The GOP under Trump now resembles authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey: study

The GOP under Trump now resembles authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey: study
President Donald J. Trump gestures with a fist pump and waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, en route to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Liberal democracies aren't necessarily replaced with authoritarian rule because of an armed coup d'état. In some cases, critics of President Donald Trump have been warning, authoritarians will gradually undermine a country's system of checks and balances — which is what those critics have accused Trump of trying to do. And according to a new Swedish study, the Republican Party now resembles authoritarian parties in Turkey and Hungary.

The study was conducted by the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, which compared political parties in a long list of countries and found that under Trump, the Republican Party's rhetoric now resembles authoritarian parties like AKP in Turkey and Fidesz in Hungary. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — both of whom Trump has praised — are two disturbing examples of authoritarians who were voted into office and have been attacking the checks and balances and democratic norms in their countries.

Journalist Julian Borger, discussing the study in The Guardian, notes that that V-Dem uses an "illiberalism index" that "gauges the extent of commitment to democratic norms a party exhibits before an election" — and Borger points out that the GOP has "followed a similar trajectory to Fidesz, which under Viktor Orbán, has evolved from a liberal youth movement into an authoritarian party that has made Hungary the first non-democracy in the European Union."

According to Anna Lührmann, deputy director for V-Dem, the change in the GOP under Trump has been "certainly the most dramatic shift in an established democracy" — while the Democratic Party has changed little in its support of democratic norms.

V-Dem's "illiberalism index" has an "illiberal left" and an "illiberal right." One of the worst offenders of the "illiberal left," according to V-Dem, is Venezuela — while Hungary and Turkey are among the worst offenders on the "illiberal right." Meanwhile, conservative parties in Germany and Spain are listed as examples of the "democratic right," while the Labour Party of the U.K. is cited as an example of the "democratic left."

Borger notes that according to V-Dem, the Republican Party "has remained relatively committed to pluralism, but it has gone a long way towards abandoning other democratic norms, becoming much more prone to disrespecting opponents and encouraging violence."

Borger quotes Lührmann as saying of the GOP, "We've seen similar shifts in parties in other countries where the quality of democracy has declined in recent years, where democracy has been eroding. It fits very well into the pattern of parties that erode democracy once they're in power….. The demonization of opponents — that's clearly a factor that has shifted a lot when it comes to the Republican Party, as well as the encouragement of political violence."

According to the V-Dem study, "The data shows that the Republican Party, in 2018, was far more illiberal than almost all other governing parties in democracies. Only very few governing parties in democracies in this millennium, 15%, were considered more illiberal than the Republican Party in the U.S."

The bad news reported by V-Dem isn't limited to Turkey, Hungary and the U.S. by any means. Borger points out that "autocracies are in the majority — holding power in 92 countries, home to 54% of the global population. According to V-Dem's benchmark, almost 35% of the world's population, 2.6 billion people, live in nations that are becoming more autocratic."

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