Around the world, the concept of democracy seems to be receiving a resounding “meh” from voters, as if government by and for the people really isn’t such a big deal. Dictatorships are digging in.
Principled American presidents of the past have taken firm stands against anti-democratic global trends. By his actions, President Donald Trump appears to applaud democracy’s retreat.
That should frighten everyone.
Turkey is only the latest example of voters openly deciding to grant greater authoritarian powers to a leader with an already dictatorial bent. Turkey on April 16 approved a series of measures to give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unprecedented powers to bypass parliament and the judiciary.
Trump’s reaction? He phoned Erdogan the next day to offer congratulations.
Russians emerged from seven decades of communist dictatorship to embrace democracy in 1991, only to give President Vladimir Putin unquestioned power to jail and even assassinate his critics. Trump has openly praised Putin and shrugged his shoulders at Putin’s egregious human rights violations.
Egyptians, who endured decades of military dictatorship, briefly experimented with democracy following the Arab Spring revolts. The military launched a coup in 2013 to oust democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi. And with minimal public outcry, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi installed himself as the new dictator.
El-Sissi has jailed journalists, civil rights activists and even an American charity worker who ran a child welfare clinic.
This month, Trump received the dictator at the White House, praising him for doing a “fantastic job.”
Around Europe, voters continue to toy with the idea of putting right-wing nationalists into power, including in France, where rightist Marine Le Pen is headed to a runoff after Sunday’s first round of presidential elections.
Le Pen originally embraced Trump as part of her nationalist campaign. Trump accepted a phone call from her shortly after his Nov. 8 victory, anointing her as the first foreign politician to congratulate the new president-elect.
Nationalism is not inherently anti-democratic, but Europe’s history with fascist dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Spain would seem to serve as a strong reminder to citizens that this is a road best left untraveled. Yet Trump seems oblivious to the implications when he aligns himself with politicians like Le Pen.
His shallow grasp of recent world history becomes painfully obvious when he receives dictators like el-Sissi even though his own State Department condemns Egypt’s government for extrajudicial killings, torture, warrantless arrests and bans on press freedoms and public gatherings.
Trump also seems oblivious to Erdogan’s nefarious recent history. Erdogan, an Islamist, initially enabled the influx of Islamic State fighters into Iraq and Syria.
After a failed July coup, Erdogan used a state of emergency to order mass arrests of 45,000, including journalists, government workers, military officers and members of the judiciary.
Globally, democracy is in crisis. And Trump joins the chorus of “meh.”