THE VISTA: June + July 2022

To say June was an intense month in the US would be an understatement. We encourage everyone to keep tuning in to the January 6th hearings, a testament to the rule of law and the importance of accountability that we cannot take for granted, as stated in this powerful op-ed by Pastor Evan Mawarire.

With the barrage of recent Supreme Court decisions sowing deeper divisions and disorientation, there are many resources such as those compiled by Citizen Connect to help us keep talking to each other and organizing for a just, inclusive, and plural democracy. Special thanks to The Fulcrum for highlighting the work of Horizons and for elevating the call for a mass pro-democracy movement. We agree!

Horizons’ Co-Leads published two articles marking our Independence Day describing the importance of individual and collective action to countering authoritarianism, and the healthy tensions between accountability and healing as a nation.  Finally, Scot Nakagawa offered up sage advice on how to keep up our energies to stay in the fight. The Horizons Project hopes the following compilation of insights will also provide you with some inspiration and needed energy:


Beyond Conflict’s Renewing American Democracy: Navigating A Changing Nation is a treasure trove of information on the psychological drivers that are underlying our current social division and how they have been leveraged to erode democratic norms and processes. The authors include recommendations for how citizens and lawmakers can begin to counteract these forces.

The Frameworks Institute released a meaty report: How Is Culture Changing In This Time of Social Upheaval?, offering an in-depth look at mindset shifts taking place; the tacit assumptions that Americans are drawing on to think about social and political issues (for example individualistic vs systemic thinking.) Highlights from the report can be found here.

This article published by The Intercept, “Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History“, also spurred a strong debate on Twitter about the systemic causes of the internal strife and challenges described in the article.

America Is Growing Apart, Possibly for Good” is a sobering read in The Atlantic that includes a historical perspective from Michael Podhorzer, laying out a detailed case for thinking of the two blocs within the country as fundamentally different nations, uneasily sharing the same geographic space.


This edition of the Braver Angels video podcast includes John Woods Jr. interviewing Manu Meel from BridgeUSA on Gen Z and the “new center.” Manu shares some great wisdom on new theories of change coming from young people for making progress on our most pressing social challenges.

The Future Of, The Verge’s Netflix show about the future of everything is now streaming. Because our relationship to the future and our imagination skills are such an important aspect of successful organizing, this is a show intended to make people feel like an exciting and hopeful future is possible, “if we put our minds to it”.

Check out this series of five videos featuring panel discussions from the Global Democracy Champions Summit co-hosted by Keseb and the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University intended to spur dialogue and action to advance inclusive democracy in the US and globally.


The Good Faith Podcast discusses Replacing White Replacement Theory with special guest Chuck Mingo, pastor and founder of Living Undivided. He helps unpack the history behind the insidious “theory” and why he feels its scarcity mindset is in direct contradiction to the “abundance of God revealed in the Bible.” The podcast also explores the connection of current tragedies to broader understandings of immigration, as well as to the nation’s history of racially motivated violence like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

This episode of the How Do We Fix It Podcast features Elizabeth Doty, Director of the Erb Institute’s Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce at the University of Michigan, discussing constructive ways for businesses to help counter hyper-partisanship in society. We also highly recommend the Erb Institute’s overview of how the private sector can contribute to countering authoritarianism, a key institutional pillar needed to incentivize pro-democratic behavior.

Amanda Carpenter joins The Focus Group with Sarah Longwell Podcast to discuss the January 6th Committee hearings, how they matter for history, and whether they’re contributing to the “Trump voters’ blues.”

On The World Unpacked Podcast by The Carnegie Endowment of Peace, author Moisés Naím discusses his new book The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Power in the 21st Century, covering the “three P’s” of authoritarian regimes: populism, polarization and post-truth.


Scholar-Activist Helen Neville shares all the resources accompanying a special Juneteenth edition of the Journal of Black Psychology focusing on the “Psychology of Black Activism in the 21st Century”, including a series of podcasts that explore the topics in each article.

Sara Grossman tweeted details about the launch of the new Democracy and Belonging Forum, an initiative from the Othering & Belonging Institute to share efforts between Europe and the US. (Horizons is pleased to support this effort, with Chief Network Weaver, Julia Roig, serving as an Advisor).

Tim Dixon breaks down new polling from More in Common to show that Americans are more concerned about threats from within the country than from abroad. And a related thread from Citizen Data describes their research on Americans’ views on electoral integrity and ways to combat election mistrust.

Professor Neil Lewis Jr. lays out the arguments in his recent article in FiveThirtyEight on various research that demonstrates what actually happens when we teach students critical lessons about American history.

