Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Top 10 Signs of Creeping Authoritarianism, Revisited

| July 27, 2017

Is the president looking more like a dictator after six months in the White House?

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, I wrote a column listing possible "warning signs" of democratic breakdown under his leadership. A few other people did, too. I wasn't predicting Trump would become a dictator — although some of his statements and actions during the campaign were worrisome; the column was simply a checklist of warning signs that would tell us how well U.S. political institutions were holding up in unusual circumstances (and with a most unusual president).

We’re now a bit more than six months into Trump's presidency, and it is high time to review the list and see how America is doing. Has Trump undermined America's constitutional order? Is he consolidating executive power the way democratically elected leaders such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan have? Or are U.S. institutions holding up reasonably well, either because they have proved to be surprisingly resilient or because Trump has been less adept at politics than he claimed to be?

The record is mixed. Although some of the warning signs are flashing red, others are glowing yellow (at worst), and one or two don’t seem that worrisome at all....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Top 10 Signs of Creeping Authoritarianism, Revisited.” Foreign Policy, July 27, 2017.

The Author

Stephen Walt