Authoritarianism is found in the Republican Party
Jeff Jacoby (“The authoritarian impulse,” Ideas, July 31) blames Dr. Anthony Fauci for regretting that the government did not institute stronger restrictions during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet Jacoby ignores the fact that many people not only died from that early iteration of the disease — but also killed others simply by breathing in close proximity.
While he takes President Biden to task for using executive orders to achieve policy goals, Jacoby sidesteps the fact that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy left Biden no choice when they declared they would try to block every one of the president’s initiatives.
Jacoby is rightly concerned about the rise of the authoritarian impulse in liberal democracies. But he omits the fact that the real purveyor of incipient authoritarianism in the United States today is the Republican Party.
Authoritarianism is much broader and deeper
Jeff Jacoby defines the authoritarian impulse as “a preference for achieving policy goals through coercion rather than the untidy give-and-take of democratic negotiation.” His examples are mainly executive actions. But the issue is much broader and deeper and should be the subject of an in-depth series that would consider our recent politics, conditions leading to authoritarianism, examples of nations moving from democratic principles to despotic leaders, steps to guard against this tendency, and perhaps, most important, whether Americans favor democracy.
The authoritarian impulse to control abortion rights
In his column, Jacoby bemoans the fact that President Biden has signed too many executive orders, bypassing the legislative branch, “achieving policy goals through coercion rather than the untidy give-and-take of democratic negotiation.” Jacoby quotes Dr. Anthony Fauci who wishes he had pushed the government to impose much more restrictive measures in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. He says “The response to the pandemic was an extraordinary diminution of Americans’ freedom to make choices for themselves and a corresponding enlargement of the power of government officials to rule by decree.” Ironically, the accompanying photo is of President Biden signing an executive action that would expand reproductive health care services, helping to ensure that women could continue to make their own health decisions about their pregnancies and bodies — a right that was taken away when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The full story won’t be found in numbers alone
Jeff Jacoby made some excellent points in his July 31 column, but trying to characterize President Biden as more authoritarian than his predecessors because of the large number of executive decrees he signed on his first day lacks context. It does not take into account how many of those signings were to reverse some of the 220 executive orders signed by his predecessor, or that other orders were to direct federal agencies in their response to the COVID-19 crisis (e.g. to collect data to support the safe reopening of schools) and to ensure ethical behavior by executive agency staff. (COVID and ethics being two areas of particular trouble for his predecessor.) Surely the president has the authority to set priorities, goals, and ethical standards for the executive branch. Numbers alone seldom tell the full story.
More than one million US COVID deaths could have been many more
In his column, Jeff Jacoby cites the harms done by governmental orders instituted to protect the American people from COVID. He dismisses these efforts which he says “did little to reduce the spread of COVID.” He ignores the extreme contagiousness of the disease. At the two-day Biogen Conference in Boston in February 2020, more than 99 people were infected with the disease (presumably by one diseased person). By November 2020, about 300,000 people were infected by this particular strain of the disease. Were it not for the “sweeping shelter-in-place limitations,” the more than one million deaths in the United States from COVID might have become multiples of this number. It is ironic that the editorial on the opposite page chastises the government for its slow response to protect people from monkeypox.
William W. Shrader