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Can It Happen Here?

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Can It Happen Here?

Authoritarianism in America

Dey Street,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

No, the United States isn’t about to fall into tyranny. But the political trends aren’t promising.

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US President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric about immigrants, the media and his political opponents has terrified the left. Even some conservatives are uncomfortable with the coarsening of political discourse. But will Trump turn the world’s leading democracy into an authoritarian regime along the lines of Russia or Turkey? According to the academics who weigh in for this collection of essays, that outcome is highly unlikely. Still, the thinkers agree that an ill wind blows through the US electorate. In one of the collection’s most compelling entries, Duke University professor Timur Kuran argues that the pattern of intensifying intolerance taking hold in the United States is less about party lines than a growing divide between “identitarians” and “nativists.” These rival factions are often encouraged to see the other side as less than fully human, Kuran writes. Other contributors agree with Kuran’s general theme: The United States will remain a democracy, but even after Trump departs the scene, the increasingly tribal politics will make it easier for tyranny to gain traction in the political culture. getAbstract recommends this collection to readers seeking insight into the shifting winds of US politics.


Dictator Trump? Possible, But Unlikely

Fear of a dictator in the Oval Office is as old as the American republic itself. Opponents of nearly every US president, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, have accused the chief executive of tyrannical leanings. While no US president has ever become a dictator, Donald Trump’s election has increased many Americans’ fears that their nation could fall to authoritarianism. How might Trump co-opt democracy and consolidate power? Here’s the playbook he could follow:

  • “Attack the press” – Authoritarians often use defamation lawsuits to cow unfriendly journalists. While Trump has labeled the media “the enemy of the people,” and often ruminated about changing America’s defamation laws to make it easier for the president to win libel suits, it’s unlikely he will make much headway on this front. The Supreme Court has, historically, sided with journalistic freedom. Still, Trump could find other ways to bully the media, such as ordering the Department of Justice to prosecute reporters involved in leaks. Trump also could block approvals of broadcast licenses for...

About the Author

Cass R. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. His latest books are The World According to Star Wars (2016) and The Ethics of Influence (2016).

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