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Ever since Donald Trump won in 2016, media has relentlessly painted an image of the former entertainer and real-estate mogul as an ascendant authoritarian, a “strongman,” a dangerous populist who poses an existential threat to democracy. Although the press remains free, still this portrayal pervades headlines as major outlets declare former Vice President Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
Cable news and mainstream publications alike described Trump’s pursuit of recounts and litigation as dubious or out of a despotic “playbook,” while other outlets such as The Atlantic celebrated voters for “[stopping] an authoritarian populist.” In a rather flagrant display of arrogance, one writer at the Washington Post even credited her fellow journalists for having “saved democracy” through their antagonistic coverage of the president.
These constant allegations of autocracy are especially jarring when evaluated alongside the plethora of actual authoritarian regimes plaguing the world today: emerging dictators corrupting elections in Belarus and Hungary; Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin censoring, jailing, or assassinating their political opponents; and the Chinese Communist Party perpetrating genocide against millions of ethnic and religious minorities.
Contemporary examples aside, a study of the last four years — as well as a look at the left’s policy preferences and political tactics — make clear that a Biden-Harris administration would threaten American democracy much more seriously than Trump ever will.
Trump Might Be a Buffoon, but He’s Not an Authoritarian
Read through the many articles on Trump’s supposed fascism, and you’ll find they inevitably center around rhetoric: Trump challenges political norms, speaks with open disdain for his opponents, spreads doubt about institutions such as the press, and lies quite a lot. (Whether this last point stems from malice or ignorance is, I think, up for debate.)
Rhetoric, however, is just rhetoric until it becomes policy. Mean tweets, historical illiteracy, and boorishness are not enough to qualify a democratically elected executive as “fascist.” Upon examination, Trump has protected individual freedom time and again. By appointing more than 200 judges, including three originalist justices to the Supreme Court, Trump strengthened checks on his own power and ensured more courts will reduce activist policymaking for decades to come.