Donald Trump is making western democracy look really bad — and making dictators feel pretty smug

Critics worry Trump's borderline authoritarianism sets a dangerous precedent for despots worldwide

By Brendan Gauthier

Published May 16, 2017 2:00PM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

President Donald Trump — a possible future victim of checks and balances — has delighted foreign autocrats, who look to our president either for justification for their despotism or, in some cases, just a good laugh.

"Now you guys can’t lecture everyone else anymore," a diplomat from an "undemocratic nation" — who said he was "taking a guilty pleasure in the spectacle" — told Politico after Trump fired former FBI director James Comey.

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Critics, like Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy — who recently "met with a demoralized group of human rights activists from a repressive country," according to Politico — say Trump's borderline authoritarianism sets a troubling precedent internationally: "They were petrified that they couldn’t argue for the rule of law in their country if they didn’t know the rule of law was being held up in the United States."

Some undemocratic foreign leaders, like Cambodia's Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, have latched onto Trump's fervent criticism of what he calls "fake news."

"Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants . . . sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation," Siphan wrote in a February Facebook post threatening outlets critical of human rights abuses committed by the Cambodian government under Prime Minister Hun Sen. "Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace. The president’s decision has nothing to do with democracy or freedom of expression."

Trump met with Turkey's controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. After the Turkish military led a failed coup in July, Trump applauded Erdogan, who encouraged citizens to flood the streets in protest.

"I don’t know that we have a right to lecture. Just look about what’s happening with our country. How are we going to lecture … you see the riots and the horror going on in our own country?" then-Republican nominee Trump said at the time. "When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger."

Brendan Gauthier

Brendan Gauthier is a freelance writer.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Authoritarianism Chris Murphy Despotism Donald Trump Recep Tayyip Erdogan Totalitarianism