Descent into Authoritarianism

Ritchie Calvin
6 min readJan 20, 2024
Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

And then we fell in love, okay? No, really — he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters.”
(Donald Trump on Kim Jong Un)

I got along with Putin. Let me tell you, I got along with him really well.”
(Donald Trump on Vladimir Putin)

But Viktor Orbán, he’s the head of Hungary and he runs a tough, let me tell you, he runs it properly, he runs it strong, with crime and everything else he runs it strong.”
(Donald Trump on Viktor Orbán)

The only world leaders that Donald Trump has befriend are authoritarians. His penpal Kim Jong-un is a dictator. His confidant Vladimir Putin is a dictator. Viktor Orbán is a dictator. Xi Jingping, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Trumps loves these men. He gushes over them. He values their word over his own military advisors. He admires their control and their policies, including their policies regarding the LGBTQ community. Brian Klaas writes: ““Authoritarians learn from one another. Their playbooks draw on similar tactics.” As we shall see.

In North Korea, homosexuality is not strictly speaking illegal. However, we have reports that a lesbian couple was executed for “being influenced by capitalism and bringing corruption of public morals.” Further, North Koreans cannot change gender and cannot identify as non-binary. North Koreans do not recognize same-sex marriage or employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.

In Russia, similar conditions exist. Russians cannot change gender and cannot identify as non-binary. Russians do not allow same-sex marriage, but they do allow conversion therapy. In 2023, Russian lawmakers passed laws that outlaw “LGBT propaganda” and that restrict “LGBT behaviour.” The so-called “gay propaganda law” says that its aim is to “protect children” from homosexuality. Foreigners in Russia who break this law can be fined and/or detained.

In Hungary, citizens cannot change gender and cannot identify as non-binary; however, they do have some workplace and housing protections. While homosexuality was made legal in Hungary in 1961, in 2021 lawmakers began passing anti-LGBT laws. They banned LBGT topics form school curricula. No book containing LGBT content can be within 200 meters of a school. Hungary has also passed legislation that defines ‘sex” as “sex at birth.” Therefore, intersex and trans individuals cannot change their legal gender.

In Uganda, conditions are truly frightening. Homosexuality is just plain illegal. It is a crime. It is punishable by imprisonment or capital punishment. Unsurprisingly, some in the MAGA crowd support this.

That attitude of favoring authoritarian leaders and detesting the LGBTQ community similarly permeates the MAGA crowd. In December 2023, Republican Representative from Michigan, Tim Walberg, told the Ugandan politicians to “stand firm” in their policy to “kill gays.” The Ugandans had passed a set of laws that criminalized same-sex conduct, and that would include the death penalty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The law sets a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality, and is sets capital punishment for “serial offenders.” Walberg says that supporting such laws puts him on “God’s side.”

Though many US politicians condemned Walberg’s stance regarding Uganda, many others push ahead with similar agendas.

For example, in Indiana both the House and Senate have produced laws addressing the LGBTQ community.

S.B. 350 was written to address, in part, conversion therapy. While some states have outlawed the practice (and as we saw above, authoritarian states do not outlaw it), Indiana state legislators were responding to local municipalities passing laws to ban conversion therapy. State legislators offered S.B. 350 to prevent any local authority from exerting its authority over any counselor that is regulate at the state level. In S.B. 350, they call the situation an “emergency.”

S.B. 480 is aimed at defining and limiting “Gender Transition Procedures for Minors.” Within the bill, it defines “sex” as “the biological state of being male or female, based on the individual’s sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous hormone profiles.” The bill prohibits any health care provider from providing any gender affirming care to a minor. The provider CAN, however, provide services to any individual with a “medically verifiable” “disorder of sexual difference.” In other words, they CAN alter the sexual characteristics of an individual in order to make them conform to the sexual binary.

In the other chamber, H.B. 1291 (2024), introduced by Republican lawmakers Judy, King, Davis, and Morris, would remove the word “gender” from state laws. The bills begins by defining a series of terms, including, “boy,” “father,” “female,” “girl,” and “male.” Each is defined in terms of biological characteristics or functions. For example, the bill defines a “male” as someone who can produce sperm, and defines a “female” as someone who produces ova. The Bill then amends the general “Indiana Code,” by striking out the word gender and replacing it with “biological sex.” The Code redefined includes student housing, voter registration, government employee hiring and promotion, statewide training programs, law enforcement, etc. In short, any work done by the government would be rewritten to replace “gender” with “biological sex.”

In short, it erases trans, intersex, and gender fluid individuals. If they were to participate in any aspect of government, then they would have to comply with these terms. If they do not comply, they cannot exist.

And here’s the kicker, the Bill defines marriage as only between a male and female (which it has already defined as biologically defined), and it would render null and void within the state of Indiana any same-sex marriage solemnized in another state.

Such a provision is categorically unconstitutional. It cannot stand. They know it. So why have it in place? Because of trigger laws.

As the conservative courts and legislatures chipped away at Roe v. Wade, state legislatures passed trigger laws. These are laws that will take effect when certain criteria are met. In these cases, they were designed so that when Roe v. Wade was nullified, the state laws immediately made abortion illegal.

Similarly, they are working toward and hoping for the overturning of Obergefell, the Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex legal federally. In Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion on the Dobbs case, he signaled that, just as Roe v. Wade was wrongly argued, so too were decisions such as Obergefell and Loving (the case that made interracial marriage legal).

So, conservatives have their sights on overturning Obergefell. No doubt conservatives are looking for cases to send up to the Supreme Court to challenge it. And it may well be overturned. And when it is, the state-level trigger laws will kick in, making same-sex marriage illegal — among other things.

Trump has learned from the world’s authoritarians. His MAGA followers have learned as well. In fact, CPAP invited Viktor Orbán as their guest of honor. They have learned to “demonize opponents” (Klaas) to create an easy target for their base to aim their anger and fears at. The target is a vulnerable community, one without the numbers or political power to defend themselves.

As we have seen in many countries, the authoritarian figures make targets of the LGBTQ community. Many people do not understand LGBTQ individuals, and they fear what they don’t understand. Their numbers are not large. Their rights are already limited. The authoritarians tell them that the queer folk are coming for them, that they are ruining all the institutions they hold dear.

And it works. People pile on. They ridicule and despise what their leaders tell them to. The authoritarians entrench themselves on the backs of the vulnerable (LGBTQ folk and immigrants). And the authoritarians put their opponents’ lives in jeopardy. They erase them from textbooks. They erase them from public discourse. They erase them from public institutions.

And that the next step to erase them completely. Donald Trump, no more than Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin, will not care in the slightest when the people he has demonized are disappeared.

That’s what authoritarians do.

Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Queering SF: Readings, Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction (Palgrave McMillan) and edited a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls (McFarland). His most recent book is Queering SF: Readings (Aqueduct Press).