Yascha Mounk, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about threats to liberal democracy, said that Mr. Trump was best understood as “an authoritarian populist.” In Mr. Trump’s conception of authority, Mr. Mounk said, “what that means is that he and he alone truly represents the people. And anybody who disagrees with them, anybody who criticizes him, by virtue of that fact is an enemy of the people.”
Projecting military might as personal political power was of a piece, Mr. Mounk suggested.
“I don’t believe Donald Trump, when he took his oath of office, thought, ‘I want to be a dictator.’ I don’t think that today that he wants to be a dictator,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s outlandish to worry that should he be re-elected, the democratic system in the United States would be in serious danger.”
Mr. Trump’s invocation of religion in the context of law enforcement muscle struck several scholars as especially notable.
Katherine Stewart, an author who has focused often on the Christian right, said that the church visit on Monday called to mind political leaders like Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
“Trump doesn’t quote anything from the Bible. He really just uses it as a pure symbol of partisan identity,” she said, adding: “Authoritarianism frequently comes veiled in religion.”
Ms. Schake, the director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, sounded a touch more hopeful. Warnings about authoritarian backslide were not quite alarmist, she said, “but I don’t share that concern just yet.”
“I remain optimistic,” she said, “that the Congress, including Republicans in Congress, will see that we have given the chief executive of this country too wide a latitude.”