James Savage from the Fund for Global Human Rights shares a thread on the amazing new resource, Narrative Spices: An Invitational Guide for Flavorful Human Rights, created together with JustLabs and based on the experiences of narrative change efforts in Mexico, Hungary, Venezuela, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Arnaud Bertrand explains the ironic findings of the annual Global Democracy Perceptions Index in a twitter thread that highlights the challenges with defining what “democracy” is.

Nick Robinson, the head of US Programs at ICNL, put out a thread on the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent Bruen decision (gun control case) on assembly rights, democracy, and the insurrection.


“It’s a summer day. You have a long drive ahead of you. No work to do. Cold beverages in the car. Windows down. You have to put on an album that sounds exactly like summer to you and listen to the whole thing, no skips. What are you playing?” Rachel Syme, staff writer at The New Yorker, posed this question that generated hundreds of great summer listening recommendations. Enjoy!

Authoritarianism: How You Know It When You See It

Purpose: The purpose of this document is to help US organizers, bridge-builders, and ordinary people understand the key attributes of authoritarian systems, how authoritarians wield power, and ways to counter it. 

What is authoritarianism?

Authoritarianism is a constellation of traits in a political, economic, and/or social system, which often include:

  • The concentration of power in the hands of a small group of people who act in ways that are not constitutionally accountable to the people they are meant to represent and serve.
  • A concerted effort by a network of organizations and institutions (governmental, legal, educational, media, business, military police, religious and cultural institutions, etc.) to legitimize an oppressive system by providing it legal and political support, material resources (i.e. money, communication networks), and human resources (people, skills) to maintain control.
  • A system that is willing to engage in a spectrum of undemocratic practice from corruption and sowing lies and conspiracy theories, to using fear and violence in order to manipulate, divide people, and maintain power.
  • The misuse of the power of the state to advance the personal and/or partisan desires of the head of state or a ruling clique (e.g., persecuting political opponents, subverting honest elections).
  • Often emerges “legally”, by democratically elected leaders who subvert democratic norms and institutions to stay in power.
  • A slow and quiet advance over a period of years where small battles weaken the foundations of democracy, which can culminate in a period of rapid democratic losses and decline.

What is it not?

  • A single individual or a few individuals, their character, or a presumed lack of morals. 
  • A partisan policy position that you may find disagreeable.
  • A “red”, “blue”, “left”, or “right” phenomenon – any party or ideology is susceptible.

What are the core attributes of authoritarianism?

  • Rejecting democratic rules of game.
  • Denying the legitimacy of opponents.
  • Tolerating or encouraging political violence.
  • Curtailing the civil liberties of opponents. 
  • Breaking down social cohesion to divide and rule a society.

What are the top 10 elements of the authoritarian playbook?

  1. Divide and rule: Foment mistrust and fear in the population.
  2. Spread lies and conspiracies: Undermine the public’s belief in truth.
  3. Destroy checks and balances: Quietly use legal or pseudo-legal rationales to gut institutions, weaken opposition, and/or declare national emergencies to seize unconstitutional powers.
  4. Demonize opponents and independent media: Undermine the public’s trust in those actors and institutions that hold the state accountable.
  5. Undermine civil and political rights for the unaligned: Actively suppress free speech, the right to assembly and protest and the rights of women and minority groups.
  6. Blame minorities, immigrants, and “outsiders” for a country’s problems: Exploit national humiliation while promising to restore national glory.
  7. Reward loyalists and punish defectors: Make in-group members fearful to voice dissention.
  8. Encourage or condone violence to advance political goals: Dehumanize opposition and/or out-groups to justify violence against them.
  9. Organize mass rallies to keep supporters mobilized against made-up threats: Use fearmongering and hate speech to consolidate in-group identity and solidarity.
  10. Make people feel like they are powerless to change things: Solutions will only come from the top. 

What can we do to push back against authoritarianism?

  • Form large, diverse, cross-partisan and cross-ideological pro-democracy fronts or movements with a shared vision; strategy; and clear, concrete demands.
  • Build the capacity of pro-democracy coalitions and movements to manage constructive tensions, center relationships, and prioritize larger collective goals.
  • Train pro-democracy coalitions and movements in nonviolent discipline and violence de-escalation in the face of authoritarian violence.
  • Invest in opportunities for inter- and intra-group dialogue connected to collective action to break down assumptions, develop empathy and understanding, and build trust at the grassroots by working together to combat authoritarian practices.
  • Diversify the range of nonviolent tactics to include methods of concentration (protests, rallies, sit-ins), and methods of dispersion (walkouts, stay-aways, consumer boycott, labor strikes); not doing what authoritarians expect and want.
  • Engage members of key organizational “pillars” like religious institutions, business groups, unions, professional associations, bureaucracies, media institutions, and security forces in pro-democracy mobilization.
  • Provide pathways for individuals within key pillars that morally or materially support the authoritarian system to join the pro-democracy cause.

