While progressive reform over the years has done much to alter the dispensations of 1689 and 1789, the UK and the USA both retain institutional features that embody a bourgeois democracy suspicious of universal suffrage (e.g. the US Electoral College), sympathetic to personality-driven factionalism, and dedicated above all to the preservation of property rights. Whether you consider it be-suited Fascism, know-nothing populism or ethno-nationalist authoritarianism, the current rightist insurgency is clearly directed at a liberal establishment. In most cases it is adopting a constitutional form, which is typical of populism, so the "threat to democracy" remains mostly hyperbole, and in many cases it is advancing classical (if not neo) liberal policies. Even parties like the Front National that consider democracy irrelevant to the "nation's will" know that challenging the liberal establishment is best done by claiming to be defending the constitution and secular rights, notably from "reactionary" Islam, not by advocating their overthrow.
The ascent to power of Fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain in the first half of the 20th century depended on three things: the dissatisfaction of conservatives with the extension of democracy (and the boost this gave to socialism); a general bourgeois fear of Bolshevism (which led to centrist toleration of the "state of exception"); and the liberal encouragement of ethno-nationalism at Versailles and after. You might be able to find faint echoes of each in contemporary politics, if you listen hard enough, though it's often liberals who are most dissatisfied with democratic practice while the great terror for centrists appears to be the mild social democracy advocated by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Ethno-nationalism is alive and kicking globally, but the fractious borders of the former Yugoslavia remain an exception in Europe, while the US is still a society divided by racial claims to property rather than ethnic claims to territory. What is consistent between the two eras is the fragility of liberal institutions: then because of their relative youth in Continental Europe; now because of their senility in the Anglosphere.
On election eve, The Economist caught the scent of this: "It can seem overwrought to warn about the risk of fascism in the context of proud old democracies like America and Britain. And in truth, neither is about to see brownshirts in the streets or the complete domination of government and society by autocrats. At the same time, it is important to understand that liberal society is not immutable. There is not much holding it up apart from the institutions we build, which themselves rest on a fine balance of costs and benefits. Mess around with those costs and benefits enough, and the thing can come crashing down." Though the piece was straplined "Democracy in danger" and opened with the observation that "Liberal democracies, while not exactly on the brink of a descent into fascism, are facing a period of crisis", the key point is that the hegemony of liberal norms depends upon the effectiveness of liberal institutions, and they have been in decay in the US and UK since the late 1970s.
Many people are confused by the distinction between liberal (meaning classical liberal) and neoliberal, assuming the latter is just the former in skinny jeans. While the theory remains fundamentally consistent, particularly in its privileging of private interest, there is a significant difference in practice, namely that the neoliberal extension of the market from commerce to all spheres of society has eroded both the normative authority of liberal institutions and their practical effectiveness. The institutions that developed in the 17th and 18th centuries were focused on protecting landed and bourgeois interests against autocracy, hence the division of powers, the constraints on prerogative and the focus on property rights. Those that developed over the course of the 19th century were more geared to managing contending interests thrown up by the industrial revolution and the growth of nationalism - i.e. the "social question" and issues of ethnic identity.
The success of Anglophone democracy in the 20th century owed something to luck, but it also owed something to the greater capability of its first-wave political institutions, first displayed by their resilience in the face of nationalism and then by their greater adaptability in the face of demands for universal suffrage and social reform over the course of the 19th century. Evolution, rather than the periodic revolution to be seen in Continental Europe, seemed to be more effective, but this gave rise to a smug superiority that in turn produced fussy constitutionalism, the preservation of antique forms and a self-satisfied civil service. This initial foundation was buttressed by the growth of civil society institutions, such as trade unions and local government, the adoption of claims to institutional roles by private enterprises like newspapers (the "fourth estate"), and the subsequent expansion of the welfare state. In the UK, for example, the BBC and NHS took on quasi-state roles in respect of normative values: truth, equality, solidarity etc. The problem arose when neoliberalism insisted that these auxiliary institutions, like the state itself, should respect only one value: the wisdom of the market.
As the varied institutions of civil society were gradually eviscerated or colonised by the market after 1980, more and more social demands were consequently directed towards the political institutions of the state. This was problematic both because of the neoliberal state's retreat from hitherto key areas of public life, such as responsibility for full employment and market regulation, and because the remaining antique forms were increasingly incapable of satisfying those demands. The regular call for public inquiries in the UK nowadays, which are by definition exceptions to the institutional norm (and are often decried by centrists for that reason), reflects the failure of the liberal state to efficiently respond to popular concern, much as the original concession of the EU referendum did. Every time a liberal commentator insists that only the House of Lords is defending our liberties against an aggressive government (and in the face of an incompetent opposition), you are witnessing an implicit admission that the institutions of liberal democracy are in crisis. Of course, liberals would prefer (as ever) to blame "mismanaged" democracy itself, or even cut to the chase and blame the mob.
Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, provides a good example of this transatlantic tendency when trying (ahead of yesterday's vote) to understand what motivates Trump's supporters and what liberals can do about it: "His followers are not, shall we say, there to root on their favored libertarian in his pursuit of free-market solutions to vexing social problems; they are there to scream insults and cry havoc on their (mostly imaginary) enemies" (given that Trump has got out the usual Republican vote, another way of reading this is that GOP supporters were never that bothered by free-market solutions). This leads Gopnik to liberal pessimism: "The more tragic truth is that the Trumpian view of the world is the default view of mankind. Bigotry, fanaticism, xenophobia are the norms of human life—the question is not what causes them but what uncauses them, what happens in the rare extended moments that allow them to be put aside, when secular values of toleration and pluralism replace them". The answer, of course, is that toleration and pluralism must be practised at an institutional level to become normative in society.
