Trump Poses a Test Democracy Is Failing

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April 13, 2022

Ordinary citizens play a critical role in maintaining democracy. They refuse to re-elect — at least in theory — politicians who abuse their power, break the rules and reject the outcome of elections they lose. How is it, then, that Donald Trump, who has defied these basic presumptions, stands a reasonable chance of winning a second term in 2024?

Milan W. Svolik, a political scientist at Yale, anticipated this question in his 2019 paper “Polarization versus Democracy”: “Voters in democracies have at their disposal an essential instrument of democratic self-defense: elections. They can stop politicians with authoritarian ambitions by simply voting them out of office.”

Svolik and Matthew H. Graham, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, expand on Svolik’s argument and its applicability to the United States. Supporters of democracy, they contend in their 2020 paper “Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States,” can no longer rely on voters to serve as a roadblock against authoritarianism.

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