Donald Trump speaking at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016.
Mike Segar / Reuters

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States—a man who has praised dictators, encouraged violence among supporters, threatened to jail his rival, and labeled the mainstream media as “the enemy”—has raised fears that the United States may be heading toward authoritarianism. While predictions of a descent into fascism are overblown, the Trump presidency could push the United States into a mild form of what we call “competitive authoritarianism”—a system in which meaningful democratic institutions exist yet the government abuses state power to disadvantage its opponents.

But the challenges facing American democracy have been emerging for decades, long before Trump arrived on the scene. Since the 1980s, deepening polarization and the radicalization of the Republican Party have weakened the institutional foundations that have long safeguarded U.S. democracy—making a Trump presidency considerably more dangerous today than it would have been in previous decades. 

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