Mongolia and the United States are both prime examples of how weakened checks on the executive branch can lead to a lack of trust in democratic institutions and ultimately to executive aggrandizement. Compared to the United States, Mongolia is a much younger democracy and exists in an area of the world where democracies are very rare. Mongolia was under Soviet control for almost 70 years. After the student-led protests in April 1990, The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party amended the constitution and catalyzed the democratization process. As opposed to the United States, which has been a democracy since its conception.However, both countries display similar patterns of democratic backsliding.
Situation in Mongolia
Recently, the Mongolian Parliament has started to weaken institutional checks on the President and paved the way for democratic erosion. This was partly done on March 27th2019, when the Mongolian Parliament passed a law that would give the National Security Council and the Judicial General Council the authority to dismiss/recuse any judges on any case. At first glance, this doesn’t seem particularly detrimental to democracy, but it should be noted that the National Security is made up of the President, prime minister and the speaker and that the President appoints the Judicial General Council. Therefore, this law blurs the line between the executive and judiciary branches and weakens the checks on the President. The courts are now under the control of the executive branch. Munkhsaikhan Odonkhuu, a professor of law at the National University of Mongolia, described the incident as a soft coup. Nancy Bermeo, however, would call it executive aggrandizement. Bermeo describes executive aggrandizement as the process in which “elected executives weaken checks on executive power” (Page 10).  The main reason executive aggrandizement is so dangerous is that it takes places through legal means. Executives can pass laws that undermine systems of accountability, unfairly persecute members of the opposition among other things through legal means.
With his new control over the courts, President Khaltmaagiin Battulga of Mongolia now hasthe ability to prosecute any members of the opposition. This calls into question the norms of mutual toleration and institutional forbearance that are discussed in Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book: How Democracies Die. Even though passing the law giving the President these privileges was perfectly legal, it violated the spirit of the law and thus undermined the norm of institutional forbearance.
Implications of weakened checks
Concern over deviation from the norm of mutual toleration also arose in the United States over the past two years with politicians as the partisan divide grew and each party started antagonizing the other. Levitsky and Ziblatt also explore the implications of a deviation from the norms of mutual toleration and institutional forbearance. They mention thatthese norms create a balance between the different democratic institutions and this balance allows democracy to function in a free and fair manner. In the American context, these norms allow Congress and the courts to be ‘democracy’s watchdogs’ (Page 126) and to place checks on the President.
Situation in the United States
Similarly in the United States, the Attorney General’s handling of the Mueller report has called into question how separate the executive, legislative and judiciary branches really are and thus have called into question the core of American democracy.
The Special Counsel Investigation (more commonly referred to as the Mueller investigation) was a counterintelligence investigation into possible efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections. It also investigated links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and looked into potential obstruction of justice cases against Donald Trump. The final report of the investigation was given to Attorney General William Barr at the end of March 2019.
The Attorney General sent Congress a four-page letter a few days after summarizing the findings of the report. Now that the report has been released, it seems that Attorney General Barr included excerpts that were taken out of context and omitted words and phrases in his letter in order to alter the way the report was portraying President Trump.
Congress has requested the full report, but Attorney General Barr has said that he will not release the full un-redacted version.
Many, including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris criticized Attorney General Barr for acting “not as attorney general of the United States, but like the President’s defense lawyer.”
What does this mean for Democracy?
To me, it seems that in order to protect democratic institutions like the Department of Justice, the Attorney General should not be appointed by the President. The President has strong partisan leanings and will likely appoint an Attorney General that will protect their interests. When the judicial branch of the United States government is influenced by partisan politics, its ability to fulfill its duties fully is compromised. The increased polarization and a widening of the partisan divide that have characterized American politics for the past several years have resulted in the polarization of even the most neutral of democratic institutions.
The democracies of both Mongolia and the United States are threatened by the very officials and institutions that pledged to protect them. The process of executive aggrandizement is subtle, but it happens gradually thus giving the people time to increase executive checks. In addition, the United States is one of the wealthiest democracies in the world. If democracy starts to erode here, then faith in democracy worldwide will also begin to wane.
Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg believe that because of its long-standing democratic tradition, the US will not seize to be a democracy and express this in their book How to Save a Constitutional Democracy.  However, democratic institutions are being undermined in the subtle form of partisan degradation. We must be aware of the signs of executive aggrandizement and partisan degradation and urge our politicians to work to save democracy.
 Bermeo, N. (2016). On Democratic Backsliding. Journal of Democracy,27(1), 5-19. doi:10.1353/jod.2016.0012
 Levitsky, S., & Ziblatt, D. (2019). How democracies die. London: Penguin.
 Ginsburg, T. and Huq, A. (2018). How to save a constitutional democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.