Autocracy or Democracy~Time to Choose Part 1 of 4

The following four posts are the scripts of four podcasts focused on defining an Autocracy versus a Democracy, with the intent of providing knowledge to citizens for their consideration before voting, because these ideologies will be choices in each local and national election.

In short, an Autocracy refers to a form of government in which a single individual holds absolute power and authority, making all major decisions without significant input from citizens. The autocrat (authoritarian) ruler has unchecked control over the legislative, executive and judicial branches, leading to limited political freedoms and a lack of checks and balances.

A Democracy is a system of government in which power is vested in the people through elected representatives. It ensures citizens’ participation in decision-making, and provides mechanisms for accountability (rule of law) and the peaceful transfer of power. Democratic societies uphold principles of equality, justice and the protection of minority rights.

While the definitions seem simple, an Autocracy and Democracy are at opposite ends as to vision, mission and guiding principles. Each has the power to impact social-cultural-political outcomes, consequences and most crucially – the quality of life for generations.

Part 1 Provides the history and 20 major traits of an autocrat and autocracy and its ominous threat to American Democracy.
Part 2 Provides references focusing on the evolution of autocrats, regional autocracies, loss of identity as a grievance and how to mentor and defend Democracy.

Part 3: Deals with validating the truth versus conspiracy theories, hate metaphors, misinformation, radical acceptance of truth and the multigenerational trauma an autocracy leaves behind.

Part 4: Deals with the role of education in a democracy, marginally educated citizens, opportunities of worth, “Me Monster” narcissism, geopolitical implications and keeping democracy alive.

The four podcasts are guided by Gloria Lopata Prosperi and by Dr. Jorge Prosperi, author of Trenzas-Braids, originator of the website and of the podcast – Counter Voices

Dr. Prosperi’s research and writings span some 50 years as an educator, workshop facilitator, consultant and researcher, focusing on social-cultural-political constructs, agencies and multigenerational trauma with a focus on providing knowledge, historical context and, as he constantly emphasizes . . . trying to provide relevant language.  

Part 1 Provides the history and 20 major traits of an autocrat and autocracy and its ominous threat to American Democracy.

GLORIA:  Welcome Jorge

JORGE: It’s my pleasure

GLORIA:  So let’s get to the language of today’s topic – the ideologies of autocracy and democracy. Based on historical and current research, you describe an autocracy as inherently insidious, evil and a constant threat to American Democracy.  Why such an ominous description?  

JORGE:  Because I believe that Autocracy – Authoritarianism is inherently, to its core – insidiously toxic and lethal.   Let me be clear – by insidious I mean unscrupulous and dishonest with deceitful motivations and intentions.  Historically, autocracies by their nature have been corrupt, and pursue blatant criminal intent.

GLORIA:  So there should be clear and distinct efforts to help everyday citizens become aware of what is happening under the radar that may be affecting them.

JORGE:  Yes because An autocracy is not focused on empowering citizens but suppressing them. It keeps citizens needlessly anxious, fearful and angry by lying to people, disrespecting their intelligence and urging citizens to blame others. It divides citizens and will not hesitate to promote violence to achieve power and control. All of these traits are totally opposite and an affront to American democracy.  

GLORIA: You state that an autocracy is a “national threat to American democracy” and that there should be a sense of urgency for citizens to become aware and comprehend exactly what is at stake in current and future elections.  Am I overstating your position and belief?

JORGE:  Not at all.  I can’t stress enough that an autocracy will leave ashes behind without regard for collateral damage – without respect for human rights.  Authoritarianism has no standard of behavior. 

GLORIA:  Given what you say is a national threat to American democracy, what are some questions that citizens needs to be asking to deal with the threat and to be able to choose wisely when we vote?

JORGE:  The key questions that I hope citizens will ask by the end of these podcasts with awareness and knowledge are :
What is the intent and outcome of an autocracy?  
Does an autocracy have any guiding principles?
Why are autocracies and autocrats cloaked in constant lies, corruption and criminality?  
Why always the drama and trauma, the needless chaos, dysfunctionality, why the bitterness and hate?  . . .  and for what? 
How will an autocracy enhance the quality of each life and the lives of our children in the 21st century? 
How can an ideology built on deceit, paranoia, delusions, nihilism and division serve its citizens?  For what purpose – for what outcomes? 

GLORIA:  You answer some of the questions posed by stating that the ultimate goal of an autocracy is to not follow the constitution, rule of law and the legitimate will of the people, but to pursue absolute power and its control at any cost.  Can you expand on this? 

