Comparative democracy scholar lists the ways Trumpism represents a threat to democracy

In a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend, scholar Brian Klaas lists and summarizes six ways that President Trump and Trumpism represent a threat to democracy in America.

Based at the London School of Economics, Klaas studies comparative democracy, including the deep underpinnings of a healthy democracy, and how they can be undermined. His book, “The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy,” suggests that the overall trends toward more democracy in the world has now been reversed and democracy is in retreat.

In his Post piece, he argues that Trumpism includes these democracy-eroding qualities:

  1. Trump encourages his minions to believe that elections are rigged, epitomized by his claim – without evidence – that millions voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. It’s healthier for democracy if voters believe that elections are free and fair. Of course, if our elections were really rigged, we need whistleblowers. But Trump has produced no credible evidence for his claims.
  2. Trump makes an average of four provably false statements a day, according to Klaas, who relied on the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” feature on Trumpian falsehoods during his presidency so far. When citizens learn to distrust what their elected leaders tell them, it undermines democracy.
  3. Trump “has repeatedly flouted ethics guidelines without consequence,” says Klaas, which undermines the important belief that elected officials are bound by rules of ethical conduct or, if they violate such rules, they will be disciplined.
  4. Trump attacks the independence and integrity of judges who rules against him (calling the judge who struck down his first immigration order as “so-called judge” is just one example). The belief that an independent judiciary will restrain illegal or unconstitutional actions by powerful elected officials is a key underpinning of confidence in a government of laws, not men.
  5. The Trumpers seek to undermine the neutrality of any agency that they worry might cause the public to doubt what they are selling. The very recent example, via Trump’s poor spokester Sean Spicer, was to tell the world in advance that the effort by the Congressional Budget Office, an outfit that has had a long-standing solid reputation for non-partisan analysis of the impact of proposed legislation, should be disregarded when they project how many currently insured Americans might lose their coverage under the new Republican health care bill. And lastly…
  6. Trump undermines the public’s confidence in the ability of independent news organizations to tell the public the best available version of the truth about their government, by labeling as “fake news” any stories that contradict the Trump version of reality and even labeling the news media the “enemy of the American people,” a statement that Klaas writes “echoes Mao and Stalin rather than Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy.”

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/13/2017 - 11:45 am.

    Are there any Trump defenders out there who can comment on these six anti-democracy qualities of our current President?

    I mean, without whining “Everybody else does it, blah, blah. . . .” We have all seen the categorical difference between “all politicians lie” (the Pence type of untruth that just sounds like pablum) and the daily whoppers Trump utters, so that’s not a response to #2.

    Trump’s other tactics to undermine democracy (for purposes of one-man rule) seem pretty clear., as well

    Thanks for bringing this essay to our attention, Eric.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/13/2017 - 01:59 pm.

    A model to follow….

    The destruction of state institutions is the main focus of Nikolai Petrov’s “The Political Mechanics of the Russian Regime: Substitutes Versus Institutions.” Petrov argues that over the last ten years, Putin and his associates have eviscerated all state institutions except the presidency by systematically stripping them of any real power or purpose. What has been left behind are decorative institutions that appear to retain the powers of their former selves while actually performing few if any useful functions. The symbol of this transformation is the frequently cited remark by Boris Gryzlov, the Speaker of the State Duma, that the parliament is no place for political discussion. The substantive roles of both the Duma and the Federation Council have been handed over to various consultative councils, while the government itself as a decision-making organ was largely replaced by the presidential administration as long as Putin was president. Regional executives were, in turn, replaced by presidential representatives to the federal districts. The substitutions reached into the private sector, as well, with the replacement of independent large corporations with corporations controlled by the state and its top officials.

    Petrov calls the system that results from this effort “highly managed democracy.” Its essential characteristics include strong personal power that is unlimited by institutions, the manipulations of public opinion through the mass media, and the holding of controlled elections. The consequences of building this type of government include excessive centralization, internal conflicts, inability to make decisions, and stagnation. These consequences in turn bring about a loss of flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances on the part of the regime, followed by a gradual loss of effectiveness in governing. The system not only fails to react to crisis but also frequently causes its own internal crises because a lack of failsafe mechanisms prevents the authorities from realizing that they are making mistaken decisions. The crisis may come from a lack of resources to maintain the patronage system that keeps the government functioning, from an internal political conflict among members of the ruling elite that spreads beyond their ability to control, or from a local crisis that expands to engulf the whole country because of the leadership’s inability to deal with it.

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/13/2017 - 02:07 pm.

    View this as a coalition

    7. Help create an atmosphere where bigotry becomes acceptable, witness Rep. King of Iowa and his recent comments on replacement babies.

    In multiparty systems it’s typical the rightist populist party, in order to be a part of the government, seeks coalition parties to partner with. Frequently the mainstream parties, even on the conservative side, will not accept these parties because they reject the country’s democratic values. The conservative side may even lose a chance for power because its voters will not accept associating with people whose views border on fascism.

    We need to see the Trump movement as a successfully built coalition of democratic and undemocratic factions. The small d democrats in the GOP ignore at their own peril the dangers to democracy they are willing to accommodate.

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/13/2017 - 02:43 pm.

    So much fun…

    It is always entertaining try to guess how the writer of the column will find different ways to attack the POTUS.

    It is much easier to guess the nature of these attacks than trying to figure out the nature of the syrupy, slobbering, fawning puff pieces concerning our last POTUS.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/13/2017 - 03:30 pm.


      All you’ve got to do is quote Trump’s self-contradictions.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/13/2017 - 04:12 pm.

      Mr.Gotzman should try to understand how President Trump’s words and actions terrify many Americans who are profoundly proud of our country and our democracy.

