Around the world, the mid­dle class grows weary of democ­racy

Mid­dle classes around the world seem weary of free pol­i­tics and are open to strong­men like Trump

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - NEWS - By Joshua Kurlantz­ick

As Don­ald Trump has swept through the pri­maries to­ward the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, his blow­torch style has led some com­men­ta­tors to call him a mod­ern ver­sion of Ben­ito Mus­solini who’s bringing dan­ger­ous 1930s-style pol­i­tics to Amer­ica. In re­al­ity, Trump’s rise doesn’t sig­nal a re­turn of fas­cism, and his po­lit­i­cal style doesn’t par­al­lel that of Mus­solini. In­stead, Trump is part of a mod­ern-day demo­cratic re­treat that’s been go­ing on for a decade in the de­vel­op­ing world and which is mak­ing its way to Amer­ica and Western Europe. The en­vi­ron­ment that’s made Trump’s rise pos­si­ble has more in com­mon with Thai­land in 2000 and Turkey in 2010 than Italy—or Ger­many—in 1933, and Trump’s po­lit­i­cal ap­proach is closer to those of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, for­mer Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chávez, or for­mer Thai Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra.

From the early 1970s, when much of south­ern Europe de­moc­ra­tized, to the mid-2000s, democ­racy seemed to be sweep­ing the globe. From 1990 to 2005, elec­toral democ­ra­cies world­wide ex­panded by al­most 50 per­cent. Yet ac­cord­ing to Free­dom House, a non­profit that mon­i­tors the state of democ­racy, the num­ber of coun­tries with de­clin­ing free­doms grew in 2015 for the 10th year in a row, the long­est streak of demo­cratic re­gres­sion in five decades. What’s more, in its an­nual re­port Free­dom House noted that in 2015 “the num­ber of coun­tries show­ing an [an­nual] de­cline in free­dom was the largest since the 10-year slide be­gan.”

In many coun­tries democ­racy is fail­ing be­cause the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers has proven to be elected au­to­crats. Un­like in the 1920s or 1930s, when fas­cist gov­ern­ments such as Franco’s Span­ish and Mus­solini’s Ital­ian regimes came to power by essen­tially over­throw­ing es­tab­lish­ments through force or bul­ly­ing to dom­i­nate a sin­gle elec­tion, to­day’s elected au­to­crats un­der­stand that hold­ing reg­u­lar votes is crit­i­cal to one’s do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy, even if those votes aren’t to­tally free. Af­ter the elec­tions, lead­ers like Bo­livia’s Evo Mo­rales, Er­do­gan, Thaksin, or Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib tun Razak show lit­tle re­spect for any in­sti­tu­tions—an im­par­tial ju­di­ciary, a free me­dia, con­sti­tu­tional lim­its on power, a vi­brant pri­vate sec­tor— other than the bal­lot.

Un­der Er­do­gan, Turkey’s gov­ern­ment has si­lenced most crit­i­cal me­dia, while in Malaysia the Na­jib gov­ern­ment

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