But the ways in which Trump differs from his populist peers are even more important: So far, he has been far less interested than them in rewarding his base with tangible material improvements. He has been far less strategic about abolishing independent institutions. And he has also been far less effective at hammering home a consistent worldview that recasts any harm to him as a threat to the whole nation.

This is heartening: Unless Trump suddenly starts to learn on the job—something he has stubbornly resisted doing for the past 18 months—he is unlikely to emulate the successes of Chávez, Kaczyński, and cohorts.

But it is also scary: If American institutions have, so far, stood up to Donald Trump, the reason for this seems to have at least as much to do with his personal failings as it does with the structural differences between the United States and countries like Poland or Venezuela. If Trump, or one of his successors, should learn to emulate the playbook developed by authoritarian populists around the world, he too could concentrate enormous powers in his own hands.