On authoritarian populists

Print edition : January 19, 2018

IN an opinion piece titled “The Real Coup Plot is Trump’s” in The New York Times (December 20, 2017), Yascha Mounk, a lecturer on government at Harvard, has the following to say about “authoritarian populists”:

“This is the same strategy that authoritarian populists have long used to attack democratic institutions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, for example, has spent the past year calling journalists criminals, terrorists and coup-plotters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India recently accused Manmohan Singh, a former Prime Minister, of being in league with Pakistan. And Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary has portrayed his opponents as pawns in the billionaire philanthropist George Soros’s supposed scheme to use refugees to subjugate his country (a claim that is increasingly being echoed on the farther reaches of the American Right).

“The rapid degeneration of the public sphere in Turkey, India and Hungary can teach us two important lessons: First, up can become down and legitimate investigations can turn into supposed coups only if a few politicians and journalists are shameless enough to repeat blatant lies over and over again. Second, and more important, these lies can justify a power grab by the executive only if many more politicians and journalists are willing to stand by instead of calling those outrageous calumnies what they are.”

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