      Mr.Black’s column here focuses on a European analyst’s views of how President Trump’s words and actions are undermining our democracy. That so many of us see those same things as terrifying in a President of our beloved country is a sign that the distance of a European from the actual front lines of living in a weird Trump world can give perspective. It helps us to understand what is happening here. And before we can accept or reject a presidency, in political terms, we MUST understand what is happening.

      I find it sad, that so many Trump supporters are reduced to name-calling and false comparisons (we’re not talking about “puff pieces on Obama,” we’re talking Trump’s failings–Trump is the President, Obama is the day before yesterday by now). Discuss the six items this analyst lists as undermining our democracy! Or, if not, please tell us what prevents you from addressing those six charges.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/13/2017 - 04:22 pm.


      Reporting that POTUS made up something again is attacking him? A bold claim, with no substantiation, and the media should just report it without context? For a guy who was elected because he “tells it like it is”, it sure is odd how he can be tight lipped at times.

      When I think about conservatives calling progressives “snowflakes”, it’s just amazing how Trump’s supporters object to the slightest perceived injustice.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/13/2017 - 04:23 pm.

      Happy Fun Time!

      Sneering about the bias of a writer is so much easier than coming up with any arguments, isn’t it?

      When you’ve got nothing to say, grouse about “the syrupy, slobbering, fawning puff pieces concerning our last POTUS.”

  5. Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/13/2017 - 06:07 pm.

    Mr. Klaas’s article contributes to the threat

    By referencing these features as “Trumpism.” These are not features of “Trumpism,” they are features of the Republican party.

    First, Trump could not accomplish anything without the Republican establishment. If the majority caucuses used their confirmation, legislative and investigative powers for the good of the country, Trump would be wholly thwarted. It is clear they have neither the courage nor the intention to do so.

    Second, Trump could not accomplish anything without the 25% of the adult population that constitutes his base. These voters represent the authoritarian element of our society and exist because the Republican establishment has cultivated them for 50 years by appealing to ignorance and fear.

    This is not about Trump as an aberration. This is about authoritarianism on the march to topple democracy. The Republican party may have been thinking only about electoral power when the Southern Strategy was inaugurated, and even at each step of the way. But this is their monster and they must be forced to own it. If Trump is treated as a unique figure, then when he disappears the establishment media and even well-meaning Democrats will rush to embrace the Republican party and its return to “normalcy.” And the next Trump will be even worse.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/13/2017 - 09:23 pm.

    Let’s state a few facts first: a piece by a liberal European will mean nothing for Trump or Trump’s supporters so it was really written for liberal readers of WaPo only and is, therefore, a futile exercise in creative writing. Second, Mr. Klaas may want to look at the UK and think why people there chose Brexit, or discuss the Netherlands (ironically, this is published in the same WaPo issue, Sweden and Austria in an attempt to understand what Europe is doing wrong. (On a side note, in the same WaPo issue, there was an opinion piece about Sweden which mentioned Trump’s reference to it, a fake film, and a fake expert but managed to omit, totally, the real riot that took place in Stockholm a couple days after Trump’s reference to “what happened in Sweden.”)

    Now, let’s analyze Mr. Klaas’s six “democracy-eroding qualities.”
    1. “Trump encourages his minions to believe that elections are rigged.” Isn’t it what Democrats are doing now saying that Russians, Comey, and Assange rigged the election? (To Mr. Klaas’s credit, he did not use the word “minion.”)
    2. “Trump makes an average of four provably false statements a day.” Relying on WaPo in evaluating Trump is not a good idea, to say the least… Nor is Mr. Trump the first (or last) politician who lies… But, as I said before, Mr. Trump is the first politician who is in crosshair of the media for everything and anything, always. The same media that easily gave a pass to other politicians (and I do not mean George W. Bush who, unlike Trump, chose to ignore media’s attacks and was still, of course, called a liar).
    3. “Trump “has repeatedly flouted ethics guidelines without consequence.” Didn’t President Clinton?
    4. “Trump attacks the independence and integrity of judges who rules against him.” I remember how Justice Scalia was called along with other conservative judges. Or a judge who stopped Obama’s second executive order on illegal immigration…
    5. “The Trumpers seek to undermine the neutrality of any agency that they worry might cause the public to doubt what they are selling.” What were Democrats saying about Comey and the FBI? (And again, Mr. Klaas did not use the term “Trumpers.”)
    6. “Trump undermines the public’s confidence in the ability of independent news organizations to tell the public the best available version of the truth about their government.” Sure, but we should all remember what has been said about Fox News and how it has been called so this thing, again, works in both directions.

    So, one more time, I am not defending Trump who may be an object of fair criticism for a lot of things including many things that Mr. Klaas lists. I am actually defending our democracy which cannot survive without being honest and evenhanded and that, at least at this moment, constitutes a greater danger than what Mr. Klaas listed. Those who let one side do all the things they are now criticizing Trump for don’t have moral right to do it.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/14/2017 - 07:05 am.

    For an example within today’s news–Trump administration officials are all over the media–trying to discredit the CBO analysis of the Republican healthcare proposal and the number of people who will lose coverage.



    A White House analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare shows even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

    The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimates. The White House has made efforts to discredit the forecasts from the nonpartisan CBO…

    …A total of 54 million individuals would be uninsured in 2026 under the GOP plan, according to this White House analysis. That’s nearly double the number projected under current law.

    (end quote)

    Now whose “fake news” is it ?

  8. Submitted by Gary Stark on 04/11/2017 - 09:31 am.


    I only wish that Trump would understand that dictators are NOT legitimate representatives of nations, but to be fair Obama and those that came before him also made this mistake. We need a serious overhaul of our foreign policy if we ever want to see the world become a more peaceful place, specifically…

    If we believe in democracy, we need to start walking the walk. Dr Klaas is absolutely right.

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