A journalist provides a startling explanation for how Trump feeds the dark forces of global authoritarianism
President Donald Trump, pictured February 11, 2019, is widely seen to have suffered politically more than Democrats over the shutdown fight. (AFP/File / Nicholas Kamm)

From Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, many far-right authoritarians have been voted into office in the 21stCentury. Bolsonaro, Duterte and Erdogan, technically speaking, aren’t dictators; voters chose them, but their authoritarian tendencies are painfully obvious. And journalist David A. Graham, in an essay for The Atlantic, explains that while President Donald Trump didn’t create this international wave of authoritarianism, he has been going out of his way to encourage it.


Graham opens his piece with a climate change analogy, noting that although hurricanes existed long before climate change, they have become “worse and more frequent” because of climate change — and Trump, similarly, didn’t create the authoritarian wave but has “made the world a safer place for authoritarianism.”

“Trump didn’t make the storm,” Graham explains, “but he’s making it worse.”

Graham cites some specific examples, observing that Trump has “implicitly endorsed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s antidemocratic power grab” in Turkey and “declined to speak out against abuses and outrageous statements like those of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.” On top of that, Graham writes, Trump has “coddled Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish President Andrzej Duda as they crack down on dissent.”

The journalist points to Saudi Arabia as another example of Trump’s fondness for authoritarians. Saudi Arabia was an oppressive regime long before Trump became president, but Trump, Graham observes, “ostentatiously refused to blame Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of the journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, citing the importance of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

Graham also weighs in on Israel, arguing that Trump is encouraging right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to conduct himself in a heavy-handed way. Israel, for all its problems, is a democracy. But Trump, Graham points out, recently urged Netanyahu to bar two U.S. congresswomen, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, from entering Israel — and Netanyahu followed Trump’s advice, although he has since said that the Detroit-born Tlaib can visit her grandmother on the West Bank.

With liberal democracy under assault around the world, Graham warns, the last thing a U.S. president should be doing is promoting authoritarians like Orbán, Duterte and Erdogan. And Graham wraps up his piece by lamenting the fact that democracy is not being encouraged at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Trump didn’t put any of these men in office, and he didn’t create their authoritarian impulses,” Graham asserts. “But his disdain for a free press, free speech and basic democratic protections means that they feel freer to act on their worst impulses, knowing that the U.S. — traditionally a guarantor of freedoms — isn’t interested.”