• Excerpted from Tom Friedman’s NYT column of March 2022, Xi, Putin and Trump: The Strongmen Follies:

“The last five years have been a master class in comparative politics, because something happened that we’d never seen before at the same time: The world’s three most powerful leaders — Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump — each took drastic steps to hold on to power beyond their designated terms of office. One failed. Two succeeded. And therein lies a tale that says so much about our world today.

Trump failed for one very simple reason: American institutions, laws and norms forced him to cede power at the end of his four years — barely — despite both his efforts to discredit the electoral results and his unleashing of supporters to intimidate lawmakers into overturning his loss at the polls.

Putin and Xi fared better — so far. Unencumbered by institutions and democratic norms, they installed new laws to make themselves, effectively, presidents for life.

Pity their nations.

Lord knows democracies have their problems today, but they still have some things autocracies lack — the ability to change course, often by changing leaders, and the ability to publicly examine and debate alternative ideas before embarking on a course of action. Those attributes are particularly valuable in an age of accelerating technological and climate change, when the odds are low that one person in his late 60s — as both Putin and Xi are — will make better and better decisions, more and more alone, as he gets older and older.”