United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump, scholars warn

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The United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump, scholars warn

The weakening of democratic values — a path that’s difficult to reverse — has accelerated, according to hundreds of indicators assessed each year

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/09/18/united-states-is-backsliding-into-autocracy-under-trump-scholars-warn/


September 18, 2020 at 4:45 a.m. EDT


Three years into the Trump administration, American democracy has eroded to a point that more often than not leads to full-blown autocracy, according to a project that tracks the health of representative government in nations around the world.The project, called V-Dem, or Varieties of Democracy, is an effort to precisely quantify global democracy at the country level based on hundreds indicators assessed annually by thousands of individual experts. It’s one of several ongoing projects by political scientists that have registered a weakening of democratic values in the United States in recent years.


V-Dem’s findings are bracing: The United States is undergoing “substantial autocratization” — defined as the loss of democratic traits — that has accelerated precipitously under President Trump. This is particularly alarming in light of what the group’s historic data show: Only 1 in 5 democracies that start down this path are able to reverse the damage before succumbing to full-blown autocracy.


“The United States is not unique” in its decline, said Staffan I. Lindberg, a political scientist at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg and a founding director of the project. “Everything we see in terms of decline on these indicators is exactly the pattern of decline” seen in other autocratizing nations, like Turkey and Hungary, both of which ceased to be classified as democracies in recent years.


Each year, the V-Dem project asks its experts to rate their respective nations on hundreds of measures of democracy, such as the presence of legislative checks on executive power, freedom of personal expression, the civility of political discourse, free and open elections, and executive branch corruption, among others.


The United States is backsliding on all of those measures. “Executive respect for the Constitution is now at the lowest level since 1865,” said Michael Coppedge, a Notre Dame political scientist and one of the project’s chief investigators. “Corruption in the executive branch is basically the worst since Harding.”


Warren G. Harding, whose administration was tainted by corruption and scandal, is routinely ranked among the nation’s worst chief executives.


Trump, for instance, has repeatedly floated the idea of staying in office longer than the constitutionally mandated two terms. The businesses he owns have profited from repeated presidential visits, and federal courts are currently weighing whether he has violated the Constitution’s prohibition against accepting payments from foreign governments. And several current and former members of his inner circle — including Stephen K. Bannon, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone — have been arrested or indicted since he took office.


Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, said that “experts rate U.S. democracy as getting worse on average,” but there are considerable differences in “how they characterize the severity of the decline we’ve experienced and what they expect in the future.”


Nyhan says he is most concerned about Trump’s repeated attacks on the integrity of U.S. elections. Trump recently said that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” for instance, and habitually casts vote-by-mail efforts as inherently fraudulent. Both beliefs are false.


Nyhan is co-director of Bright Line Watch, a group that routinely surveys hundreds of political scientists to issue periodic assessments of the health of democracy in the United States. Those assessments show a post-2016 decline in democratic performance similar to V-Dem’s data.


“Democracy depends on both sides accepting the results of free and fair elections and willingly turning over power to the other side if they lose,” Nyhan said. “We’ve never had a president attack our electoral system in this way.”


Lindberg refers to presidential attacks on the pillars of democracy as “dictator drift,” and says it’s a common feature of authoritarian leaders around the world.


“That’s Erdogan in Turkey,” he said. “That’s Lukashenko in Belarus. That’s Orban in Hungary. That’s a slew of African dictators.”


He’s concerned about the rise of a sort of “sultanistic” power structure in the GOP, where the party largely abandons its core principles to support whatever the leader wants. The telltale sign of that, he said, was the GOP’s decision to not create a 2020 platform. Instead, it issued a resolution saying, among other things, that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”


“They just line up behind Trump,” Lindberg says. “That should ring some serious alarm bells. You have a sort of head of a family clan, without a program other than ‘we support this person.’ ”


Coppedge is particularly concerned about the possibility of election-related violence. “What I most worry about is a scenario with the incumbent president declaring victory before all votes are counted, and his followers believing any additional mail-in ballots are invalid and taking to the streets.”


“I do think there is going to be some election violence,” he added, “and I hope it won’t be widespread or long-lasting."


Lindberg is also deeply troubled by the president’s history of endorsing violence against his perceived political opponents. “This is the precursor of civil war,” he said. “Imagine that Trump loses by a margin that’s not convincing to all his supporters. He refuses to leave the office and encourages his supporters to ‘go out and defend the Constitution.' ”


Nyhan says that while these “worst-case scenarios remain unlikely,” we are in “unprecedented times” and should “remain vigilant.”


Coppedge recommends people concerned about these outcomes get involved in the electoral process to help make things better. “Volunteer to become a poll worker, or help some get-out-the-vote effort, or work with a political party to encourage turnout to make sure your side wins by a clear margin,” he said.


