Q&A: Book sees parallels between Trump's presidency, erosion of democracy in other countries

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

A: There are two specific norms that are really important for democracy. One of them is mutual toleration: treating the political opposition publicly and privately as legitimate. Secondly is forbearance, which is the use of restraint in your exercise of power.

My fear is that Trump is not a man of forbearance.

You see it in his reckless calls for the Senate to get rid of the filibuster, and in his firing of (FBI Director) James Comey.

Q: What world leaders are most comparable to Trump in their approach to democracy?

A: I don't know anybody, except for maybe (former President) Alberto Fujimori in Peru, who really combines being such a political novice with an authoritarian streak. The advantage that we have is that our democratic institutions are much, much stronger than Peru's.

Q: Explain your comparison of the Trump era in America to the failures of democracy in Europe in the 1930s and in Latin America in the 1970s.

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A: There's a very important role for mainstream political parties in keeping authoritarian figures out of power. U.S. parties, throughout our history, have done a phenomenally good job of (that).

In the interwar period in Europe, right-wing parties struck these Faustian bargains with extremist candidates -- the Liberal Party in Italy in the early '20s, the conservatives in Germany with Hitler in the late '20s and early '30s. The comparison we make is that the Republican Party completely abdicated in 2016 in nominating Trump, in not distancing itself from Trump and now increasingly serving as his lap dog.

Q: Can you explain your case that Trump meets all four litmus tests for authoritarian inclinations?

A: We draw here on Juan Linz, a Spanish political scientist who spent his career studying how and why democracies broke down.


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