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America Challenged: Can Trump Do Democracy?

09/02/2017 16:44 | Updated 10 February 2017
Bastiaan Slabbers via Getty Images

The problem with U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be that he is used to reigning supreme over his own business empire, unchallenged by any checks and balances. This however, is not how democracy works. In a functioning democracy you have the legislature (Congress), the executive (President) and the judiciary (courts of justice), the three branches of government (see chart).

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The underlying problem might not be that Trump is attempting a downstream rightwing coup, subverting democratic institutions and practices after assuming power. Somehow, he doesn't seem enough of an ideologist for this. (That said, Trump's top adviser, former boss of rightwing news outlet Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, needs an appraisal in his own right in this context.)

For Trump, it seems to be hard not be the supreme ruler whose decisions go unchallenged. He already shows signs of aggravated frustration with the courts doing their constitutional job, keeping a check on his presidential powers. Indeed, it must be hard for somebody who has for so many years always gotten his way to accept that there now are people he can't just by-pass - or fire for that matter.

Even though he tries.

This is the worrisome point: We don't know if Trump is willing and able to learn his lesson in democratic process. Trump's personality traits might point towards a form of inability or at least unwillingness to learn lessons in self-regulation and moderation. It looks like he will go on trying to get his way, no matter the cost to democracy.

How far will he try to take it? And how far will he get? Those are the éléphantesque questions in the room.

Democracy seems a fragile system. Then again, America is the one democracy in the world that has all institutional safeguards and presets installed. It's the country with the best chances of withstanding the encroachment of authoritarianism.

Trump in Washington doesn't exactly play in the same league as Julius Caesar did, who became Rome's first dictator in perpetuity. (Rome had been a republic for 450 years before.) Perhaps Trump can't even match the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon, who really gave his best to unhinge the judiciary. (He had much more experience in all things government than Trump, and the CIA on his side.)

The final test will come when Trump starts showing signs of not accepting defeat at the polls in four years' time, or tries to call into question the limit on presidential terms after eight years. Then latest, will we know who Trump really is - which could be too late. It's going to be a challenging and tough time.

Until then, may the Force be with America and its people - and the rest of the world.

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