“I think that the chances are in the medium term, the long run things are going to work out,” he said. "But I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride between now and January.”

Lindberg is less optimistic.


“If Trump wins this election in November, democracy is gone” in the United States, he says. He gives it about two years. “It’s really time to wake up before it’s too late."

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Comments (19)
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

I'm not as informed as these scholars are, but much of what they are saying echoes clearly in my consciousness.

We live in what may prove to be frightening times.

Kate

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kadefol

This is terrifying and should not be supported by any American, regardless of party affiliation.

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Joaniepoanie

If Trump wins, democracy as we know it is gone I’m afraid. Republicans have looked the other way at every violation Trump has committed and look where we are.



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haydayhayday



If it happens, it's not like you were not warned.

Those who fail to learn from history...


Hay

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bob_cville

You keep posting these line-drawing images and texts whenever someone points out that Trump and the Republicans are rapidly moving towards Nazi-like fascist autocracy. But then seem to be trying to make the point that NOT supporting Trump will result in some sort of autocracy. Seemingly based on the entirely specious reasoning that: Some policies supported by Democrats are deemed by Republicans to be "Socialist" and then bringing up the most extreme failed states that are ostensibly Socialist or Communist and intimating that voting for Biden is exactly the same as saying "We want to be Venezuela". All the while completely dodging the fact that Trump is reading directly from the Nazi fascist playbook, and striving to end democracy in the United States altogether.

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haydayhayday

bob_cville:

"You keep posting these line-drawing images and texts whenever someone points out that Trump and the Republicans are rapidly moving towards Nazi-like fascist autocracy. But then seem to be trying to make the point that NOT supporting Trump will result in some sort of autocracy. Seemingly based on the entirely specious reasoning that: Some policies supported by Democrats are deemed by Republicans to be "Socialist" and then bringing up the most extreme failed states that are ostensibly Socialist or Communist and intimating that voting for Biden is exactly the same as saying "We want to be Venezuela". All the while completely dodging the fact that Trump is reading directly from the Nazi fascist playbook, and striving to end democracy in the United States altogether."

Funny.

I hope the two of you can work through this.

Hay

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jmm1837

Here we have a thread suggesting there has been a decline in democratic values in the US under the Trump administration. One might agree with the concept and provide parallels. One might disagree and try to produce an argument rebutting that presumption. Only one engaging in logical fallacies would create and attack an imaginary alternative - in this case, that could be socialism - that nobody actually suggested, instead of addressing the actual topic. That would be a true straw man argument. Surely no one here would have to rely on such a cheap trick?

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colleenoz

Cheap tricks are all those who like to circulate the septic tank contents have.

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carolb_w_fl_coastal_9b(zone 9/10)

It's Johnny One-Note as usual.

The questions may change, but by gum the answers never do...

And thanks for sharing the article. Grim indeed, but hoping for the best.

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Ziemia(6a)

United States is backsliding into autocracy under Mitch McConnell

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haydayhayday

"It's Johnny One-Note as usual.

The questions may change, but by gum the answers never do..."

Funny.

Same "question" repeated over and over....

"The United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump, scholars warn"

Same ole, same ole, day after day.

Funny.

You just never bother to ask, "Why?"

Like one day, out of the blue, Trump just magically appears?

Funny.

Hay


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miss lindsey (She/Her)(8a)

Ziemia(6a)

5 hours ago

United States is backsliding into autocracy under Mitch McConnell

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lurker111

All you need is a pen and a phone.

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Jonnygun(zone 7)

Yet, everywhere I look it is the liberals who are eroding and restricting rights. Too funny.

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miss lindsey (She/Her)(8a)

“...it is the liberals who are eroding and restricting rights.”

Oh? Such as...?

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haydayhayday



Like one day, out of the blue, Trump just magically appears?


"Thanks, Obama, I could never have made it without you and your supporters."

Hay

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haydayhayday

Ask the same question, get the same answer.

https://www.gardenweb.com/discussions/5991857/14-early-signs-of-fascism#n=51

ETA:

Why do some people like to follow me around?

Mostly just talking about moi!


Hay

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carolb_w_fl_coastal_9b(zone 9/10)

I suspect someone has no idea how to edit a comment...


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jmm1837

I suspect some people will never understand that the opposite of sliding into fascism is not sliding into communism: rather, it's fighting the fascists and shoring up democratic values. You know, those things the US once stood for: freedom of speech, freedom to express grievances, freedom of the press, open and transparent governance, equality before the law and the courts. Neither communism nor fascism can flourish in that environment.

As for the straw man architect, got any contribution to make on the actual topic?

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