As November approaches, I feel increasingly nervous about the upcoming presidential elections in the United States. As my American friends joke about the lead Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump in the polls today, based on the firm belief of ability. of self-renewal of democracy in your country, I am concerned as a British citizen and director of a study center.
As a Brit, I remember seeing a 20-point lead in the polls for the
in the Brexit referendum before the
(Exit) in the referendum four years ago.
And, as the director of a think tank, I work closely with academics investigating the ways authoritarian leaders manipulate democratic systems to stay in power, as has happened in Turkey, Russia, Hungary and Poland.
Indeed, it often seems as if Trump studied the tactics of other would-be strongmen more closely than anyone else.
Based on recent conversations I have had with experts in these countries, I have compiled the following catalog of dirty tricks that Trump appears to be resorting to.
The first is the demonization of history.
Populist leaders promote their political platforms through polarization and social division.
They don't mind alienating and insulting some voters if it does energize their own base.
By portraying themselves as the champions of national greatness, they want to determine who counts as an authentic citizen and who does not.
This practice inevitably brings the story to the fore.
Whether it be the Russian Vladimir Putin invoking Soviet victory in World War II, the Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan turning to the Ottoman Empire, the Hungarian Viktor Orbán obsessing over the Treaty of Trianon, or the British Boris Johnson longing for Pax Britannica, each leader has taken party into a highly divisive historical narrative.
Another related approach could be called the politics of post-truth.
These leaders prefer to communicate directly with voters through propaganda videos and social media, as they can avoid inconvenient facts that experts may raise.
In this media ecosystem, fact-checking is not in much demand, as the people who need to know about it are unwilling to listen, or refuse to believe anything that the “liberal” media says.
In many democracies, fake news is more common today at the local level, where political operators have filled the void left by the decline of traditional administrations of cities and regions.
A third tactic is to take on your own government.
The term "deep state" is said to have originated in Turkey in the 1990s, but today it figures prominently in the speeches of Trump, Orbán, Erdogan, Johnson, and de facto Polish ruler Jaroslav Kaczynski.
By blaming faceless characters and shady cliques operating in the shadows, these leaders all have a ready excuse for any of their failures.
A fourth element is the suppression of votes.
Like Erdogan's constant attempts to disempower Kurdish voters, Trump and the Republican Party are desperate to disenfranchise African Americans.
For a potential strongman already in power, the need to tip the electoral cards opens the door to all kinds of attacks on democratic processes.
Thus, prior to the Polish elections, the ruling Party for Law and Justice (PiS) attempted to limit postal votes, effectively transferring control of the elections from the independent National Electoral Commission to the postal service, controlled by the Pee.
While this plan eventually met with resistance, it showed that there are countless ways for authoritarians to interfere or subvert the process.
Not surprisingly, voting by mail and the politicization of the US Postal Service have also become relevant issues in the US Another related gimmick is "political technology," a term for dirty tricks commonly associated with post-Soviet politics. among them Russia's covert endorsement of third-party candidates like Jill Stein in the 2016 presidential election;
the Kompromat, or compromising material (an example is the search for information harmful to Biden in Ukraine);
and simply declare victory before the final count.
In the case of the United States, if Trump declares victory before all the votes by mail have arrived, Republican-controlled legislatures in key states could end the recount early to ensure that result.
If an authoritarian ruler in power so wishes, he may also engage in various forms of "legal guerrilla", using compliant police forces or courts to facilitate electoral district manipulation (known as
), vote suppression, cover-ups, and other violations of the democratic process.
In this regard, one of the greatest advantages is the ability to control the timing of events or disclose information that is harmful.
Many still believe that then-FBI Director James Comey's announcement of a new investigation into Hillary Clinton just days before the 2016 election was a factor that benefited Trump.
Today the Department of Justice is headed by Attorney General William Barr, who has not hesitated to politicize supposedly independent legal agencies in favor of Trump.
Another common authoritarian tactic is to play the "law and order" card.
By calling the Black Lives Matter movement protests an eruption of violent "urban" looting, Trump repeats the racial strategy employed by all former Republican presidents since Richard Nixon, and most recently used by Erdogan during the protests in 2013.
The problem for Democrats in America, and the rest of the world, is that all of these techniques tend to work better the more they are used.
Fact-checking for fake news can inadvertently spread misinformation further.
Vote suppression warnings can become self-fulfilling prophecies if enough people come to the conclusion that it is not worth participating.
Reporting violations through the courts creates the impression of a mortal blow to democracy.
To avoid these effects, the project of corrupting democracy must be identified, named, and analyzed through a new angle.
There is a huge difference between the political subterfuge described above and the gross falsification of the election results, as happened last month in Belarus.
Nicu Popescu, a former Moldovan foreign minister, who is currently at the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that autocracy is not the appropriate term to describe the phenomenon, but rather the "degradation, corrosion and weakening of democracy."
In any case, if Trump were the president of Moldova, one might assume that the EU would be exposing his dirty tricks.
It can almost certainly be said that any other criticism from the outside would be counterproductive.
But it can help put the current American experience in a broader context, so that democratic forces can see Trump more clearly.
Ultimately, the only way to defeat Trump is politically.
The task for Democrats is to remind Americans of what democracy is for and, hopefully, to effectively counter Trump's tactics.
is Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Translated from English by David Meléndez Tormen. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020. www.project-syndicate.org