(Washington, DC) – The rise of populist leaders in the United States and Europe poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its World Report 2017. Donald Trump’s election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk
Meanwhile, strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality, Human Rights Watch said.
“The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” Roth said. “Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”“We forget at our peril the demagogues of the past: the fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majority’s interest but ended up crushing the individual,” ... “When populists treat rights as obstacles to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”
Roth cited Trump’s presidential campaign in the US as a vivid illustration of the politics of intolerance. He said that Trump responded to those discontented with their economic situation and an increasingly multicultural society with rhetoric that rejected basic principles of dignity and equality. His campaign floated proposals that would harm millions of people, including plans to engage in massive deportations of immigrants, to curtail women’s rights and media freedoms, and to use torture. Unless Trump repudiates these proposals, his administration risks committing massive rights violations in the US and shirking a longstanding, bipartisan belief, however imperfectly applied, in a rights-based foreign policy agenda.
The populist-fueled passions of the moment tend to obscure the longer-term dangers to a society of strongman rule, Roth said. In Russia, Vladimir Putin responded to popular discontent in 2011 with a repressive agenda, including draconian restrictions on free speech and assembly, unprecedented sanctions for online dissent, and laws severely restricting independent groups. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, concerned about the slowdown in economic growth, has embarked on the most intense crackdown on dissent since the Tiananmen era.
The 15 Warnings Signs of Impending Tyranny
As tyrants take control of democracies, they typically:
1. Exaggerate their mandate to govern – claiming, for example, that they won an election by a landslide even after losing the popular vote.
2. Repeatedly claim massive voter fraud in the absence of any evidence, in order to restrict voting in subsequent elections.
3. Call anyone who opposes them “enemies.”
4. Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them, calling them “deceitful” and “scum.”
5. Hold few if any press conferences, preferring to communicate with the public directly through mass rallies and unfiltered statements.
6. Tell the public big lies, causing them to doubt the truth and to believe fictions that support the tyrants’ goals.
7. Blame economic stresses on immigrants or racial or religious minorities, and foment public bias and even violence against them.
8. Attribute acts of domestic violence to “enemies within,” and use such events as excuses to beef up internal security and limit civil liberties.
9. Threaten mass deportations, registries of religious minorities, and the banning of refugees.
10. Seek to eliminate or reduce the influence of competing centers of power, such as labor unions and opposition parties.
11. Appoint family members to high positions of authority
12. Surround themselves with their own personal security force rather than a security detail accountable to the public.
13. Put generals into top civilian posts
14. Make personal alliances with foreign dictators.
15. Draw no distinction between personal property and public property, profiteering from their public office.
Consider yourself warned.
- Shakespeare's Henry VI
CADE: Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony to drink small beer:… [A]nd when I am king, as king I will be,—
ALL: God save your majesty!
CADE: I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.
[REBEL]: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
CADE: Nay, that I mean to do.
Those pesky lawyers for sure, although in Shakespeare's play they're also a metaphor for society's educated, the literate, the "elite" — all those who, grounded in the thorny realities of civilization, might complicate Cade's extravagant simplicities and laughable promises of overnight redresses. Coping with unpleasant realities and those who remind us of their equally unpleasant tenacity can be hard, hence Cade and his radical throng's why-didn't-we-think-of-this-before? solution: Just ignore reality in all its disagreeable forms, exterminate the realists, and conjure a utopian alternative — simple as that.
Yertle, the Commander-in-Chief
“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh, the things I now rule!
I’m the king of a cow! And I’m the king of a mule!
I’m the king of a house! And, what’s more, beyond that
I’m the king of a blueberry bush and a cat!
I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!”
“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it. Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food. We are starving!” groaned Mack.
Yertle the Turtle - Dr Seuss