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Trump's attacks undermining democracy

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Donald Trump poses an existential threat to American democracy, according to ''Freedom in the World,'' the annual report from Freedom House, an independent human rights watchdog group.

In its annual report on the state of democracy and human rights around the world, the report states: '' Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections.

''We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent.''

According to, Freedom House's system ranks countries on a 0-to-100 scale, with 0 being fully authoritarian and 100 being perfectly democratic. Countries gain points based on the freedom of their elections, respect for basic rights like freedom of speech and other core liberal democratic rights.

The score for the U.S. has now dropped to 86, behind Italy and six other countries.

The reason this is so worrying, according to Mike Abramowitz, Freedom House's president, is that Trump is following an established playbook from counties like Hungary and Venezuela where elected leaders have subverted their country's democracy.

Trump's rhetorical and policy attacks happen to focus on the same institutions -- the ones that help safeguard democracy.

''His attacks on the judiciary and the press, his resistance to anticorruption safeguards, and his unfounded claims of voting fraud by the opposition are all familiar tactics to foreign autocrats and populist demagogues who seek to subvert checks on their power,'' Abramowitz writes. ''The fact that the [U.S.] system has proven durable so far is no guarantee that it will continue to do so.''

In his book ''The Despot's Apprentice,'' Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics who studies authoritarian regimes, looks at how Trump is directly attacking the core essence of American democracy and mirroring the tactics of despots throughout history.

The politicization of the rule of law is a key aspect of authoritarian rule, Klaas says, and Trump has done this repeatedly.

Trump pushed for Hillary Clinton to be locked up. He pardoned Arizona Sherriff Joe Arpaio after Arpaio's treatment of immigrants was found by the courts to be unconstitutional. Trump also pardoned Navy

Trump also pardoned Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher who was found guilty of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Trump has attacked the FBI's reputation. He has attacked federal judges for blocking his executive orders when they ruled his orders violated the Constitution.

He ignored congressional oversight of the executive branch in violation of the Constitution (and got impeached for it but was protected by his Republicans in a mock Senate trial with no witnesses or documents allowed), calling the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution ''archaic'' and ''really a bad thing for the country.''

He has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution. ''This kind of stuff we see in banana republics, not functioning democracies,'' Klaas says.

The Oath of Allegiance of the United States reads in part: ''I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic...''

I would argue, we are witnessing what was previously implausible - that the President of the United States is an enemy of, rather than a defender of, the U.S. Constitution, the rule of law and the democratic principles that keep our country strong.