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Trump’s Dirty Tricks

Although US President Donald Trump's efforts to undermine the election are shameless, they are still more subtle than the outright election rigging that one finds in places like Belarus. Like other authoritarian leaders, Trump is deploying a new anti-democratic politics that has yet to be fully comprehended.

BERLIN – With November approaching, I am becoming ever more nervous about the US presidential election. While my American friends focus on Joe Biden’s lead over current president Donald Trump in opinion polls, believing deeply in US democracy’s capacity for self-renewal, my own perspective as a British citizen and think-tank director has me worried.

As a Briton, I can remember watching a 20-point polling lead for “Remain” become a victory for “Leave” in the Brexit referendum four years ago. And as a think-tank director, I work closely with scholars who study how authoritarian leaders manipulate democratic systems to stay in power, as has happened in Turkey, Russia, Hungary, and Poland. In fact, it often seems as though Trump has studied the tactics pioneered by other aspiring strongmen more closely than anyone. Based on recent conversations with experts on each of these countries, I have compiled the following catalogue of dirty tricks that Trump seems to borrowing.

The first is the weaponization of history. Populist leaders promote their political platforms through polarization and social division. They do not mind alienating and insulting some voters if doing so will energize their own base. By posturing as the champions of national greatness, they want to determine who counts as authentic citizens and who does not. This practice inevitably brings history to the fore.

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