Monday, May 15, 2017

Donald Trump: How Worried Should We Be?

A piece in the New York Times Sunday Review looks at a question that many of us are likely asking themselves as we watch the train wreck that is the Trump/Pence administration and the Republican Party's failure to place limits on Trump's misogyny.  The firing of James Comey has exacerbated the fears of many even as the Congressional Republicans with few exceptions yawn at Trump's efforts to obstruct the Russiagate investigation. Many political scientist who have studied the fall of democracies throughout history and around the world are very concerned.  Some even point to America's attitude that authoritarianism "can't happen here" as short sighted and blindness to what is happening around them.  Here are excerpts from the piece:
For scholars of democracy who have kept anxious watch over the tumultuous first months of this presidency, this week’s firing of James Comey set off a new round of alarm bells.
As President Trump attacked judges, intelligence agencies, the press, even the Congressional Budget Office — all potential independent constraints on presidential power — they constantly adjusted their scorecards, trying to sift the alarming from the merely noisy. But firing the official who heads an investigation into possible collusion between a presidential campaign and a foreign power crossed a line, they agreed.
Few argue that the United States is in imminent danger of becoming an autocracy, a term much chewed over by pundits these days, including some conservative ones like David Frum, President George W. Bush’s former speechwriter. But in conversations over the past few months, scholars’ moods and assessments have soared and plummeted.
“Whenever I run into somebody, they ask me, ‘How worried should I be?’ ” said Yascha Mounk, a lecturer on government at Harvard who has warned of declining commitment to democratic institutions in several countries.
Mr. Mounk’s own concerns have skyrocketed. “It’s the first time he’s done something, rather than said something, that is straight out of the playbook of would-be authoritarians,” he said this week. Other political scientists argue that the Trump administration has shown itself too chaotic and incompetent to harm democratic institutions.
Some of the scholars who have issued the most passionate warnings are those who come from countries where democracy has imploded in spectacular fashion. . . . . N. Turkuler Isiksel, an assistant professor of political science at Columbia, watched as a leader she at one point saw as a potential check on Turkey’s powerful military went on to gut other political institutions, jail enemies and cripple independent journalism. Mr. Mounk grew up as a Jew in Germany keenly aware that political safeguards could disappear.
The scholars agree on what to watch for next: Who will be nominated as head of the F.B.I. and what will Republicans do?
“Does Trump nominate a professional or does he nominate a crony?” Mr. Mounk said. “His ability to undermine independent institutions is in the hands of the Republicans.”
Mr. Drutman said that if Republicans continue to reflexively back Mr. Trump, he would raise his “alarm-o-meter” to 8 [out of 10].

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