Trump has already used five of the six classic authoritarian moves during the COVID-19 pandemic
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a "Keep America Great" rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore)

President Donald Trump has not moved to consolidate more authoritarian power for himself during the coronavirus pandemic, as Hungary's Viktor Orbán has, but that should offer little comfort.


Trump has been an impulsive and erratic chief executive, rather than a disciplined strategist like Orbán, but a pair of experts explained in The Atlantic that his response to the COVID-19 outbreak has used five of the six classic moves associated with authoritarian populists.

Kristy Parker, counsel at Protect Democracy, and contributing writer Yascha Mounk, a senior adviser at Protect Democracy, break down Trump's threat to U.S. democracy:

1. The president has employed disinformation to downplay the threat from the virus and overstate his own success in combating its spread.

2. Trump limited press access to public health officials who criticized his response, and he has also threatened to withhold aid from states whose governors "don't treat us well."

3. The president has exploited the crisis to double down on his restrictive immigration policies, which serve no real purpose in fighting the virus' spread and may make the situation worse.

4. Trump has threatened to "open the economy" using powers that are not legally his to override governors and mayors.

5. He has also suggested he may overstep his authority by forcing the independent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ease social distancing guidelines recommended by the agency's leadership.

Trump hasn't employed the sixth classic authoritarian move -- corrupting the presidential election by using the pandemic as an excuse -- but the authors lack confidence that he won't.