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Trumpism: A New Era in World Politics?

What do the coup attempt in Turkey, Donald Trump’s US presidential candidacy, the Brexit referendum, and the rise of populist parties in France, Germany, and elsewhere have in common? They all reflect deep anxieties among many citizens about the functioning of their democracies and the openness of their societies.

BERLIN – The short-lived coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan failed in large part because Turks poured into the streets in their tens of thousand to oppose a military takeover of their country. The fact that so many would willingly risk their lives for what they perceived as their “democracy” speaks well of their courage. But it is also likely to reinforce Erdoğan’s troublesome understanding of what democracy is: a form of government in which the will of a popular majority is fully represented by him, and is to be implemented by him without regard for institutional or legal constraints.

Donald Trump’s campaign for the American presidency also seems to draw on this understanding of democracy. His recent praise of torture, his calls to exclude all Muslims from entering the United States, and his attempted intimidation of a federal judge all speak to a contempt for law as a limit on what he believes a majority of Americans really want.

That so many US voters seem to agree with Trump raises a question that would have seemed utterly bizarre a year ago. Is the political system of the world’s mightiest power and oldest democracy in danger of going down an unstable, populist path? For most Project Syndicate contributors, the question is even broader. It would be easy to think of Trump, and of the reasons for his rise, as uniquely American. But while the particulars of his appeal – from his boasts of almost supernatural entrepreneurial skill to his defense of America’s lax gun laws – take their cue from the political culture of the United States, they also highlight the parallels between his rhetoric and values and those of populist strongmen like Erdoğan elsewhere.

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