Donald Trump is dictating terms to a coalition of the willing: Those willing to be deceived.
Dictatorship is a form of government in which a country is ruled by one person or political entity, and exercised in ways that prevent power from being challenged.
Dictators use propaganda to create distractions and alternative versions of reality, covering their tracks by blaming enemies within and without.
Dictators mire public scrutiny of policy-making, hobble the judiciary, and surround themselves with sycophantic cronies.
So, when is a president a dictator, rather than someone who knows what’s best for a country and how to make it great again? This question is prompted by recent articles in the mainstream press. This from “Trump Follows Obama’s Lead in Flexing Executive Muscle” (New York Times, 26 January 2017):
“When President Obama relied heavily on executive orders to push through policies that had no chance in Congress, Republicans called him a dictator who abused his power and disregarded the Constitution. They even took him to court… Now President Trump, at the start of his tenure, is relying heavily on executive actions not just to reverse Obama administration initiatives, but to enact new federal policies covering immigration, health care and other areas in ways that could be seen more as the province of the House and Senate.”
Then again in “No, Trump, Not on Our Watch” (New York Times, 30 January 2017): “Trump’s America is brutal, perverse, regressive, insular and afraid. There is no hope in it; there is no light in it. It is a vast expanse of darkness and desolation.” This sounds more like Mordor or the Galactic Empire or – more soberly – Assad’s Syria than the USA after Barack Obama’s more enlightened tenure.
In “The only thing standing between Trump and authoritarianism: the Supreme Court” (The Guardian, 3 February 2017), Trevor Timm wrote:
“Every day the Trump administration displays its disregard for democratic governance and the rule of law, forging ahead with an authoritarian approach virtually unknown in the post-war western political establishment… The Republican-controlled Congress, cynical and craven in equal measure, shows no inclination to exert any serious check on executive authority. They will tolerate, if not welcome, his autocratic-style governance in the hopes he will help them enact their right-wing legislative agenda.”
Until he starts locking people up (or worse), it matters little what label is placed on Donald Trump – dictator or megalomaniac. What matters is how long the American people – in whose name he holds office – are willing to put up with what follows: years of debilitating political in-fighting, endless trade wars, and the likelihood of military action against Iran, China, or North Korea. Worse still, the American people have to put up with the ignominy of somehow letting this all happen in the first place.
After his executive order banning travel from seven Muslim countries, Trump tried to denigrate the federal judiciary, tweeting “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” He then tried to hoodwink the public, saying, “It’s common sense. Some things are law – and I’m all in favour of that – and some things are common sense. And this is common sense”.
As George Prochnik noted in The New Yorker (6 February 2017) in his article on Stefan Zweig’s analysis of the rise of fascism, “We have a magnetic leader, one who lies continually and remorselessly—not pathologically but strategically, to placate his opponents, to inflame the furies of his core constituency, and to foment chaos. The American people are confused and benumbed by a flood of fake news and misinformation.” Alternative facts, some might say.
Donald Trump is not merely delusional, he is fomenting dictatorship. We should heed Aesop’s warning in “The Wolf and the Lamb”: The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.