Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) tracks hundreds of attributes of democracy for 202 countries, spanning more than two centuries. Its 2019 report found that "24 countries are now severely affected by what is established as a 'third wave of autocratization,'" an erosion of democratic rights "that has slowly gained momentum since the mid 1990s. ... Among them are populous countries such as Brazil, India and the United States."Here's a new word for you - "Pathocracy."
“In America under Trump there is a population-based depression taking hold. It is a very subtle, smoldering, pervasive and serious condition that people in autocratic countries chronically live with,” physician and scholar Frederick "Skip" Burkle told me in a recent interview. Burkle has any number of academic credentials: He was founding director of the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Hawaii, and currently serves in advisory or research capacities at the Harvard School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutes, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and elsewhere.
For more insight, I turned to Elizabeth Mika, whose chapter in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” (Salon review here) explained that "Tyrannies are three-legged beasts": There are the tyrant, his supporters and the society as a whole — also known as the “toxic triangle.” That chapter stood out for its comprehensive perspective on the entire situation America finds itself in. Mika wrote:
The tyrant shows up in a society that is already weakened by disorder, blind to it, and unable and/or unwilling to take corrective measures that would prevent a tyrannical takeover. Once he and his sycophantic cabal assume power, they deepen and widen the disorder, dismantling and changing the society’s norms, institutions, and laws to fully reflect their own pathology.
When I reached out to Mika this time, she cited two concepts as particularly important for “understanding our sociopolitical situation” — both what’s driving the depression Burkle speaks of, and what points toward the way out.
“The first one is pathocracy,” Mika said. “which is the rule of pathological characters — specifically, people with entirely absent or severely compromised conscience — who, because of their character defect, are devoted pretty much exclusively to the pursuit of power by any means possible.”
Pathocracies spread into general populace like cancer, taking over and destroying organs of social and political life, along with individual human beings. People living under pathocracies become demoralized and despondent. Depression and despair, along with various social pathologies, are predictable consequences of being forced to adjust to immoral and inhumane socio-political systems based on lies and exploitation.
Yet “just as pathocracy spreads in a populace, so does a healthy resistance to it,” she explained.
The way out is not a return to normalcy, since as Mika noted above, “The tyrant shows up in a society that is already weakened by disorder.” America is nowhere near as bad as communist Poland, where she grew up. But, she said, “The American pathocracy in place is in some ways more pernicious than the communist one, as Americans have retained their illusions of freedom, while there were none left under communism.”
...Ian Hughes, author of "Disordered Minds: How Dangerous Personality Disorders Are Destroying Democracy," recently wrote about the toxic triangle here, where he describes individuals like Trump as “trapped within a narrow range of extreme thoughts, feelings and behaviors that focus on rage, arrogance, self-importance, denigration of others, scapegoating, disregard for the rights of others and a propensity towards cruelty and revenge.”
...The rise of these sycophants to positions of power in Trump’s administration is one key developments that has accelerated the craziness of late. William Barr’s appointment as attorney general was a watershed moment in this regard. His outright lying about the contents of the Mueller report profoundly misled the public about its basic findings, a state of affairs that persists to this day. That is arguably the driving reason Trump has not already been impeached.
...“The ease with which the sycophants and followers of a pathological leader fulfill their roles astounds us," Mika observed, "because the number of people with an impaired or absent conscience is always higher than we want to believe. We can see it most clearly when a conscienceless leader is given ultimate power, because he allows and legitimizes the most primitive drives and behaviors in others.”
...“They are testing the waters to see what and where they can get away with ... and pull back quickly if caught,” Burkle said. That uncertainty is just part of the overall pathocracy. Throw California’s homeless into privately-owned, government-backed concentration camps? Sure, why not?This can be stopped but not until we're ready to fight.
...But the worldwide erosion of democratic rights in the “third wave of autocratization” tracked by V-Dem means the United States is not alone. As Mika pointed out, “pathocracies expressed in communism and rapacious capitalism have more in common than one may realize. Both are oppressive and exploitative, both are based on lies about human nature, and therefore both contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.”
Any organization, any system built on lies, oppression and injustice, and contributing to the growth of human suffering, is destined to collapse. It may take a long time for it to happen, and it may seem impossible, but eventually it will happen. Our individual and social evolution proceeds toward realization of our highest values, encoded in our deepest nature. Pathocratic systems, with the pain and suffering they produce, spur us to growth and change as they confront us with our lower nature, which they express.