What would you say if you saw this US president’s behaviour in another country?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 14, 2020

The New York Times’s David Leonhardt put it most succinctly of all. Quoting political scientist Brendan Nyhan, he laid out the best way to consider events underway in the United States: what would you say if you saw it in another country?

Okay, so let’s have a go at that, today, one week after Pennsylvania was called for Joe Biden and Donald Trump refuses to accept defeat.

Imagine some distant place on the map. Somewhere we don’t normally give high marks for democratic traditions and norms. There, the president loses the election, refuses to concede, lies about the voting process, files lawsuits to have ballots thrown out, puts pressure on officials to back his claims and deploys the levers of government to prevent the transition of power.

What would you call such a place and such actions?

Anti-democratic, yes.

Authoritarian, yes.

Tending to dictatorship?


Hard though it may to accept, the United States’s current president seems to want to throw out the inconvenient results of a national election and stay in power. He wants to subvert processes and traditions that have run for 244 years.

As Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which tracks democracy, told the NYT, “What we have seen in the last week from the president more closely resembles the tactics of the kind of authoritarian leaders we follow. I never would have imagined seeing something like this in America.”

Well, now we have seen it.

The question is how do you prevent a near-coup or a real one in the future?