WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Commentary: (Not) The Land of Freedom I Chose in 1999

Jan 20, 2021

As I finish my new book Creating Conspiracy Beliefs, coauthored with 3 brilliant scholars, I find myself constantly adding new conspiracies propagated by President Trump and his supporters. In March I added the conspiracy that Covid-19 was part of a Democratic plot to discredit President Trump.  In November I added the conspiracy that the election Trump had won "by a landslide" was stolen from him. Last week I found myself adding alarming information about the consequences of conspiracies. 

President Trump is being impeached a second time for inciting a group of armed supporters to storm the US Capitol and stop the certification of election results. I can’t emphasize enough the seriousness of this attempted coup, part of the efforts by the sitting president to retain power by overturning electoral outcomes, that started right after the November 3 election.

Julia Albarracin-Green on the day she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.
Credit Courtesy photo

I never imagined this could happen in the country I moved to 21 years ago. I grew up in Argentina. I was too young to remember much about the 1976 military coup, but I do remember tuning in to the radio station to listen to what the military junta had established as the law of the land.

“We inform the population that after this date, the country is under the control of a council of generals from the armed forces,” read the Comunicado No. 1 of the military government established, March of 1976.

“Any person who publicizes information or images attributed to illicit organizations or groups devoted to subversive activities will be imprisoned for an indeterminate period of time,” read another Comunicado.

It sounds rough, right? Imprisonment without end. Anyone who knows a little about Argentina’s history, however, knows that engaging in such actions or merely criticizing the government could get you killed or “disappeared.” Of course, I didn’t know this at the time.

During my sophomore year of high school, the government announced the democratic opening that made political parties legal. General elections were to take place the following year. After I attended a political meeting of the Peronist High School Students Union, my parents had a conversation with me. “They [the government] are probably filming people who attend political meetings. You could get killed,” my mom said, crying. After this my parents explained to me what had gone on for several years and the danger my family faced. For a long time after democratization in 1983, I had a constant fear that democracy would be too weak to endure the challenge by the military and other non-democratic groups. I felt this fear again on January 6, 2021.

Most of the time coups rely on the support of the military to make them effective. I was relieved last week when the top US military leaders condemned the recent attack on the Capitol as “an assault on America’s constitutional process and against the law.” The challenges to our democracy may not be over, but as long as the majority of the population is willing to respect democratic institutions and supports the idea of democracy, I think we are safe. 

I was nervous about the Biden inauguration. But everything has gone smoothly. I hope the whole country will embrace democracy in the future.

Julia Albarracin-Green is a Professor of Political Science at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. 

Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.