Practical Tips and Tools for Everyone:

Practical Tips and Tools for Media:

Practical Tips and Tools for Business:

Additional Key Resources: 

Sources: Hannah Arendt, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Erica Chenoweth, Larry Diamond, Rachel Kleinfield, Steven Levitsky, Ivan Marovic, Hardy Merriman, Kim Scheppelle, Timothy Snyder, Jason Stanley, Maria Stephan, and Daniel Ziblatt

For easy dissemination you can download this post as a .pdf here.

ACTIVATING KEY PILLARS: Combatting Authoritarianism to Uphold Democracy in the United States

The Horizons Project has been convening various conversations with network leaders to reflect together on how key institutional pillars, notably business, faith, and media, can incentivize pro-democratic behavior and discourage authoritarian behavior at the state and federal levels in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm and 2024 presidential elections.


Multiple nonpartisan democracy watchdog organizations and experts have raised the alarm about the crisis of democracy in the US. Freedom House issued an unprecedented special report focused on the US last year, while the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance classified US democracy as “backsliding” for the first time. With the landmark Supreme Court Shelby v. Holder ruling, which overturned key components of the Voting Rights Act, the US began to see a marked decline in democracy as several state and local jurisdictions began to roll back voter protections. The anti-democratic tactics pursued during the Trump presidency, punctuated by the Jan 6th insurrection and attempted coup, rapidly accelerated democratic deterioration.

Authoritarianism has a long streak in US history. Whereas the anti-democratic faction once resided in the Democratic party, which consolidated single-party authoritarian rule after the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and the creation of Jim Crow, today, the locus of authoritarian power has shifted. To cite Sarah Longwell, the CEO of the Republican Accountability Project, it resides squarely within the GOP. The unwillingness of most prominent moderate conservative leaders to distance themselves from this faction and its figurehead, Donald Trump, and their use of various media channels to spread the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, is setting the stage for a constitutional crisis and has heightened the risk of political violence in the years ahead.

The well-documented attempts by state legislatures to restrict voting rights and strip powers away from independent election administrators, combined with a grassroots effort to replace nonpartisan election officials with Big Lie proponents, is paving the way to potential election subversion in 2024. Christian Evangelical leader Reverend Jim Wallis has called voting rights “the moral cause of the American present.” Beyond elections, the erosion of democratic norms and attacks on fundamental democratic institutions and those who have pledged to uphold them and our Constitution, combined with the tolerance of political violence and racially-motivated violence, pose significant threats to the future of US democracy.

While the Left is certainly not blameless (and there are robust discussions happening in progressive circles about the limits of call-out culture and rigid “othering”), an emphasis on “both sides” and “whataboutism” is deflecting attention away from the urgent task at hand: the need to put country over party and work together to counter this authoritarian threat to our democracy.

We are hardly helpless in the face of these challenges. As we’ve been discussing with Horizons’ Project partners, building a broad-based democracy coalition or movement is necessary to stem the tide of rising authoritarianism in the US. Robert Kagan has called for a “national unity coalition”; Christine Todd Whitman is advocating for a “common sense coalition”; Representative Adam Kinzinger is building a “country first” movement; Sarah Longwell has called for a pro-democracy coalition.

Whatever it is called, this unified front must cut across partisan, ideological, race, class, geographic, and other divisions, while incentivizing the active participation from key sectors of society. Just as authoritarianism is a system comprised of different pillars (governmental, media, cultural and educational institutions, private sector, etc.) that enable leaders to wield power and consolidate control, movements are also systems comprised of different pillars.

Scholars of nonviolent action define pillars of support as the “organizations and institutions that provide the moral, political, economic, social, and other forms of power needed by any government or other powerholder to effectively rule.” When those sources of power are restricted or withheld (businesses deny investments, media outlets refuse to run certain content, consumers boycott companies that back authoritarian leaders, professional groups stage walkouts, religious and cultural figures speak out against violence and anti-democratic practices, etc.) this makes it difficult for authoritarians to wield power.

The history of successful pro-democracy movements reveals that opening channels of communication and coordination between key pillars of society is a critical ingredient of their success. It is when unusual suspects and unlikely bedfellows start engaging in extra-institutional forms of nonviolent direct action that change happens. Similarly, expanding the repertoire of nonviolent actions (to include symbolic actions, petitions, marches, sit-ins, stay-aways, walk-outs, boycotts, strikes, and other acts of organized non-cooperation) are needed to expand participation and activate leverage within such a movement.

We look forward to continuing to expand these conversations with influential members of these pillars to engage with each other and activate within their own sectors to use the various levers at their disposal to counter authoritarian trends and build a democracy that works for all Americans.

Other Resources to Consult Include: