Updated at 12:04 p.m. on June 6, 2020
Over the course of his presidency, Donald Trump has indulged his authoritarian instincts—and now he’s meeting the common fate of autocrats whose people turn against them. What the United States is witnessing is less like the chaos of 1968, which further divided a nation, and more like the nonviolent movements that earned broad societal support in places such as Serbia, Ukraine, and Tunisia, and swept away the dictatorial likes of Milošević, Yanukovych, and Ben Ali.
And although Trump’s time in office will end with an election and not an ouster, it is only possible to grasp the magnitude of what we’re seeing and to map what comes next by looking to these antecedents from abroad.
As in the case of many such revolutions, two battles are being waged in America. One is a long struggle against a brutal and repressive ideology. The other is a narrower fight over the fate of a particular leader. The president rose to power by inflaming racial tensions. He now finds his own fate enmeshed in the struggle against police brutality and racism.
The most important theorist of nonviolent revolutions is the late political scientist Gene Sharp. A conscientious objector during the Korean War who spent nine months in prison, Sharp became a close student of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles. His work set out to extract the lessons of the Indian revolt against the British. He wanted to understand the weaknesses of authoritarian regimes—and how nonviolent movements could exploit them. Sharp distilled what he learned into a 93-page handbook, From Dictatorship to Democracy, a how-to guide for toppling autocracy.