The Trump Trifecta:
favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.
If you are not convinced that Donald Trump’s basic instincts are authoritarian, let’s take a look at his statements this week. It’s hard to tell if Trump genuinely believes the ridiculous, concocted stories about the 2010 Uranium One deal and the Clinton campaign’s assuming the payments for “the dossier” are somehow criminal or if he is, as some would like to claim, simply creating a diversion from Bob Mueller’s Russia investigation. (I believe the former because I also believe he is that staggeringly ignorant as well as susceptible to the most ridiculous conspiracy theories wing nuts like Alex Jones and his ilk create) If it’s not bad enough that Trump believes there is actually some basis for a criminal investigation of the Democrats, it’s worse that he is frustrated by not having dictatorial power to order the Justice Department to do his bidding. In his own words:
The saddest thing is, because I am the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by that. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her dossier, and the kind of money — I don’t know, is it possible that they paid $12.4 million for the dossier, which is total phony, fake, fraud and how is it used?
It’s very discouraging to me. I’ll be honest, I’m very unhappy with it, that the Justice Department isn’t going — maybe they are but you know as President, and I think you understand this, as a President you’re not supposed to be involved in that process. But hopefully they are doing something and at some point, maybe we are gonna all have it out. (Washington Post, November 3,, 2017-Greg Sargent)
The key phrase to focus on is: “I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by that” because it reveals Trump’s true authoritarian, kneejerk instinct. On October 12, 2017, Stephen Collinson of CNN did an analysis of Trump’s “authoritarian streak” and noted that it “is at the root of many of the controversies that incessantly batter his administration, from his race-tainted feud with kneeling NFL players, to the turbulence in his inner circle and scorn for his critics.” Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s School of Public Policy and International Affairs said:
He is showing clear signs of an authoritarian leader, most notably by blurring the national and the personal, considering (a) critique of him similar to (b) critique of the country, and accepting none of it. He clearly considers dissent as unpatriotic and doesn't believe it should be accepted or protected. He craves adulation ... and he seems to only respect military leaders and force. (Collinson, CNN)
You may have noticed Trump’s incessant references to “my generals,” which are almost as legion as his use of the term “fake news” --- another trait of autocratic, authoritarian leaders. As Collinson further explained in his CNN story:
In many ways, it is not surprising that Trump has authoritarian reflexes. He was a strongman in his own company for decades. He became known to most Americans as a dictatorial reality television star. Then, as now, he held his family close in a power cabal -- and had a notoriously thin skin.
New York University’s Ruth Benedict, a professor of History and Culture, points out "Most authoritarians in history are extremely brittle, they don't take well to criticism so they surround themselves with family and flatterers. All of this is like a syndrome and I must say, he fits in extremely well." As Collinson concludes: “While Trump has made no attempt to replicate the repression of modern Russia, his political narrative of national decline and the need for return to law and order seems like a watered-down version of Putinism.”
Yet, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Back in March of 2016 Jonathan Gatehouse, in Macleans magazine, wrote a piece entitled: Trumputin: Disturbing Parallels Between Trump and Putin. It has been noted by all the major media outlets (except Fox News, of course) that Trump seems incapable of saying anything negative about Putin or Russia.
As Gatehouse noted:
America’s arch-capitalist doesn’t just admire Vladimir Putin, he resembles him. From the disdainful attacks on opponents to the promises of renewed national glory, to the manipulation of the media and the appeal to the public’s basest fears, Trump is following the Russian leader’s template. Both men obsess over even the mildest criticism, like to revel publicly in their virility, and choose to focus almost exclusively on outcomes, rather than policy. The apprentice, it appears, is cribbing notes from the master.
Putin, for his part, very wisely complimented Trump during the Republican primaries, insuring a positive response from the reality show host. Bill Browder, the man behind our Magnitsky Act, is a wanted man in Putin’s Russia. Browder, back in 2016, noted the parallels between Trump and Putin, particularly in the way that “Putin created a mass sense of uncertainty and fear. I see parallels all over the world now. We’ve had a major economic dislocation. It’s perfectly fertile ground for an ignorant, nationalistic leader.” Especially for an authoritarian nationalist leader.
Trump’s hard line anti-immigrant stance, his insistence that honest journalism is “fake news” and his desire to take over the Justice Department to pursue personal vendettas all scream “authoritarian!” Combine that with the man’s stunning ignorance of what the Constitution says about checks and balances and we should be worried. Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation --- an investigation that is focused on whether our 2016 Presidential election was attacked by a foreign power --- makes Trump more uneasy every day and we need to worry that this authoritarian’s instinct is not realized in terminating the investigation.
Remember, this is the man who re-tweeted “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep” and, when he found out is was quote from Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator, said: “It’s a very good quote. I didn’t know who said it, but what difference does it make if it was Mussolini or somebody else — it’s a very good quote.” And that’s a quote from the current “President” of the United States.
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