The Despot’s Apprentice

Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy

December 2017 9781849049436 336pp


Donald Trump isn’t a despot. But he is increasingly acting like a despot’s apprentice. Whether it’s attacking the press, threatening the rule of law, or staffing the White House with family members and cronies, Trump is borrowing moves from the world’s dictators. The president’s bizarre adoration of global strongmen has also transformed US foreign policy into a powerful force cheerleading some of the world’s worst regimes.

An expert on authoritarianism, Brian Klaas is well placed to recognise the warning signs of tyranny. He argues forcefully that with every autocratic tactic or tweet, Trump further erodes democratic norms in the world’s most powerful democracy.

The Despot’s Apprentice is an urgent exploration of the unique threat that Trump poses to global democracy—and how to save it from him before it’s too late.


‘Brian Klaas uses his knowledge of the world’s despotic regimes to shed light on authoritarian tendencies in contemporary America. A chilling reminder of the very real threats the Trump administration poses to American democracy, and essential reading for those who want to do something about it.’ — Anne Applebaum, author of Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

The Despot’s Apprentice is morally righteous in the best sense of that word. Brian Klaas offers an erudite and persuasive plea to resist both budding and aspiring despots, both in the United States and around the world.’ — Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs Democracy: Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It 

‘Thank goodness for Brian Klaas. At a moment of unprecedented political crisis for the United States, he’s one of the very few experts to offer a much-needed global perspective on the Trump phenomenon. Trump, he shows, is less an exception than part of an ominous global trend: disillusionment with democracy. A sharp-sighted and urgently needed book.’ — Christian Caryl, editor of The Washington Post‘s ‘DemocracyPost’ blog

‘A thorough and thought-provoking primer on the threat to democracy posed by — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — the current president of the United States.’ — David Litt, New York Times bestselling author of Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years

‘With so many individual scandals, it’s easy to lose perspective of the Trump administration’s broad threat to our Republic. In The Despot’s Apprentice, Brian Klaas takes on the herculean task of documenting the abundant transgressions of a demagogue, giving us essential insight into the implications for free and open society. As Klaas skilfully explains, if we are to beat back the specter of despotism, it will be a result of citizens’ devotion to democratic principles.’ — Evan McMullin, former chief policy director for the House Republican Conference, former CIA operations officer, independent candidate for the 2016 United States presidential election.

‘This piece of investigative journalism should be taken seriously on both sides of the pond. The author’s observations on dictatorships across the globe sharpen up our understanding of the weakening of democracy and the attacks on press freedom that are part and parcel of the Trump phenomenon.’  – The Methodist Review 


Brian Klaas is a fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, where he focuses on democratisation and political violence. He has advised several national governments and major international NGOs, including International Crisis Group, the Carter Center, and One Earth Future. Klaas received his doctorate from the University of Oxford.

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