MINOT, N.D. — I wish it were less true, but the reality of politics is that most people are fine with authoritarianism as long as it's the right kind of authoritarianism.
I was thinking about that truth while reading this Washington Post article about a study from an international team of academics (including North Dakota State University political scientist Daniel Pemstein) purporting to show that Republicans have shifted toward ugly authoritarianism while Democrats have remained pure as the driven snow.
That last is not much of a hyperbole on my part. This from the summary of the study's findings: "V-Party’s Illiberalism Index shows that the Republican party in the US has retreated from upholding democratic norms in recent years. Its rhetoric is closer to authoritarian parties, such as AKPin Turkey and Fidesz in Hungary. Conversely, the Democratic party has retained a commitment to longstanding democratic standards."
Republicans bad; Democrats good.
A ludicrous and deeply unhelpful conclusion.
Institutions such as the news media and academia have become ideological hothouses. It's no big secret that most newsrooms, particularly at the national level, are dominated by left-of-center thinkers, and that right-leaning views are deeply unwelcome in the academic world.
This study, and the Post's credulous reporting on it, are the sort of thing which emerges from those politically homogenous environments.
One conclusion in the study is that Republicans have become much more prone to demonize the political opposition, and that this trend began during the tea party. I think the claim is largely true, but to suppose that Democrats, also, haven't resorted to that sort of thing is absurd.
I helped organize tea party rallies across North Dakota in 2009. I remember Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting we were all "carrying swastikas" to our town hall events. Our movement was derided as racist, at worst, and astroturf, at best. While there are fringe elements in any political movement that its critics like to glom onto to discredit it, the idea that the "tea party" folks were Nazis was, well, demonization.
Of the very sort these academics suggest doesn't happen on the left.
Speaking of demonization, while our liberal friends have come to view these gentlemen more favorably in the Trump era, remember when George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney were the worst people in the world according to the left?
It was fashionable, from 2000 to 2008, to compare Bush to Hitler and casually refer to him as a war criminal.
Former Congressman John Lewis, all but beatified earlier this year upon his death, compared McCain to infamous segregationist George Wallace in 2008. Some of the left even promoted a birther conspiracy about McCain, suggesting he wasn't qualified to be president because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone.
Before Mitt Romney was winning over liberals by standing up to Trump he was branded a misogynist for his clumsy description of his efforts to be inclusive of women.
I'm sure you all can recall Hillary Clinton describing those same people as "deplorables."
Just in recent weeks, social media companies have taken to suppressing right-leaning content. A story about the Biden family's business dealings from the New York Post was censored by both Twitter and Facebook. Locally conservative commentator Chris Berg's Twitter account was suspended by Twitter, apparently at the behest of a former staffer for former Senator Heidi Heitkamp, with no explanation given either to Berg or the public.
The left's reaction to these stories? They're mostly OK with it.
Another claim in the study is that Republicans "no longer adheres to such principles as the commitment to free and fair elections," as the Post article put it.
The degree to which Republicans are refusing to acknowledge President-elect Biden's victory is obnoxious, no doubt, and even dangerous to the extent it further undermines the public's faith in election outcomes. But to suppose that Republicans, and not Democrats, are uniquely guilty of this nonsense is a mistake.
Exaggerations of voter suppression perpetrated by Democrats are one example. Here in North Dakota, during the 2018 election cycle, the desperate campaign for then-Sen. Heitkamp manufactured a narrative about Republican-led efforts to suppress Native American votes. This turned out to be bunk. Voting in Indian Country set records in 2018.
At the national level, if we flashback to the early 2000s, we run into Democrats manufacturing conspiracies about Diebold voting machines which, to hear them tell it, had cost them elections, including the 2000 presidential race which put Bush into office.
Some Democrats of late have become advocates of ending the Electoral College, abolishing the U.S. Senate, and packing the U.S. Supreme Court, all because those institutions have stymied their political agendas to one degree or another.
Here in North Dakota, a left-wing activist group, frustrated with their inability to win elections in our state, backed a constitutional amendment to move the state to the sort of ranked-choice voting and open primaries that would be more conducive to Democratic victories. Measure 3 was ultimately kept off the ballot by the state Supreme Court due to errors in the way it was circulated, but the intent remains.
Despite what this study concludes, Democrats have not been much better than Republicans when it comes to accepting election outcomes gracefully.
The study addresses political violence, too, suggesting that in the Trump era Republicans have been much more willing to endorse, or at least condone, violence against political opponents.
Again, there are certainly right-wing elements who have committed acts of violence, but how can we ignore something like the shooting of four Republicans on a baseball field in Virginia in 2017 by a left-wing malcontent?
How can we ignore the violence of the 2016 protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in southcentral North Dakota?
How can we ignore the flames and broken glass and bodily harm perpetrated by left-wing protesters in cities across the nation this year? And when Democrats refuse to acknowledge that many of these demonstrations were extremely violent, what is that condoning the violence?
Here's a headline from a column written by former Democratic-NPL Lt. Gov. Lloyd Omdahl: "Only riots, burning result in action."
But sure, condoning violence is a uniquely Republican phenomenon.
None of this is meant to suggest that the right has behaved better than the left.
That wouldn't be factually accurate.
But claiming, as this study does, that Republicans have moved toward violence and authoritarianism while Democrats have not is also inaccurate.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.