Trump Is Gone, but Democracy Is in Trouble

A new report reveals that democratic governments are in retreat around the globe.

After November 3, I allowed myself to dream that the battered troops of democracy would regain their courage and go on the offensive.

For a decade or more, authoritarian populists around the globe had won one upset victory after another. They rose to power in India and Brazil, in the Philippines and the United States. And though Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte were at first mocked as incompetent leaders who would soon lose power, they have proved surprisingly shrewd at maintaining their popularity or concentrating power in their own hands. Over the past 10 years, examples of populist politicians being thrown out of office in free and fair elections have been few and far between.

Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump finally changed that. For the first time in a decade, the citizens of a powerful democracy took a close look at populist politics and decided that they had seen enough. It felt as though the tide might finally be turning. The democratic fightback was about to begin.

It is still eminently possible that this optimism will ultimately be vindicated. But in the months since the election, two important developments have made me more pessimistic.

The first is domestic. Trump and his allies have managed to convince a worryingly large share of his base that the election was stolen from him. And while Trump has somewhat faded from public view, the Republican Party, for now, remains under his firm control. As his triumphal reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference demonstrates, he remains his party’s only real star.

In a country with two major parties, democracy is safe only if both care more about preserving the political system than about beating their opponents. But one of America’s big parties is now willing to break the most basic rule of democracy: that free and fair elections should determine who gets to govern, and that those who lose must accept the legitimacy of their successor.

The danger for American democracy is far from over. Until the Republican Party banishes Trump and drops his big lie, every presidential election will be a potential extinction-level event.

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