Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

10 Ways Trump Is Becoming a Dictator, Election Edition

| Sep. 08, 2020

The closer the president gets to election day, the bigger the threat he poses to U.S. democracy.

Even before U.S. President Donald Trump took the oath of office in 2017, serious observers were worried about the fragility of the United States’ democratic order and Trump’s all-too-obvious dictatorial proclivities.

It was partly his evident narcissism and contempt for the truth, but also his willingness to run roughshod over long-standing norms, his long record of fraud and shady business dealings, and his evident admiration for dictators in other countries. Trump's arrival helped make books such as How Democracies Die and On Tyranny bestsellers, while journalists and political scientists (including yours truly) began compiling lists of "warning signs" of creeping authoritarianism.

Looking back, I was too optimistic. I was pretty sure Trump would be terrible at managing both domestic and foreign policy—and on that score I was correct—but I believed his age, short attention span, lack of knowledge, and other liabilities would limit his ability to consolidate power. Unlike some optimists, I didn't expect him to grow into the responsibilities of the office, but I believed the system of checks and balances built into our constitutional order would rein him in sufficiently to protect the core features of U.S. democracy. How wrong I was.

I knew that would-be authoritarians rarely have a change of heart and become committed to personal accountability, the rule of law, or fair-minded elections. What I failed to anticipate was that Trump's authoritarian ambitions would get worse the longer he sat in the Oval Office, and that his ability to pursue them would increase once he had the chance to replace anyone with integrity and a genuine commitment to their oath to defend the Constitution with lackeys, opportunists, and power-hungry ideologues....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“10 Ways Trump Is Becoming a Dictator, Election Edition.” Foreign Policy, September 8, 2020.

The Author

Stephen Walt