After Trump, U.S. Faces Risk Of Slipping Into 'Hybrid' Regime

From Venezuela to Belarus, there are countries that have elements of democracy but fall well short of acceptable standards of freedom and transparency. Will the U.S. end up there too?

Trump at the Army-Navy football game in December 2020
Trump at the Army-Navy football game in December 2020
Lena Surzhko Harned and Luis Jimenez*

Six weeks after the U.S. election, President Donald Trump had still not accepted defeat. This behavior is not typical in mature democracies. And it's reminiscent of countries with what political scientists call "hybrid regimes" – nations that have elements of democracy but in practice are not democracies.

For us – politics scholars studying Latin America and the former Soviet Union – Trump's resistance to election results underscores the fragility of democratic institutions when confronted with authoritarian practices. These include deligitimizing election results, interfering with judicial independence and attacking independent media and opposition.

Trump is part of a global trend in authoritarianism. The United States can learn a great deal from other countries where democracies fell victim to the authoritarian playbook.

Rigging elections

Trump and members of the Republican Party claimed fraud in the presidential elections. They attempted to overturn legally cast ballots in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan. Trump, furthermore, has urged state leaders to ignore the will of voters and give their electoral votes to him.

Disregard for voters and electoral rules are tactics well documented in hybrid regimes. Although Trump has charged that the U.S. election was rigged, it was not.

Truly rigged elections involve practices like ballot box stuffing – adding false ballots to legitimate ones, or buying the electorate by offering citizens money or jobs in exchange for votes.

Barring opposition candidates from running for office, as Russia has done, is another tactic.

Other regimes, like Alexander Lukashenko's in Belarus, pressure electoral officials to falsify electoral results to ensure victories with wide margins. This triggered massive protests in August.

Crowds in Minsk call for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, on Aug. 23, 2020. Ulf Mauder/picture alliance via Getty Images

In Venezuela, since roughly 2005, former President Hugo Chávez seized control of vote processing and counting through the National Electoral Council, a branch of government that oversees elections. This way, any election irregularities always hurt the opposition.

And Chávez encouraged the electorate to vote for him if they were state employees or received government benefits. At times, they received outright threats that they would lose their jobs if they did not vote for him.

Other forms of "encouragement" in Venezuela included "red tents" next to polling stations. These were government stations where people could sign up for government benefits and receive small gifts.

President Trump did something similar by putting his name on stimulus checks in April, which may have been illegal but was never adjudicated.

He also tried to rig the U.S. election by insisting that mail-in votes should not be counted after Election Day, and then attempted to overturn election results based on that claim.

"Enemies of the people"

Coined by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the phrase "enemies of the people" – used against all who disagreed with him – has entered Trump's vocabulary.

Earlier in his presidency, Trump called the press the "enemies of the people." More recently, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, earned this title from Trump after defending his state's election process.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power since 2000 and consolidated his autocratic rule by amending the Russian constitution, has a long list of opposition leaders, civil groups and journalists who have become "enemies of the people."

Pet judiciaries

Before the election, Trump insisted mail voting was riddled with fraud and tried to overturn Nevada's vote-by-mail law. He insisted that there would be election disputes and that filling the Supreme Court seat was crucial for that reason.

Yes, the high court has rejected Trump's efforts to overturn election results. But Trump's audacious attempt mirrors tactics used by authoritarian leaders.

Similar scenarios to the one Trump hoped for played out with Evo Morales in Bolivia and Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras.

Morales and Hernández were able to install judges who ruled that clauses in the constitutions prohibiting reelection were unconstitutional. That, in turn, allowed both leaders to run successfully for reelection.

"Law and order"

Authoritarian leaders also favor "law and order" arguments to justify their legitimacy. They paint themselves as the ultimate arbiters of what presents a threat.

Russia's Putin has emphasized his commitment to stability and security, elevating the status of security forces loyal to him, known as siloviki. These security forces now hold high positions in Russian politics, business and society.

Trump has also cultivated the image of a strongman, calling for the mobilization of the National Guard to quell racial justice protests.

Similar to autocratic leaders in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ukraine, Trump has refused to denounce far-right militias like the Proud Boys, telling them instead to "stand back and stand by," which was interpreted as a command.

And he suggested that people "liberate" Michigan from the state's social distancing measures amid the pandemic, a move critics denounced for inciting insurrection.

Maduro is seen during the United Socialist Party of Venezuela's annual congress on July 31, 2014. Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Trump has used ploys from the autocratic playbook throughout his presidency, and that will have lasting consequences.

Trump's rejection of election results damages the legitimacy of the democratic process.

In general, it encourages other autocrats and would-be autocrats to challenge the electoral process if they don't like the results. For the U.S., it promotes the belief that President-elect Joe Biden's presidency will be illegitimate.

A country's stability largely depends on people accepting the results if their side loses. If a significant portion of the public refuses to, history shows that violence will not be far behind.

For the United States, the lesson is stark. Surviving the recent electoral turmoil does not guarantee it will outlast a similar scenario the next time.

Republican leaders' failure to repudiate baseless allegations of electoral fraud – and some Republicans' willingness to pursue legal action based on these claims – further undermines the legitimacy of the democratic process.

Trump was defeated, but Trumpism will have a lasting effect.

*Lena Surzhko Harned, Assistant Teaching Professor of Political Science, Penn State and Luis Jimenez, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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