again with a quick court ruling if the nation's remarkable diversity starts to feel like a threat to some.

But does that sound like America to you? A nation where you surrender your voice and diversity in exchange for a strongman leader ignores Congress and even elections?

A nation where the press is silenced and all criticism is silenced too? A nation where whoever disagrees with you is unpatriotic and fake and a danger to the country? A nation where elected senators live in fear of a tweet from the president and their own base? That's freedom?

Masked military police assemble at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

Masked military police assemble at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

So how can you spot a potential authoritarian in your midst? It helps that it's rather easy. Do you know anyone in your circle who greatly dislikes America's remarkable diversity? Someone who has no friends of other creeds, traditions, or races, and who believes that all those people should really know their place in the pecking order?

Another way to know you're in the presence of an authoritarian is that they cast doubt on the very levers of democracy itself. Votes that go against them are called rigged, even democracy itself is doubted and more time is spent on undermining democratic traditions than protecting them.

Meanwhile, internet conspiracy theories, an authoritarian calling card, have flourished on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp this year in the lead up to the election. These paranoid fantasies varied but they all shared one central theme: a cabal of bad (satanic, baby-eating) monsters are conspiring to undermine white conservatives and ensure their final defeat at the polls.

These conspiracy theories don't just make your political opponents challenging, they turn them into monsters out to destroy the country and human souls. Sound familiar? How strongly you feel about the other party now is a good indication of how far down the road to authoritarianism you have progressed already yourself.

“Democrats want to destroy the country,” screamed Kimberly Guilfoyle at her bizarre the-best-is-yet-to-come speech at the Republican National Convention. They are coming for your AR-15's, your freedom of speech, your khaki pants, your mayonnaise. 

The sad thing is, people believe it. They begin to see their neighbors, not as countrymen and women, but as agents of the devil come to burn them at the stake. It's hilarious and stupid but it's what's happening to this nation under authoritarianism.

The past four years have been sinister and stupid. Sinister in their growing hostility to American diversity and stupid in their execution. A more competent authoritarian will be able to follow the recent tear-up-democracy playbook and achieve levels of control and central power never seen here before. So the danger has not passed, it is intensifying.

You have a hard question to ask yourself, one that you have put off for too long now. Are your fellow ordinary Americans your enemy? Or are the strongman leaders who exploit your fears and insecurities to secure their power and their own private gain?

Are you going to live in red states or blue states or the United States? How you answer that question will determine what kind of country you and your children are living in soon.

Joe Biden is now our President-elect and that means progress away from the authoritarian dangers we have been facing, but you still have a part to play too.

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