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Authoritarians want to write their own rules and we can’t let them


So here we go again. Once more, the country is in the grip of a Donald Trump drama, when there are so many other important issues we need to address. As the world now knows, Trump has been indicted in New York on charges related to paying hush money to an adult film performer. The charges are felonies because prosecutors intend to show that Trump hid the payouts in phony business records in order to commit yet another crime – possibly a violation of campaign finance law, or even a tax law violation.

It’s all a sad and disgusting mess. And this, like the other charges that could soon be made against Trump, reflect a fundamental truth about him: a belief that rules can be bent, broken or rewritten to accommodate his personal agenda. But Trump is not alone in this; it’s common to authoritarian types.

Take another Florida man – Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While the focus has been on Trump, machinations have been under way in Florida to change the state’s resign-to-run law. That law says an elected official cannot run for another elected position if its term overlaps with the term they’re currently serving. Republican legislators have come out in favor of repealing this law – which appears to be the one thing delaying DeSantis’s plunge into the presidential race.

DeSantis is certainly not in a hurry to resign as governor. The job gives him way too many opportunities for his culture-war theatrics. Rewriting the law would suit him just fine, though, and I am sure he has made that clear to the GOP leaders advocating for this in the state House and Senate.

While DeSantis appears likely to get election laws tailored for his benefit, a Florida elections bill just introduced in the state Senate does plenty to make it harder for people in his state to vote.

One especially disturbing provision is an obvious response to the embarrassing fallout for DeSantis after he trumpeted a crackdown on returning citizens who tried to vote. DeSantis had egg on his face when these folks were arrested even though they had been issued state voter IDs. The new Senate bill says voter ID cards should have a disclaimer printed on them saying they are “not legal verification of the eligibility to vote.” That’s just mind-boggling.

And that’s the issue with authoritarians, fascists and would-be tyrants everywhere: they’re all about rules and the sanctity of law until it comes to themselves. They want rules restricting your freedom, not their own, and if a law gets in their way they’ll ignore it or use their power to try to override it.

I don’t know if the next GOP nominee for president will be Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis or someone else. I do know that the new anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian mood that has taken over the Republican party is real and dangerous. This is a party that doesn’t want to share power or play by the rules, that doesn’t want to investigate January 6 or Trump’s multiple offenses. It’s a party that openly worships strongmen here and abroad. Lately, the adulation has gone off the rails; Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, in New York for Trump’s arraignment, compared his arrest to that of Jesus.

We can’t accept this as the new normal. We have a right to demand accountability, honesty and ethical behavior from leaders ranging from your local school board member to President of the United States. I know there’s a lot of cynicism about politics and politicians. But as someone who has served in public office and devoted years to mentoring young elected officials, I can tell you that politicians are not all the same. For every Trump or DeSantis, there are many sincere, selfless people who want to serve their communities and their country.

If that describes you, run for office. If it describes an aspiring leader you know, support them at election time. When we all do this, the authoritarians don’t win. And they don’t get to rig the rules against you, me, and everyone we care about.

Svante Myrick is president of People For the American Way. Previously, he served as executive director of People For and led campaigns focused on transforming public safety, racial equity, voting rights, and empowering young elected officials. Myrick garnered national attention as the youngest-ever mayor in New York State history.