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Liberal Democracy in Retreat?

DENVER – We are only in the second month of Donald Trump’s presidency, but many Americans have already tired of the drama, and are wondering what the next 46 months have in store.

Beyond producing constant anxiety, Trump’s bizarre presidency poses a more fundamental question: Having already come under siege in many of its outposts around the world, is liberal democracy now at risk of losing its citadel, too? If so, the implications for US foreign policy, and the world, could be far-reaching.

The United States has elected a president whose understanding of American democracy is apparently limited to the fact that he won the Electoral College. To be sure, this does require some passing acquaintance with the US Constitution, where the Electoral College is defined. Beyond that, however, Trump seems to have little respect for the Constitution’s system of checks and balances, and the separation of powers among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. Nor does he respect America’s “fourth estate,” the press, which he has begun describing as the “enemy of the American people.”

Elections, while necessary, are hardly sufficient for upholding liberal democracy’s central tenets. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and many other despots have come to power by winning a popular vote.