President Donald J. Trump addresses the nation on the South Asia strategy
Photo Credit: Jim Mattis [Public domain]

Trump’s ‘trial balloons’ test our commitment to freedom

How does a democratic political culture turn into something more authoritarian? How do leaders persuade people to accept their repressive agendas, scapegoat targeted groups and disrespect democratic norms? In the year since his election as president, Donald Trump has used one strategy to these ends: floating extreme ideas that end up polluting the mainstream.

It works by introducing an idea that is reprehensible to the values of liberal democracy, framing it as an off-the-cuff remark or even as a joke. Later, you can take it back, or blame others for having misheard or misinterpreted you. Meanwhile, your idea has circulated to millions, sometimes even creating its own news cycle. It is in the air. It cannot be unheard.

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