Is America becoming a 21st-century-style authoritarian state? The impeachment hearings of the last weeks would seem to provide an easy answer: no. The very fact that such an inquiry can be held, and broadcast on national television, is a sign that our democracy is working and that our institutions are holding. Yet the impeachment hearings also showed how degraded our political culture has become and how much progress President Donald Trump has made in implementing the authoritarian playbook that he began to write for America during his campaign. First, the hearings revealed just how much Trump’s cult of personality has tied subordinates to him, and how much of his playbook operates on keeping them in thrall to his singular threat: show loyalty, no matter what I say or do, or else.

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