What happens next? Lessons for the resumption of liberal democracy


Democracy in America suffers from a pattern of institutional decline that has lasted for decades. The candidacy and election of President Donald Trump are both a symptom and an accelerator of this institutional degradation, catalyzing the reactions of other institutions, parties and voters. On the bright side, President Trump’s brazen disregard for long-standing standards of American governance has drawn attention to long-standing issues, sparking new interest in what the United States might learn from the experience of other countries in similar situations.

What can we learn from other democracies that have faced the degradation of the executive1 pre-weakened democratic institutions, especially countries with polarized populations? Based on the trajectories of other nations, what damage can be expected by the end of the Trump administration? Are there any lessons of renewal that can be applied the day this administration leaves the scene?

Rachel kleinfeld

Rachel Kleinfeld is a senior member of the Democracy, Conflict and Governance program, where she focuses on rule of law, security and governance issues in post-conflict countries, fragile states and states in transition.


Few countries are directly comparable to the United States. As the world’s oldest continuing democracy, the United States has much more established institutions than most other states. And yet the laws protecting the checks and balances of our government are older and thinner than those of most modern democracies, creating the impression of a strong state that has in practice relied more on standards than on standards. the law to maintain its institutions. The implementation of federalism in the United States runs deeper than in most other countries and serves as an important buffer against executive excesses. On the other hand, its population is deeply – and often also – polarized by identity divisions that do not lend themselves to compromise. For both camps, each political fight is a fight for identity and each fight is potentially winnable. The temptation to adopt undemocratic behavior is important.

In descending order of direct comparison, we looked at cases of democratic decline and subsequent renewal in Italy under Silvio Berlusconi, in Colombia under President Álvaro Uribe, in Louisiana during the Huey Long period, in Argentina under the populist regimes of Carlos Menem. and the Kirchners, South Korea President Park Geun-hye, Peru under Alberto Fujimori, and India under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. We also looked at the similarities and differences between these states and countries that have faced executive downgrade and have yet to recover, particularly Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Venezuela.

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This article was originally published by the Democracy Fund.


1. We use this term from Larry Diamond’s book In search of democracy, where he defines it as referring to the degradation of the civil and political rights of citizens by the executive of a country.