JORGE:  Yes – There is a degree of power that is inherent with all governments in respect to governing. That is, the power that voters bestow on elected officials to govern with norms and  guiding principles.  All institutions are constantly dealing with choices on how power should be used. Aside from the vision and mission of an institution, there are guiding principles. 
In a democracy, the responsibility – the expectation bestowed by the people, is that the power will be used responsibly with integrity, veracity, and transparency – establishing credibility and trust.  In a democracy – the power bestowed is never meant to be absolute – and without checks and balances. That is not the case with an autocracy and autocrats. 

GLORIA:  Some political pundits would say that America has established safeguards and protections that would make an autocrat and an autocracy impossible in America, so why do you believe that we are currently so threatened by an autocracy and the rise of an autocrat? 

JORGE:  The same questions were asked in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and now are currently being asked in America. Many were convinced in Germany that, authoritarianism could not – would not happen.  They considered Nazism a carnival side show – describing Hitler as a madman and clown. This is before Hitler became a dictator. A segment of german society became numb to the exaggerations and extremism. 
Books and articles were written warning the German people that Hitler was an autocrat and an autocracy was on the way – there were warnings that their republic was being dismantled norm by norm – principle by principle, election by election.

GLORIA:  It’s curious that the most alarming question that continues to be asked is how could the horrors of Nazism even happen to a society? And interestingly, an historian of modern Germany, Peter Fritzsche, has written several books answering that very question, by examining the letters and diaries of average Germans, from before and through Nazi rule and the war. And it is those personal accounts that have provided some insights by examining the dynamics of human behavior at the time.

JORGE:  Yes, I’m familiar with his work, as you say, based on the letters between Germans who were pro Nazism and autocracy and those who opposed it and supported democracy.
Now I currently see that same divide between extremism and democracy existing in America today, but with little conversation between the two segments of society.
During the 1940’s, for many Germans, Nazism was inconceivable – too extreme to ever become a reality. It would just go away. The belief was – that there were far too many educated people who could not – would not support a dictator.
Tragically – history reminds the world of the cataclysmic multigenerational trauma Hitler, his enablers and Nazism imposed, not only on the German people, but the world. This I believe is the danger and what is at stake now in America.

GLORIA:  I agree there is a clear danger, even though living in the 21st century America – with all of its safeguards – would make one think that most Americans don’t believe that we would ever vote for an autocrat or live in an autocracy. Why do you vehemently disagree?

JORGE:  Because, autocrats have already infected our politics. The latest version, I believe, is called Republican Trumpism with its autocratic ideology, current autocratic legislators – and autocratic candidates that will be on every ballot in 2024 – from school board members to president. 
Let me explain, – our democracy is built on the separation of powers by four branches (the executive – the president), legislative (congress and senate), judicial – the rule of law – the courts – and the fourth estate – the free press.
These are the cornerstones that autocrats want to dismantle and control.  
In other words, eliminate the checks and balances, thereby disregarding the power bestowed on politicians by the people. 

GLORIA:  And unfortunately there has been an increase in the numbers of legislators across the country and future candidates that support republican trumpism. 

JORGE:  Yes! And we should ask – What do they stand for?  What is their platform? Do they even have a platform? What is their intent?
What legislation do they promote or have they passed that has enhanced the quality of life of all citizens?  What problems have they solved?  
Do they use their power to govern or to obstruct – why are they needlessly instigating chaos and confusion?
What is their language and what are their actions in respect to the four branches of our democracy? 

GLORIA: You state that rather than providing comprehensive programs and solutions to complex problems such as the economy, environment and immigration, the autocratic strategy is to instead blame others, deflect, deny and misinform citizens within echo chambers constantly repeating talking points and recycling lies. 

JORGE:  Yes, and this plays out as a reality if we listen to how they define and think about the insurrection on the capitol. After all of the evidence and indictments against the big lie, they still proclaim that Trump won the election.   Why do they hold on to this illusion?
Think about republican trumpism represented by the freedom caucus.  
What do they stand for?    
What is their truth? Do they have any credibility and trust?
Aside from creating dysfunction, division, obstruction and the mania to hold on to power, misinform their constituencies, what have they done for the American people?
Absolutely nothing . . . 

GLORIA:  So, just to be clear, what you’re saying is that American democracy is presently under attack by a systemic process of eliminating and/or corrupting our norms and principles. In other words, we’re actually witnessing an autocratic attack on the very essence of our American democracy and on our citizenship.

JORGE:  Absolutely – my perspective is more than an inkling, but rather a national siren blaring 24/7/365. These are the same warnings sounded in Germany in the 1930s. Americans need to brace themselves for what has already taken root in some states and districts and what is at stake with each vote cast.  

