COVID-19 & The Rise of Authoritarianism

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Over the past few months, the world has been getting used to the new normal. We’re wearing masks, socially distancing, working from home, and quarantining. I even had to resort to using paper towel rolls the girth of my torso from Georgia Pacific because paper towels were sold out everywhere nearby.

As those weeks have turned into months, I’m starting to understand why the Spanish Flu had a second wave. I just want to get back to normal. When it comes down to it though, we press on with the proper precautionary measures because it’s the right thing to do. People aren’t the only ones pressing though. Governments are, and while the world isn’t short of corrupt totalitarian leaders, they aren’t the only ones infringing upon the people. To make things even more interesting, the people of these otherwise democratic nations aren’t as bothered by it as we may have thought.

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Corruption ‘Justified’ by Coronavirus

Hong Kong’s protests were one of the biggest news stories of 2019. A city in which its people have never really had their own complete sovereignty, Hong Kong’s residents took to the streets, fighting through both tear gas and censorship. Now, China has full control. Measures have been taken to ensure the undesired communist occupation continues while the residents of Hong Kong are unable to protest due to quarantine.

Azerbaijan jailed Tofiq Yagublu, a prominent figure of the opposition party, on charges of hooliganism.

Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Iran, and Morocco have all banned newspapers over the past couple of months. They say their intentions are to stop the spread of the virus. We know their intentions are to stop the spread of information.

This is the authoritarian style of government we are all too familiar with. Corrupt leaders use tragedies as opportunity for personal gain. It’s a story we’ve heard too many times, but it’s not the only story being told today.

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Authoritarianism Extends to Democratic Countries

Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban has been the sole ruler of the European nation since March 30th. Hungary’s emergency crisis measures are a constitutional crisis on steroids. The Prime Minister is given total power and unlike other nations, only Prime Minister Orban gets to decide when it ends. At the time of writing this article, Orban is prepared to give up his power on June 20th. Still, that will be nearly 3 months of dictatorship for a country that remains part of the European Union. In the 20th century, Hungary was dominated by the Nazis during World War II and served as puppets of the Soviet Union thereafter. For a country with such a treacherous recent history, how could its people allow a system like this to even exist, and why aren’t more people talking about it?

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How The Coronavirus Relates To Authoritarianism

According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, this behavior is completely predictable. It turns out that when people are in an environment that is ripe with infectious disease, people are more open to and inclined towards authoritarianism. Not only is Prime Minister Orban more likely to have these authoritarian tendencies, but the Hungarian people are too.

That’s also a good reason for why we’re not talking about this. The whole world is ripe with infectious disease at the moment, which means the planet is more prone towards authoritarianism. Make no mistake. When we emerge from our sanitized shelters, our new world will be one with less freedom and less stability. If it’s what the people want, then I suppose the government is just complying with the desires of the populous. Logically, when faced with the great possibility of death, it can make sense to want to break free from the chains of bureaucracy so that lives can be saved more quickly. Of course that assumes that one’s Prime Minister, President, Chancellor, Supreme Leader, etc. will handle the issue in a moral and efficient way.

While Hungary should return to a more democratic state on June 20th, not everywhere will do so swiftly. Let’s keep one thing in mind. People are more prone to authoritarianism during and only during the threat of the infectious disease. Once the Coronavirus threat is over, civilizations will be left with governments ill suited to meet their needs.

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A Mismatch Between A Government & Its People

The greater the divide between the agenda of a government and its people, the harder the transition of power becomes. A virtuous leader given extended power would relinquish that immediately and return to the 2019 way of life, but as we all know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Countries like Azerbaijan may have less attention for events like Formula 1 races and more attention for events that look like their own version of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Hong Kong may resist China with a reaction more visceral than America’s in 1776. Those who have been silenced will find a new voice. For some, this will be through writing on the web. For others, their message will be felt by the pull of a trigger, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

As people, societies, and governing bodies, we need to be conscientious of our actions. Their long term ramifications may overwhelmingly outweigh any benefits they offer now. To save just one life is worth incredible sacrifice, but to live a life worth living is worth the same. Now that the many have put the power in the hands of the few, it is vital to begin the dialogue for how that power is to return before we arrive at the point when it can. If we are not ready, we will have consented to continue authoritarianism, and in that sense, we would be willing our own demise.

Very soon, the world will face a fork in the road. One path leads to liberty, while the other leads somewhere we’ve visited far too many times already. Armed with research, hindsight, and a voice, now is the time to take action. If we do not, those most greatly afflicted may find themselves armed with a gun, for they were left with no other choice.

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Fighting Authoritarianism Means Fighting Infectious Disease

When we transition from using hand sanitizer and wearing masks to settling into whatever the new world holds, we’ll be faced with a battle as old as humanity itself. As society’s praise for healthcare heroes inevitably fades and our interest in vaccine research dissipates into the same part of our mind that houses concerns for the Amazon rain forest, somewhere around the world a new virus will mutate itself into existence. Perhaps instead, we’ll face a bacteria that is not stifled by antibiotics. It could be 10 months, 10 years, or 10 decades down the road. That won’t matter though.

Regardless of when it happens, people will scramble to deploy what they think is the best solution. As history is doomed to repeat itself, many will turn to authoritarianism once more. As they see their nations morph into reflections of the worst humanity has offered, their post-post-post modern society will wonder where it all went wrong. They will look back at the lessons we learned and the actions we took to prevent their tragedy from occurring. It would be so pitiful if they were to look back upon a people who chose to revert back to distracting ourselves from the problems we face by judging others and spending money we don’t have instead of seeing a people who chose to unify for a purpose.

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Authoritarian leaders don’t lead their countries forward. They lead them into war, famine, and humanitarian crises. If humanity ever intends on defeating authoritarianism, research and history have shown us that it means we have to defeat infectious disease. The war on infectious disease rages on, and despite the inevitable decline of support as life improves, the soldiers on the front lines will be our healthcare heroes — in the medical facility, in the field, and in the lab.

To save the future of democracy, to continually grow the world economy, to protect the sovereignty of the individual, and to save the lives of millions, it’s time to acknowledge that we have to rip the bandage we use for infectious disease off at some point. With what is at stake, now sounds like the perfect time to do so.

Creator. Project Minded. Husband. NY Islanders fan. Music Producer. Auto Enthusiast. Bargain Hunter. Writer. https://twitter.com/Kyle_Duffy_

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