My current heroes are the protesters in Hong Kong. While the rest of the world is upside down from misplaced populism and a massive amount of propaganda, the protesters in Hong Kong are about the only people with clarity in our world today.

They see very clearly what is happening — and they're fighting back. Mainland China seeks to quash dissent in Hong Kong long before 2047 when the independent city is supposed to become a full part of communist China.

The reasons for the protest are complex, but the main concern by protesters is to defend their freedoms and the rule of law — protesters fear both will be quashed by the communist regime in mainland China.

They're right. China is slowly extending its influence around the world, especially in developing countries. They certainly plan to dominate Hong Kong, even if it is currently a quasi-independent state. In fact, they already do with puppets in position of power in Hong Kong.

Nothing is going to stop China from totally engulfing Hong Kong into its communist system, a system that lacks the rule of law and that deals harshly with dissent. There is no real freedom in China and there won't be freedom in Hong Kong, either.

Which makes the protests in Hong Kong even more admirable. There is no way the protesters can win. They will be crushed one way or another and no outside nation can help them.

The protesters are all alone, their quixotic quest doomed to failure.

Those protests are in stark contrast to the rest of the world where populism, most of it coming from the far right, is fueling the rise of dictators and strongmen and undermining democracy with few voices pushing back. Turkey, India, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Myanmar, Brazil and other countries are increasingly under the thumbs of nationalistic, autocratic rulers who have weakened the checks and balances of government so they can snuff out opposition voices. Even Israel, one of the few real democracies in the Middle East, has taken on an authoritarian tone as it has veered to the right.

In Europe, England — the stalwart of modern European democracy — is descending into anti-democratic hell. An anti-immigrant, populist fever swept across that nation three years ago and led to the vote for England to exit the European Union — Brexit. But the vote was about more than just the EU and immigration; it represented a world view rooted in a rose-colored view of the past, a past that never really existed.

Now, that nation's democracy is dying as the world watches.

New prime minister Boris Johnson, a populist firebrand, has moved to suspend Parliament in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 31 deadline for England to exit the EU. To its credit, Parliament has fought back and humiliated Johnson with three key votes that tied Johnson's hands.

But the fate of Brexit remains unresolved and both sides blame each other for the stalemate. 

There have been some protests in England against Johnson's anti-democratic moves, but those have not risen to the level of the Hong Kong protests. Many in England support Johnson's autocratic direction and populist rhetoric as just being the "will of the people."

If England crashes out of the EU without a transition deal in place, the British economy could be left in shambles, a situation that could fuel an even stronger anti-democratic backlash and empower a modern day strongman in a nation that has long been a beacon of freedom in Europe.

Only faintly do we hear any sane voices in England amid a sea of right-wing, populist nonsense.

Here in the United States, a populist wave and a massive amount of right-wing propaganda took Donald Trump, a man whose mental stability is seriously in doubt, into the White House in 2016.

Since taking office, Trump has embraced dictators, especially Russian's Vladimir Putin, while slapping our allies with multiple insults. He has fueled anti-immigrant xenophobia, vowed to abandon NATO, started a trade war, embraced North Korea's dictator and ignored Saudi Arabia's murder of an American-based journalist. 

Diplomacy no longer exists in the United States, having been replaced by Trump's daily Twitter rages. The State Department has been neutered. The president has shrunk America's role in the world at a time when American leadership is sorely needed. America is no longer respected around the world because of Trump.

At home, Congress has become a useless branch of government. The legislative branch has ceded much of its power to the presidency and Republicans have abandoned all their former principals of fiscal, economic and moral responsibility. Congress and the Senate are shadows of what they once were, having become mere playpens for the political class. The legislative branch is no longer a check on executive power.

Democracy in America has been weakened under Trump. Propaganda has replaced facts and truth. Personal whim and petty tirades have replaced thoughtful policy. Trump has managed to even make weather forecasting political and fake. His administration is in constant turmoil and lacks any semblance of stability.

From all of that, Trump has divided Americans as no president has done since the Civil War. 

Still, Trump's diehard followers believe he is some kind of latter-day saint send by God to "save" America.  They disparage Trump's critics as "deranged" while at the same time, defend an emotionally unstable, morally repugnant, intellectually shallow man in the Oval Office. 

If Trump declared himself king, his diehard followers would support it. He has created a cult of personality like no other president in American history.

It's absurd.

On the left, a handful of flaky voices has overtaken the Democratic Party at a time when a strong, competent, opposition voice needs to be heard.

Instead, we have the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren sucking all the air out of the opposition party as it veers leftward and away from the center.

Why are Democrats beating themselves in the head with a hammer? Are they really as flakey as they act? 

So where are the protesters in America and England? Why aren't people marching in the streets by the millions to demand the farce in both countries be stopped and some level of sanity restored to our democratic political systems? 

The answer may be that democracy around the world is falling victim to populist leaders because real democracy demands too much of its participants. People want easy, simple solutions to complex problems, so they're turning to right-wing populist leaders who feed them the "cotton candy" of populist rhetoric.

At the same time, the rise of social media and new technology has weakened the traditional structures that had, in the past, acted as guardrails to keep democracy between the ditches and away from mob rule.

That is the basic thesis of Shawn Rosenburg, a social scientist who recently presented a paper entitled, "Democracy Devouring Itself: The Rise of the Incompetent Citizen and the Appeal of Right Wing Populism" that argues democracy is dying because of this rising populist sentiment around the world.

"In this ever more democratic context, the authoritarian, nationalist vision of the right wing populist is likely to triumph," Rosenburg writes. "In this sense, democracy seems now poised, as it always potentially has been, to devour itself."

God help us if he is right.

People marched in the streets in the 1960s and 1970s to oppose the Vietnam War, but today few march to stop the inane rhetoric taking over in democracies around the world.

Freedom, once given away to authoritarian impulses, will stay lost, perhaps for generations.

England is giving its freedom away under Brexit-fueled populism.

America is giving its freedom away under the cult of Trumpism, which at its core, is populist bunk.

Only in Hong Kong are large numbers of people protesting in an effort to defend their freedom against autocrats and the demise of democracy.

If only the rest of the world had that kind of courage.

Viva la Hong Kong!

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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