GLORIA:  OK, but let me push back –  we do still have a judicial system of laws, courts and judges that will protect American democracy.  Isn’t that true?  Was it not the courts that denied Trump and his lawyers 61 times out of 62 court cases showing there was no evidence that the election was rigged or unfair? 
Over a 1,000 individuals have either pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes from felonies to serious conspiracy on J6 and the FBI continues to pursue criminals. 
Also, we have false electors admitting their guilt under oath in court for promoting the Big Lie.  Was it not the rule of law that indicted Trump, some of his lawyers and conspirators?  Isn’t that process ongoing and working? 

JORGE: You and political pundits make a valid point. But what if the rule of law had not held?  
What if the insurrection had succeeded?  
What if the false electors had gained access and favor with the Vice President?  
How many republicans in office were ready to support the insurrectionists and still do?
Also, remind me, is Donald Trump still running for president of the United States? 
How many local and national candidates running for office still support Trump and the Big Lie?

GLORIA: But you do admit that the rule of law did prevail?  

JORGE:  I agree, the rule of law and the courts prevailed, but what about Republican Senators, Congressmen, Governors and attorney generals that still promote the big lie and are currently in office? 
Also, consider the judicial system and agencies under assault – the attorney general, FBI, DOJ currently under attack in order to weaken the government from investigating and prosecuting criminality.  

GLORIA:   So given your research on autocracy,  can you provide an overview on the differences between past and current autocrats? 

JORGE:   The autocrats that obviously stand out are Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao who ruled through blatant violence and fear.  But in recent decades a new breed of strongmen have redesigned authoritarianism by manipulating elections in order to remain in power indefinitely. 
Their focus is to achieve two major goals – first is attainment of power and once in power, they shift to retainment – remaining in power and control by changing the constitution and electoral process to remain in power.  

GLORIA:  Can you provide specific examples?

JORGE:  Yes, and the examples are of contemporary autocrats – Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia since 1999 and may remain in power into the 2030s, Erdogan (of Turkey) has ruled since 2014 , Lukashenko of Belarus since 1994, and Viktor Orbán of Hungary since 2010, the Kim family has ruled North Korea since 1948.  These are prime examples of what autocrats strive to achieve and maintain – that is – absolute power and control of power over decades.

GLORIA:  You’ve compiled a list of 20 core characteristics by which to identify an autocracy and autocrats with the intent to clarify and educate citizens. Our listeners should know that these definitions, characteristics and lessons are all documented and available to all citizens who are willing to do the research. 
Podcasts 11, 12 and 13 provide the references and context of these characteristics. What is the relevance of sharing such characteristics and traits?

JORGE:  At a minimum these traits of autocrats can educate and cause citizens to reflect before voting.

GLORIA:  You not only present the research but challenge citizens to compare and contrast the characteristics to a democracy. 

JORGE:  That’s correct – I challenge listeners to compare and contrast each trait of an autocracy with their awareness and definition of American Democracy and then let each citizen be the judge of what is at stake. 

GLORIA:  I have read the comprehensive list and have questions regarding some of these traits. So let’s begin with number 1.

  1. JORGE:  An autocracy is first of all a political ideology, a belief system of governing in which absolute power is held by a ruler.  Once in power, retaining power becomes the major objective at all cost. It demands strict obedience and blind faith to a dictator at the expense of personal freedoms.  # 2
  2. JORGE:  An autocracy is built on political narcissism – the belief of deserved privileges, special treatment, inherent superiority and justification to possess absolute and unconditional power without restraints over its citizens.  # 3
  3. JORGE:  Autocrats know when to strike. That is, when conditions are ripe. They prey on discontentment. They are aware of lingering historical grievances and grudges that divide the country, like civil, cultural, ethnic, religious wars and regional divisions.

GLORIA: Can you shed light on what you mean by historical grievances and grudges that divide the country? 

JORGE: It can be debated that since the civil war, we, in America, continue to have a segment of the population harboring racist attitudes and beliefs. In February of 2024 Neo-Nazis White Supremacists marched in Nashville. The FBI has reported that  Hate racist groups have been on the rise since 2016. The data shows that 62% of victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias toward race/ethnicity/ancestry. Study after study, by the government or by private agencies agree that America’s historic division over race remains at the heart of many conflicts we see in our society.

GLORIA:  I would surmise that the majority of Americans would not deny that racist groups continue to plague our country. So your point is that autocrats not only understand the power of such a division but also promote the divisions for their own self interests. Please go on with number 4.

