'I never would have imagined seeing something like this in America'

As Freedom House watches Trump, it sees parallels between the Republican's antics and "the tactics of the kind of authoritarian leaders we follow."
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump departs after the daily coronavirus briefing in the White House on April 17, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

Freedom House is a non-profit organization that exists in large part to promote the value of democracy and the idea that "freedom flourishes in democratic nations where governments are accountable to their people."

Keep this in mind when reading the comments the group's president made to the New York Times about Donald Trump refusing to accept the results of his own country's elections.

"What we have seen in the last week from the president more closely resembles the tactics of the kind of authoritarian leaders we follow," said Michael J. Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that tracks democracy around the world. "I never would have imagined seeing something like this in America." Mr. Abramowitz doubted there was much danger of Mr. Trump overturning the election. "But by convincing a large part of the population that there was widespread fraud, he is seeding a myth that could endure for years and contribute to an erosion of public confidence in our electoral system," he said.

It's quite likely that the outgoing Republican president has been made aware of this. It's equally likely Trump is putting his interests above any other consideration.

Regardless of the Republican's thinking, it's worth dwelling on Abramowitz's observation: as Freedom House watches Trump, it sees unmistakable parallels between the incumbent president's antics and "the tactics of the kind of authoritarian leaders we follow."

Indeed, it's not difficult to imagine the reporting on the latest developments if they were unfolding in a different country:

"After four years in which the autocratic leader sought to undermine his country's democratic institutions, the head of state rejected the results of a national election, borrowing a page from the authoritarian playbook and pointing without evidence to fraud that international observers insisted did not exist.

"The autocrat, plagued by corruption allegations and a scandal that led to his impeachment, launched a series of futile lawsuits, hoping the judiciary he'd helped politicize would overturn the will of his own country's voters, though to date those efforts have failed.

"Nevertheless, the autocrat maintained the backing of his parliamentary allies, most of whom know their leader had just suffered an embarrassing electoral rebuke, but who fear the consequences of telling the truth and defending the divided nation's political system.

"It was against this backdrop that the autocrat's chief diplomat told dubious jokes to journalists about his boss maintaining his grip on power; the chief executive's justice minister announced plans to investigate non-existent election crimes; and the autocrat took steps to stack his nation's military leadership with fierce partisans and loyalists."

As we discussed last week, we used to be a country that threatened sanctions against despots who tried to undermine their country's democratic process this way. But for the next 70 days, we're a country led by someone who would gladly take a sledgehammer to the pillars of our political system for the most pernicious of reasons: he is a failed, flailing vandal, desperate to avoid looking like a loser.

A Washington Post report added the other day, "Trump is pulling out a playbook perfected by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians. It relies on sowing doubt about the institutions of law and government, spreading misinformation or outright lies that serve a leader's political ends, and relying on a cadre of loyal supporters to believe what they are told, Putin scholars said."

The familiarity of these circumstances are far from comforting.