President-elect Donald Trump is all but set to become commander-in-chief on January 20.
In advance of that assumption of power, The New York Times published an opinion column Friday that painted a picture of American democracy in the age of Trump.
Writers Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt laid out a particularly sobering assessment of the incoming president’s authoritarian temperament and dismissal of political and social norms.
They arrived at this conclusion: “Mr. Trump is not the first American politician with authoritarian tendencies. … But he is the first in modern American history to be elected president.”
The authors attributed the rise of Trump to a decades-long breakdown of civility among America’s elected officials. They cited legislative obstruction and “the decline of partisan restraint” as cracks that have weakened America’s democratic foundation.
Comparing Trump to other authoritarian figures like former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, The Times called Trump a “serial norm-breaker” who, among other things, routinely sidesteps journalists and news organizations whose job it is to publicly hold him to account.
Trump has not held a formal press conference since July, and one that was scheduled this week – to address how he would reconcile his business interests before taking office – was abruptly canceled, with no concrete timeline for when he would resolve the matter.
The Times also described as potentially troubling Trump’s penchant for delegitimizing anyone he perceives as a threat – including respected lawmakers who criticize him and US institutions he disagrees with. Trump often labeled his rivals as crooked, corrupt, and criminal while routinely sowing doubt in the election process itself.
“Such extremism, once confined to the political fringes, has now moved into the mainstream,” Levitsky and Ziblatt said.
They closed their arguments in a cautiously optimistic tone: “American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse … We must be vigilant. The warning signs are real.”
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