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

The first test is a willingness to violate democratic rules of the game. In Trump's case, unprecedented in the United States, it was implying that he might not accept the results of the election.

Second was the encouragement of violence, which Trump did during the campaign repeatedly.

Third was denying the basic legitimacy of your rival. Trump did this in casting Hillary Clinton as a criminal who deserved to be in jail.

And fourth, a willingness to violate civil liberties, particularly those of the press, and this is something Trump did, saying he would like to revisit libel laws to punish media outlets or journalists who were unfriendly.

Q: Would you argue that he's an authoritarian president?

A: Trump has said much more than he has done, and he's thrown many more punches than he's landed. Our democracy's record in the first year of the Trump presidency was pretty good.

Q: The title of your book implies that American democracy is in a fight for survival.

A: I wouldn't go that far. We think it's a mistake to take it for granted that democracy will survive, because any democracy can break down.

Q: What cases of democratic failures do you think Americans should keep in mind?

A: No democracy in the history of the world, as old as ours or as wealthy as ours, has ever broken down. The best comparison is Chile. It had a pretty well-established set of democratic norms, and then in the 1960s and early '70s, polarization ripped apart the parties and began to erode those democratic norms, eventually leading to a military coup in 1973.

We are not predicting a coup in the United States, and our parties are not as polarized as Chile's were.

But our political parties have now reached a level of mutual fear and loathing that has not been seen since the end of Reconstruction. That usually has the effect of eroding democratic norms. Those are warning signs.

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