Government & Law, Other (abstracted) Views

Excerpts From: Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy? – The New York Times

January 4, 2018

Excerpts From: Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy? – The New York Times

We have spent two decades studying the emergence and breakdown of democracy in Europe and Latin America. Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics.

…indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

Mr. Trump tests positive. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton; threatened legal action against unfriendly media; and suggested that he might not accept the election results.

Mr. Trump is not the first American politician with authoritarian tendencies.  But he is the first in modern American history to be elected president.

… institutional safeguards protecting our democracy may be less effective than we think.

Democratic institutions must be reinforced by strong informal norms.  Norms serve as the soft guardrails of democracy, preventing political competition from spiraling into a chaotic, no-holds-barred conflict.

Among the unwritten rules that have sustained American democracy are partisan self-restraint and fair play.  There existed a shared understanding, for example, that anti-majoritarian practices like the Senate filibuster would be used sparingly, that the Senate would defer (within reason) to the president in nominating Supreme Court justices, and that votes of extraordinary importance — like impeachment — required a bipartisan consensus.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Trump is a serial norm-breaker.

In a democracy, partisan rivals must fully accept one another’s right to exist, to compete and to govern.

American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency. It is less clear, however, how democracy would fare in a crisis.


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