Despair. We all experience it. It can lead to demoralization. What’s the antidote? Engagement. Finding kindred spirits and acting collectively. Building bonds of solidarity. Working toward the common good. John Lewis, long-time Georgia Congressperson and civil rights icon had this advice: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
It’s axiomatic that political discourse in the U.S. is becoming more and more extreme. There’s even talk of a coup. In textbook coups, martial law is declared. The internet and phones go dead. The opposition is jailed or killed. This is how we think of authoritarian regimes beginning. Yet Steven Levitsky says, “Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders.” He lays out a four-part test for identifying authoritarian leaders: rejecting democratic institutions, denying the legitimacy of political opponents, tolerating or encouraging violence and curtailing civil liberties. He notes, “With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century. Donald Trump met all of them.” If we are not careful polarization can kill democracy.
India is often called the world’s largest democracy. Narendra Modi is the prime minister. He was elected in 2014 and again in 2019. Prior to becoming prime minister, he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, where in 2002, a massacre of Muslims took place. Modi denied any involvement. But the State Department was not convinced and banned him from traveling to the U.S. He is a longtime member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS. “Its founding ideologues,” Arundhati Roy, says, “were greatly influenced by European fascism-they openly praised Hitler and Mussolini.” The RSS expounds the doctrine of Hindutwa, Hindu nationalism and is the parent organization of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP. The BJP, under Modi, has openly embraced Hindutwa and has demonized Muslims and immigrants. His army continues the decades-long occupation of Kashmir.
Arundhati Roy is a world-renowned writer and global justice activist. The New York Times calls her, “India’s most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence.” She is the author of the novels The God of Small Things, for which she received the Booker Prize, and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Her book of interviews with David Barsamian is The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile. Her essay books My Seditious Heart and Azadi are both published by Haymarket.
Chris Hedges is an award-winning journalist who has reported from the Balkans, the Middle East and Central America. He writes a weekly column for scheerpost.com. He is the author of many books including Death of the Liberal Class, Wages of Rebellion and America: The Farewell Tour.
Steven Levitsky is Professor of Government at Harvard. His research interests focus on Latin America and include political parties, authoritarianism and democratization, and weak and informal institutions. He is co-author of How Democracies Die.