Authoritarian steps in Red state legislatures

Is it so hard to picture a United States that has succumbed to authoritarianism and the sacrifice of our basic democratic rights? Not really, because we can see this process at work in a handful of Republican-dominated state governments already. Here are just a few examples of states in which governors and legislatures are using the power enabled by “super-majority” status to limit the rights and liberties of their citizens with impunity. These are just a few examples, and it would be very useful for a trusted organization like the ACLU to do a full audit of these kinds of actions in the states.

  • Florida — legislation limiting freedom to teach about “uncomfortable” subjects in public schools and universities; ideological takeover of a public university by the governor and hack politicians; banned books in school libraries; a declared war on a private corporation using the power of the state to punish Disney
  • North Carolina — new Republican majority on North Carolina supreme court reverses prior supreme court decision on racially suspect gerrymandering and voter ID requirements
  • Tennessee — expulsion of democratically elected representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee House of Representatives
  • Montana — Montana Republicans bar duly elected transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr for “decorum”
  • Idaho — legislation prohibiting people in Idaho from helping pregnant minors leave the state to obtain abortions; similar efforts in other Republican super-majority states
  • Texas — legislation enacted to permit the Texas secretary of state to overturn elections in the state’s largest county; legislation prohibiting “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” programs at universities moves forward; ban on use of FDA-approved mifepristone to effect medical abortion; other states and conservative Federal court rulings abet this effort
  • Multiple states — near-total abortion bans in twelve states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia)

It is a terrible picture, if you care about the equal worth of all citizens, and a commitment to full and extensive liberties for all. Reproductive rights are suddenly limited; rights of freedom of thought and expression are limited; groups of citizens are singled out for punitive treatment, including LGBTQ and trans people; voting rights for urban people and people of color are deliberately limited; teachers, librarians, and faculty are intimidated from teaching and speaking independently.

How are we to understand all of these regressive uses of state power? Here is a very plausible thought: They represent an incipient authoritarian imposition of Christian nationalist ideology on the whole of our society. And what is this, if not an early stage of Orbánism in America? It seems evident that numerous Republican-dominated states have already taken clear steps in that direction. Is the soft authoritarianism of today’s Hungary the future of political life in the United States? What will it take to restore democratic freedom and equality in our country?

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