It would be easy to point at the multiple failings of the media in this regard, from the lies and vitriol of British tabloids and US cable TV, to the stupidity of the BBC's "balance" and the liberal media's indulgence of outrage (they need the clicks too), but the media has been partisan, bigoted and condescending since the advent of mass literacy. The real institutional rot has occurred elsewhere: in the performative cruelty of the "reformed" welfare state; the destruction of organised labour and the atomisation of the gig economy; and the denigration of any social solidarities outside the shared experience of a cultural commodity, like the Great British Bake-Off or the latest Netflix must-watch. Brexit was sold in terms of sovereignty and "taking back control", but the immediate result is that the UK's impending departure from the EU has placed intolerable stresses on the already rickety institutions of the liberal state. These have become attenuated not because of a lack of match-practice since 1972, but because the embrace of the EU allowed us to preserve antique forms long past their 1960s sell-by date.
So what can we forsee for the USA? Donald Trump's "movement" remains organisationally weak and ideologically inchoate. In the manner of many of his previous business ventures, the "brand" will be quickly absorbed by the Republican Party. Though he ended up running against the GOP establishment as much as the Democrats, Trump's lack of any emotional party affiliation means that he will pragmatically accept their support rather than seek to build a new organisation, though he'll no doubt indulge far-right fan-fic as well. The eclipse of the Bush dynasty, and Trump's likely appointment of people like Stephen Bannon of Breitbart fame, will see an ethical realignment all down the line. There will be a willingness, as in the UK, to interpret the "will of the people" in the harshest terms. Trumpism will simply be right-wing Republicanism largely unconstrained by the institutions of the Republic. Very soon, Trump will be the establishment, even if he continues to claim otherwise. Psychologically, he wants the luxury of being the ultimate outsider-insider.
His domestic priorities will most likely turn out to be tax-cuts and removing restraints on business, rather than building walls or quitting the WTO, even if he uses executive orders to make early eye-catching gestures and turns up in Nogales with a trowel. Digital economy companies like Apple and Amazon, who were solidly behind Clinton, will probably cut a deal on tax (they'll pay a bit more) in return for greater help for the security services (i.e. more surveillance). Obamacare may be formally repealed, but it will live on in diminished form: half a step forward, a quarter step back (Barack Obama will become the new Jimmy Carter). More illegal immigrants will be deported and Muslims will face higher hurdles to get in, but the bigger "homeland security" issue will be the steadily worsening relations between the police and working-class black Americans. The vote will be taken as a sign on both sides of the divide that black lives really don't matter that much.
Abroad, Trump will cleave to the usual positions, simply because US foreign policy rarely moves outside narrow bounds regardless of who is in the White House. With a compliant Congress and the prospect of a more right-wing Supreme Court, he will not need look to foreign affairs to compensate for gridlock at home. If his previous comments on Europe mean anything, it is that foreign policy isn't an area of real interest to him, not that the US is going to abandon NATO. After the liberal interventionism of the 90s and the neocon adventurism of the 00s, the pendulum had already swung back towards instrumental realism, which in practice means geostrategic caution and a disinterest in human rights. Extra money will flow to the military, but Trump's comments to date suggest he is more interested in spectacle and rhetoric - from drones to nuclear missiles - than boots on the ground.
What will ultimately distinguish Trump's tenure is institutional rot. The credibility of the Supreme Court has been dribbling away for years and this is likely to accelerate with further conservative appointments. The end of Congressional gridlock, combined with the opportunities for directing military and other infrastructural spending, will lead to a great flowering of pork-barrel politics and corruption. Trump's inability to control his own appetites or temper will lead to an excessive use of executive orders and the brokering of favours for buddies. The Federal Reserve will be bullied into line. The calibre of the civil service will plummet. I'd put the chance of him surviving four years at 50% (jail being a bigger risk than a bullet), and the chance of a second term at zero. Meanwhile, liberals, who today are already trying to love-bomb Trump into respectability, will bleat "I told you so, the man is deplorable", completely missing the point that they made him possible by rejecting pluralism and social conscience for the divisiveness and winner-takes-all mentality of the market.
In the UK, which suddenly looks almost comically parochial in comparison, there appears little likelihood the institutional rot will be reversed. Theresa May's commitment to an activist government, and the insistence on the social responsibility of business, will mean nothing without the rebuilding of the institutional infrastructure degraded since Margaret Thatcher bustled into Number 10. This is not only too big a task (Brexit provides the excuse to avoid a lot of hard choices), but it's one that might open up the pandora's box of constitutional reform, which would threaten too many vested interests. It will be far easier to focus the Home Office and Justice Secretary on keeping the tabloids sweet, which means beasting the poor and repelling immigrants, while Crown prerogative is exploited at every opportunity. The one hopeful sign in the UK is that some in the Commons looks like they're up for a fight with the executive. The worry is that the politico-media caste that has overseen Parliament's recent decay, from the evasions of Iraq to the cowardice of welfare reform, remain very much in situ and more concerned with social media proprieties and factional plotting.