  1. JORGE:  Autocrats strike when societies are fatigued – exhausted during economic downturns, recessions, inflation, environmental disasters and calamities such as the pandemic.  # 5
  1. JORGE:  A major strategy of an autocracy is to target and blame minorities that are said to be quote – ‘poisoning the blood of the country” that they say are infecting and replacing the social-cultural-ethnic-religious fabric of a country. Number 6
  1. JORGE:  Autocrats prey on segments of society that are predisposed to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, transphobia, sexism, misogyny. These are the -isms and phobias that promote and give rise to militias, Domestic Terrorism, Alt-Right Extreme Conspiracy Theories, White Supremacy that result in Hate Groups recruiting and radicalizing supporters.   

GLORIA:  In relation to number 6 – you mentioned sexism and misogyny – can you tell us the way women are addressed in an autocracy?  

JORGE:  Yes! the way women are defined by autocrats should not be overlooked – an autocracy favors a male-oriented, male dominated patriarchy – suppressing divorce, abortion, equal pay and women’s rights. # 7

  1. JORGE:  Autocrats gain financial support by making promises to special interest groups to eliminate and/or deregulate laws and by blocking legislation – these supporters historically have been (banks, wealthy families and their heirs, industrial tycoons, business executives, media giants and alt-right media networks). # 8
  1. JORGE:  Autocrats use Nepotism – known as political incest – surrounding themselves with inexperienced family members and cronies placed in positions of power.  

Gloria:  Similar to the way Trump did with his son-in-law Jared and daughter Ivanka, both of whom had zero governmental experience. 

Please continue with #9.

  1. JORGE:  A major goal is for an autocratic candidate to become the head of the government in order to use presidential powers to dismantle norms and safeguards in order to remain in power.  # 10
  2. JORGE:  The autocrat makes constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, rallies, songs and flags redefining such concepts as patriotism and nationalism, changing the meaning of  “what it means to be a true American”, excluding others who are not so identified.
    Historically, Autocrats used rallies as a primary strategy to promote talking points for enablers and supporters. Hitler’s rallies were called the Rallies of Victory.  The central focus of the rally was to demean opponents and double down on unchallenged misinformation and lies. # 11
  1. JORGE:  An autocrat revises and distorts validated historical facts and reality. The goal is to show favor with a segment of society that promotes historical revisionism in order to justify and rationalize immoral and criminal legacy.  

GLORIA: What advantage do autocrats have by denying validated history? 

JORGE: History can provide intentions and motivations of leaders. It unearths context and backstories while providing depth of understanding along with evidence of the past as it was lived – with all of its marvelous advancements, achievements but also the stories of human tragedy, of conquest, suppression and genocide.
A democracy, unlike an autocracy is not afraid of its history and learns from it in order to not repeat errors in judgement and pro-actively change for the better. 

GLORIA: Thank you.  Please go on to number 12. 

  1. JORGE:  An autocracy is focused on controlling the daily narrative by bombarding citizens with lies, misinformation and unjustly attack and discredit opponents.  This is done by aligning with news outlets that become echo chambers that continually and consistently repeat the autocratic narrative. In today’s world, social media is the primary force for autocrats to deliver its brand and message.  # 13
  1. JORGE:  Autocrats declare the fourth estate as the enemy of the people justifying censorship, jailing and even murdering journalists.  # 14
  1. JORGE:  Absolute – blind-faith-loyalty is required by the autocrat.  This is the psychological cult aspect of an autocracy. 

GLORIA:  Can you talk a little more about an autocracy as a cult? 

JORGE:  Yes, an autocracy is a cult given the definition of a cult. That is – followers worshiping the autocrat dependent on the dogma and norms of the group.
In a cult, supporters  don’t question, compare and contrast belief systems – but rather recycle lies they tell themselves over and over. 
Another trait of a cult is that supporters often become isolated from family members, workplace and friends. This creates a bee-hive mentality.  Members become absolute believers disregarding the truth and adopting the language and behavior of their leader. # 15

  1. JORGE:  Once in power, autocrats replace, terminate, murder those in opposition, and surround themselves with yes men and women always focused on total control.

GLORIA:  As recently occurred with Alexy Navalney in Russia.  

JORGE:  Yes! That’s a prime example. # 16 

16. JORGE:  Autocrats never acknowledge the achievements of the other political parties or election results.  They never apologize or take responsibility for their actions.  They believe they are above laws and do not accept decision by juries, judges, courts and elections.  # 17

GLORIA:  This sounds familiar to what Trump alledgedly tried to do regarding denying the 2016 election results and continuing to try to deny his guilt in his many indictments.

