Authoritarianism Under COVID-19: Thomas O. Melia

“The truth will come out here. We know that.”

Thomas O. Melia is the Washington Director of PEN America, a non-profit organization that champions free speech and defends the liberties that make it possible. We talk about authoritarians worldwide consolidating power under cover of COVID, the ever-encroaching surveillance state, and the public perception of Trump’s pandemic response.

Thomas O. Melia is the Washington Director of PEN America, a non-profit organization that champions free speech and defends the liberties that make it possible. We talk about authoritarians worldwide consolidating power under cover of COVID, the ever-encroaching surveillance state, and the public perception of Trump’s pandemic response.

COVID & Authoritarianism

COVID-19 has created an excuse for authoritarians around the world to consolidate power. Repressive regimes such as China have jailed political prisoners, and citizen journalists reporting on the pandemic have disappeared. Russia clamped down on free reporting to protect powerful warlords. Free speech is under attack in the U.S., as was the case when Captain Brett Crozier was fired for expressing concern about COVID-19 onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Navy nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Long term danger of surveillance

Under the guise of public safety, governments are increasingly collecting our data, such as through contact tracing. It might make sense to share our personal information at this time. However, once these habits become established, they are hard to break. We could soon be subject to temperature or blood checks at border crossings, airports, or even public buildings. If governments obtain and track our medical histories, they will know much more about us than whether or not we have COVID-19.

Seeing Through Trump’s Response

The U.S. federal government’s response to COVID-19 utilizes the authoritarian playbook. Scientists like Dr. Fauci are muzzled while Trump spews angry rhetoric, total fabrications, and rewritten narratives to make himself look better. Trump can usually avoid repercussions for his lying, but a mounting virus death-toll is one fact-check he cannot shrug off. In time, the truth about his management of the crisis will come out thanks to media reporting, whistle-blowers, and congressional investigations.

 

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Thomas O. Melia is Washington Director at PEN America. Previously, he served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, responsible for Europe and Eurasia, south and central Asia, and the Middle East, and as Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) until January 2017. Melia is a monthly columnist for The American Interest and chair of the board of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). He was also a Fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, helping to lead a bipartisan initiative to reinvigorate American leadership in defense of human rights and democracy at home and abroad.

PEN America is a non-profit organization working at the crossroads between human rights and literature. They champion free speech around the world, celebrate creative expression, and defend the liberties that make it possible.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @thomasomelia and PEN America @penamerica.

 

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