The onus is on us | Eastern North Carolina Now

Lib Campbell: Above
    Bells are ringing all over the country. Some are Christmas bells, but more of them are alarm bells. Even conservative Republicans are beginning to sound the alarm. Liz Cheney has been on television promoting her book, Oath and Honor, sounding a warning of the dangers of a second Trump presidency. The clear message from her solid conservative background is that the election in November 2024 is a choice of voting for democracy or autocracy.

    Mr. Trump has already stated the plan of becoming a dictator. When he himself says it, we should believe it. He is already using the autocrat's playbook on the campaign trail.

    Ellen Sollod is an interdisciplinary artist whose work, The Autocrat's Playbook, was written as a "response to the very real jeopardy that the US democracy faced under the Trump Administration." She printed a limited edition of the book and sent it to 60 thought leaders across the US, people she hoped could foster and promote our democracy. She heard back from about 30 of them. The lackluster response prompted her to say that "Our democracy remains in jeopardy."

    This is why many of us are sounding alarms in all the places we can. This is a drumbeat of freedom that is ringing. If we hope to keep our democracy, we need to pay attention. As Liz Cheney said at the end of one of her interviews, "the onus is on us."

    If you have seen video or heard interviews with Trump and others who think democracy is passe, here is Sollod's list from the autocrat's playbook that will ring a bell with you.

    "Promote a cult of personality. Insist that lies are true. Attack the free press. Use propaganda to manipulate public opinion. Discredit institutions. Undermine faith in an independent judiciary, then pack the courts. Reward cronies. Demonize vulnerable groups. Subvert the rule of law."


    There are more. "Threaten to imprison political rivals. (Remember 'Lock her up'.) Surround yourself with sycophants. Circumvent the legislative process. Suppress opposition voting. Use your position to enrich yourself. Manipulate with hot button issues. Erode civil liberties. Demonstrate contempt for social norms."

    And if that's not clear enough... "Use victimhood to gain power. Shower praise on strongmen. Conflate nationalism and patriotism. Sustain a disinformation campaign. Distance yourself from historical allies. (like NATO.) Apprentice yourself to dictators. Install an official press. Abuse power in the name of national security. Portray yourself as 'the common man' while demanding adulation."

    The foreword of Sollod's Autocrat's Playbook says this, "Advice to a would-be autocrat: You don't have to be particularly clever. You just have to be methodical (and I might add maniacal). Follow certain steps. Repeat. Others have done this. You can too."

    When Ann Applebaum tells the story of the Twilight of Democracy, she uses the events of Poland and Hungary to describe how wanna-be dictators operate. Autocrats everywhere use the same playbook. Victor Orban, Vladimir Putin, I might even put Bibi Netanyahu in this category.

    Countries become the proverbial frog in the boiling pot as democracy is chipped away until is it cooked, while no one is paying attention.

    What is the answer for any of us who see this danger and are alarmed? Cheney thinks the ballot box is the only answer now. Impeachments against Trump failed. The Justice System is being pummeled, as it bends over backwards to make sure Trump's rights are protected.

    Our culture wars have so divided us, nothing functions to bring us together.

    Perhaps we all need a little Christmas. There is a story from the trenches in WWI France. On Christmas Eve of 1914, French and British soldiers began singing "Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm; all is bright." The field of battle became quiet. Soon the sound of German voices singing, "Stille Nacht" joined the chorus.

    The "Christmas Truce," which lasted from December 24 through December 26, is recorded in picture and lore about the soldiers from both sides of the battle who mingled and shared food. There is some speculation a football game broke out. Hostilities continued when the truce ended. But the interim time was one of burying the dead in worship and prayer.


    Our problems are God-sized problems. Lord, raise up leaders among us who see the vision of justice and liberty, inclusion, kindness and love. We are teetering and worried. Bring the light of your love into the world that waits.

    Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: She welcomes comments at
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