17.  JORGE:  Yes! Those are accurate examples.  Let me continue with
#17  Autocrats centralize, politicize and radicalize the police and military.  They use martial law to control opposing demonstrations, freedom of assembly and they eliminate unions. They create and enforce extreme sanctions restricting incoming and outgoing travel and create detention camps separating family members as a solution to immigration. 

GLORIA:  We saw that first-hand as the Trump administration separated children from their parents along the southern borders as an inhumane solution while blaming others for the problem.

JORGE: Yes, the history of autocrats dealing with highly complex solutions has been to engineer horrific human tragedies – which leads to characteristic # 18 – 

18.  JORGE:  Autocrats do not have a comprehensive political platform based on comprehensive collaborative policies and programs by which to govern but rather create a social-cultural-political narrative of blaming others for highly complex problems. 
The strategy is to point fingers at opponents and focus on electing an autocrat who simply promises to solve all complex problems.
The reality is that there are no simple solutions and it’s a fantasy to believe that any one man can be the answer  # 19

19. JORGE:  Autocrats focus on suppressing the vote using a host of strategies – for example generating false information regarding voting process, limit access to college students, create challenges to accessibility rules, limit the number of voting locations and times, alter the language on ballots to confuse voters, realign electoral district boundaries and, a favorite of the Nazis, station partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters. 
Most of these strategies to suppress voting rights were used in Germany, and are currently used in autocratic countries and sad to share – these strategies are now part of Republican Trumpism. # 20

20.  JORGE:  Upon losing elections, autocrats will not hesitate to resort to accusing the electoral process as fraudulent, attacking election officials and ultimately resorting to violence and insurrection to achieve power. 
Autocrats deny legitimate democratic elections and call on supporters to revolt against their government. 
These are called self-coups – or coups from the inside – the Spanish term autogolpe means coup – a blow from the top – a leader and party trying to stay in power through illegal means. 
Research shows that between 1946 and 2022 an estimated 148 self coup attempts took place, 110 in autocratic countries and 30 in democracies. 

GLORIA: So, did we witness a coup on January 6, 2021?

JORGE:  Yes based on unequivocal validated facts.  The events of January 6, 2021 are now historically listed as one of those self-coup attempts. 
Let me put validated research aside and ask the listeners, – when we witnessed the insurrection on the Capitol – as citizens – regardless of our party affiliation and zip codes –  regardless of race, ethnicity, religion –  as American citizens –  what did we see as a nation with the rest of the world watching?  
It was not the 1930s or 1940s. It was January 6, 2021 – not in Russia, Hungary, Venezuela, Brazil, Iran, Korea, China or Turkey – but the USA. 
What did we see with our own eyes? Be honest – what did we witness as citizens of the United States of America?
What was the hate language used by the insurrectionists? 
What was the language on the flags and signs? 
What were the actions resulting in 5 deaths and countless injuries? 
Why was a gallows erected to hang the Republican vice president? 
Who and what were the insurrectionists representing and why?
What did we see, along with the rest of the world with our own eyes?
We witnessed an autogolpe – a coup by alt right-wing extremism, insurrectionists with weapons, threats of death to legislators – and the plot to submit fraudulent certificates of electors who are now confessing as guilty of being fake electors.     
These were all choices made in a demonstration of power from the leaders and their followers to overthrow the government and the will of the people. 

GLORIA: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the 20 traits presented today are only a few of the many characteristics of an autocracy and autocrats – is this correct?  

JORGE:  Absolutely, and this is why the topic of autocracy and autocrats has been divided into four podcasts – there is a great deal of not only content but context to cover.
The objective of these podcasts is to provide citizens with knowledge references and sources for citizens to consider before voting. 
We need to be clear headed about what is at stake – the risks.  We need to own the knowledge – the reality – the truth that is available to all of us – and may I remind, many of the characteristics of an autocracy and autocrats will be on the ballot in November of 2024.  

GLORIA: Thank you Jorge – your explanations and list highlight why the podcast on this topic is in four parts.  There is much to digest. 

Please join us in listening to podcast # 11 – Autocracy versus a Democracy – Time to Choose – Part II that will provide significant references adding knowledge and reasons for voters to focus on their due diligence before casting their vote and choose between – an autocracy or democracy?

It’s been a sincere pleasure to share these thoughts with you. I urge our audience to go to to find articles on comparing an autocracy versus democracy.

As always, sincere thanks to Alan Contino Executive Producer and Chief Engineer of Delirium Networks and to Nancy Gage and Anthony Baez for the graphic designs on the website and podcast — and lastly our thanks to each of you for joining us —  I am Gloria Lopata Prosperi and you have been listening to Counter-Voices.

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