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Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather during a rally, Denver, Colorado, March 4, 2017 (AP photo by Brennan Linsley).

Democracy Dismantled: Why the Populist Threat Is Real and Serious

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump campaigned as an outsider candidate, though under the banner of the Republican Party. His message was decidedly populist and continues to be: He alone can save the country from the challenges it faces; the elite and traditional establishment are dangerous and corrupt; the mainstream media cannot be trusted; and other tropes commonly used by populists.

America’s election of a president promoting this type of message has led many experts on authoritarian politics to draw parallels between what’s happening in the United States, a country with well-established and robust democratic institutions, and developments seen in authoritarian settings. After all, research indicates that democracy is weakened if it relies on the leadership of a single individual, as opposed to democratic institutions; if contestation is personality-driven, rather than structured by political parties; and if voters do not have access to reliable information via an independent media. A flurry of observers and pundits have therefore begun to question whether the U.S. is in the process of democratic backsliding or even has the potential to move toward autocracy in the years to come. ...

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