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When truth dies, authoritarianism can rise

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While teaching English as a second language several years ago in the Czech Republic, I heard stories from my students of the days of the rule of the fallen communist Soviet Empire.

It was a time of brutal authoritarian rule.

The nation of Poland also fell under the same crushing power of Soviet authoritarianism. Today, both the Czech Republic and Poland are part of the European Union. However, Poland’s newfound freedom is once again under attack from a new expression of authoritarian rule.

In January 2017, a Polish citizen, Martin Mycielski, witnessing the attack of Poland’s democratic system via authoritarianism, crafted the following warning to citizens of the United States published in the EU Observer. I share it with you. The following is how he has witnessed the authoritarian attack on Polish democracy. Keep in mind, this was penned in 2017:

1. They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth. Nevertheless, their victory will be achieved through a democratic process.

2. They will divide and rule. They will call their supporters the only true patriots. Those who oppose them will be labeled traitors, unpatriotic, the corrupt elite.

3. Through convoluted laws and threats, they will try to control the mainstream media and limit press freedom. They will ban critical press from their briefings, calling them liars and fake news. They will brand those media as unpatriotic.

4. They will maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger to enact new authoritarian laws. They will disguise them as being for your protection.

5. They will distort the truth, deny facts and blatantly lie. They will try to make you forget what facts are, sedate your need to find the truth, replace knowledge and logic with emotions and fiction.

6. They will incite and then leak fake, superficial scandals. They will smear the opposition. This is just a smokescreen for the legal steps they will take toward totalitarianism.

7. They will focus on what hurts the most. Racial, religious, sexual and other minorities will become the enemies to order and security. They will challenge women’s social status, undermining gender equality and interfere with reproductive rights.

8. They will seek to take control of the judiciary, to be able to push through unconstitutional legislation and threaten anyone who defies them with prosecution, including the press.

9. They will distort the language, coin new terms, repeat shocking phrases until you accept them as normal and subconsciously associate them with whom they like.

10. They will take over your national symbols and associate them with their regime and power. They want you to forget that your flag, your national anthem, belong to you.

11. They will seek to rewrite history to suit their needs and use education to support their agenda. They will smear any historical or living figure who would not approve their actions.

12. They will alienate foreign allies and partners, convincing you that you don’t need them. They will omit that you are a part of a bigger world that depends on cooperation and on trade.

13. They will eventually manipulate the electoral system.

As this column is being written, an ally and supporter of President Trump and his authoritarian style of leadership, Steve Bannon, is traveling throughout Europe supporting and advising current efforts to place into power authoritarian candidates for prime leadership roles.

The above principles of seizing power are being implemented on a global stage for the first time since World War II and comes, in part, to a reaction resulting from the massive movement of international immigration from war-torn nations.

The first casualty in this grab for power and control is “truth.” Once truth is buried under lies and fear, authoritarian saviors rise up to “make their nations great again!”

The handwriting is on the wall. Are we heeding its message?

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.