CRF Blog

A Survival Guide for Democracies

by Bill Hayes

In A Survival Guide for Democracies for Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Kurlantzick looks at how other democratic countries have weathered authoritarian populist leaders.

Over the past seven months, Donald Trump has attacked what for many are the pillars of American democracy. He’s blasted the news media, sowed distrust in the election process, and fired the FBI director for apparently political reasons. He has torn at the U.S.’s racial fabric, perhaps to embolden his base. Political scientists, historians, and other experts have been trying to gauge how much damage he’s inflicting on democracy. The New Yorker wondered if the U.S. might be on the verge of a new civil war.

Damaging the American political process has global ramifications. But an examination of other countries’ experiences shows that Trump may not be as successful in destroying U.S. norms and institutions as media coverage fearfully suggests. In many ways, he isn’t unique. A wave of authoritarian-leaning populists has swept the globe in the past 15 years — Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, many others — who share his disdain for institutions, the media, and politics as usual. Yet from Italy to Argentina, some countries that have elected these types of leaders not only survived them but also rebuilt their democracies — they were battered but not destroyed. [more]