In the lead-up to the presidential election, at the start of April, two opinion polls were published looking more closely at the values and opinions of American voters. One of them was carried out by Quinnipiac University and the other by the Public Religion Research Institute in collaboration with The Atlantic magazine.
Several of the questions dealt with the need for a strong leader who does not feel the need to seek consensus, or is unafraid to break the rules, doing “what it takes to resolve the country’s problems.” “We need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right,” and “what we need is a leader who is willing to say or do anything to solve America’s problems,” are two of the statements the interviewees are asked to take a stand on.
The results are worrying. Close to half of the respondents were of the opinion that a strong leader who is willing to break the rules is needed, and among Donald Trump supporters, almost two-thirds agreed with this statement. A majority also thought a leader willing to say or do anything to solve America’s problems was needed. Among Republicans, two-thirds were of this opinion, and among Trump supporters, the figure was 83 percent.
A majority also believed in the need for a leader who doesn’t “worry about what other people say,” an opinion particularly strong with those who like Trump. A majority among all categories of voters, with the exception of Hilary Clinton supporters, thought the country needed “a radical reform.”
All the necessary ingredients are here for a trend toward a kind of democracy in which power is not limited, the legal system is disempowered, and a “savior” is putting himself above everyone and everything in order to rescue the nation. This is the opposite of what the USA’s founding fathers were striving for when they created a political landscape where power was limited and carefully controlled to ensure that the freedom and rights of individuals could not be compromised.
At the same time, there is a clear international change from liberal to less liberal, or even illiberal forms of democracy. This is something we see in many democracies born in the last few decades. In Eastern Europe, this is a common phenomenon, but we now see it also in the Islamic world and in Latin America. Even in Western Europe, we are seeing a growth in left-wing and right-wing populist movements with a strong anti-liberal message, which in turn easily can move in the direction of a more authoritarian regime.
Once upon a time, many people were hoping that Latin American countries would be “Americanized” in terms of being transformed into wealthy liberal democracies. What we are now witnessing instead is the USA’s sad “Latin Americanization.”