Madeleine Albright: Trump Is the 'Least Democratic President' in Modern U.S. History

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January 31, 2019
Updated 2mo ago

By Carlo Versano

Madeleine Albright currently teaches a national security course at Georgetown University. If President Trump were her student, she'd give him an F.

In a wide-ranging interview with Cheddar on Thursday, the former secretary of state called Trump "the least democratic president we've had in modern American history" who "thinks he's above the law." But Albright, whose latest book is called "Fascism: A Warning," stopped short of labeling the president as a fascist.

That book details the global rise of authoritarianism in the context of the Trump presidency.

"I was going to write the book no matter what," she said, but Trump's unprecedented rise provided an extra impetus for a reflection on world leaders who have run the gamut from actual fascists to legitimately elected presidents with an authoritarian streak.

If anyone has had a front-row seat for the last 50 years of global politics, it's Albright. She worked for the National Security Council under President Carter, then as ambassador to the UN under Clinton before he chose her as the first woman to be America's chief diplomat. She went on to serve in that role from 1997 until 2001.

It wasn't until the last two years that Albright said she became legitimately fearful that a rising tide of right-wing populism could overtake the institutions that Americans hold dear. President Trump has confused allies and emboldened adversaries, Albright said, echoing a common refrain of the diplomatic community.

"He's not following any processes" when it comes to creating a coherent foreign policy, she said. "There's no obvious pattern or anything."

Trump's apparent coziness with Russian leader Vladimir Putin is particularly worrisome, Albright said, given Putin's cunning and his well-known past as a KGB agent. "He's trying to return Russia to its great power status," Albright said of Putin, while Trump is acting as "a gift" to the Russian president.

Putin is playing a weak hand strongly, as Albright put it, while Trump is playing a strong hand poorly.

Meanwhile, President Trump remains at odds with his own intelligence team on the biggest threats facing the country. The top intelligence agencies issued their annual worldwide threat assessment on Tuesday, calling into question the commander-in-chief's insistence that ISIS has been defeated and North Korea has dismantled its nuclear weapons program. That led Trump to lash out on Twitter on Wednesday.

That the president would denounce the leaders of his own intelligence agencies as "passive and naive" and tell them to "go back to school," as Trump did, "shows a lack of understanding of what the intelligence community in our country does," Albright said.

Albright called on Congress to "step up" to their constitutional duty to serve as a check and balance to the executive branch. "That is the basis of our system," she said.

On recent developments in Venezuela, where a mounting power struggle is threatening to boil over into a full-fledged geopolitical crisis, Albright said she was heartened by the widespread calls coming from other Latin American countries, as well as from key allies like Canada to and the EU, for President Maduro to step down. The U.S. has said it will officially recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's president and Trump said "all options are on the table" with regard to a military strike. Albright said she is opposed to U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.

Albright said her book was meant to be alarming, but she's not all doom and gloom about the future of democracy in the world. "I'm an optimist ー that worries a lot," she said.