One day when my son and daughter, somewhere around 5-6 years of age, were out playing with friends, my son Michael came flying into the house ahead of the pack, pointing behind himself and breathlessly saying, “whatever they say I did, I didn’t do it!” Needless to say, that threw up red flags and set off warning bells, knowing my son as I did, and it wasn’t long before I had eyewitness confirmation of his shenanigans.
When the president of a democratic nation and his staff are under investigation for possible collusion in a scheme by a foreign nation to steal an election, and that president suddenly fires the chief investigator, I am seeing those same red flags and hearing the same warning bells. But this time, instead of a childish prank that left a little girl’s dolly without a head, the stakes are much higher. The stakes here are those of honesty and integrity, but more … the stakes are the very freedoms that make this a democratic republic.
A February 2017 article in Psychology Today describes “7 Steps to Becoming a Dictator” :
- Expand your power base through nepotism and corruption.
- Instigate a monopoly on the use of force to curb public protest.
- Curry favour by providing public goods efficiently and generously.
- Get rid of your political enemies.
- Create and defeat a common enemy.
- Accumulate power by manipulating the hearts and minds of your citizens.
- Create an ideology to justify an exalted position.
I think we would all agree that Trump has placed a check mark by #1 from the day he took office. Last night, I believe he added the final tick to #4 as well:
On 30 January, he fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to uphold his controversial executive order to ban all travelers from Muslim countries. At the time, Ms. Yates was key to the investigation into Trump’s aides and their potential connections to Russia — she was collecting intelligence on the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and which members of the Trump team he had been in contact with.
On 11 March, he fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who refused to tender his resignation when Trump requested the resignations of all U.S. Attorneys. At the time, Bharara was investigating Trump’s HHS Secretary Tom Price for his financial investments, and was also investigating corrupt Russian businessmen and officials (and a witness for the case was pushed or fell from a window the day before he was set to testify in another court case).
On 09 May, he fired FBI Director James Comey, allegedly for mishandling of the case pertaining to Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey was leading the FBI investigation into ties between Trump, his staff, and the Russian government. Comey had requested funding to expand the investigation only days before, indicating the possibility that there was more involvement than initially believed. And there is proof that Trump spoke of firing Comey weeks before, and had tasked Attorney General Jeff Sessions with finding a reason to do so.
So yes, I think we can safely also check item #4 off the list. As regards #2, bills have been sponsored by republicans in at least 18 states so far this year that would criminalize some acts of protest and increase penalties for unlawful demonstrations. Stanford University Professor Doug McAdam likened these new proposals to proposals and legislation in the 1950s and 1960s that sought to curtail participation in the civil rights movement.
Item #3, ‘Curry favour by providing public goods efficiently and generously’, is unlikely, given the era of greed we are seeing in both the executive and legislative branches of government. Instead, Trump has made elaborate promises, such as creating millions of new jobs in the coal and auto industries, promises that cannot possibly be kept.
Which brings us to the fifth item on the list, create and defeat a common enemy. This may well be the most common action performed by all potential dictators. Think Putin and the ‘military coup’ last year. Consider how Hitler convinced the people that the Jews were the threat. And Trump’s common enemy? As of right now, it appears to be immigrants, the media, North Korea, Daesh (ISIL), and I have undoubtedly missed a few.
As for the last two items, I think it is fair to say that he successfully ‘manipulated the hearts and minds’ of his followers during the long, tiresome campaign last year. He will have problems, however, with the rest of us, especially as he continues to make decisions like the one he made last night. And as for an ideology, well … suffice it to say that Trump has no ideology, or rather if he has one today, it will change by tomorrow. However, he has Steve Bannon and others to craft an ideology for him, write it down and have him recite it at appropriate times.
Many may disagree, but there is no doubt in my mind that Trump intends to do whatever he feels he must in order to silence those who put his position of power in jeopardy. We already know that the leaders Trump most admires are those like Putin, Erdogan, and even Kim Jong-un, those who rule from positions of nearly un-challenged power. How can we not, then, believe that Trump aspires to be like them?
The saving grace for our nation is that legislators on both sides of the partisan aisle are disturbed by the termination of James Comey, and I believe … I hope … will pursue the investigation Comey had started by assigning an independent prosecutor to complete the investigation and to ensure that the public is informed of the findings. Anything less at this point is completely unacceptable and we will NOT allow this investigation to be swept under the rug, as was suggested by deputy White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when she said last night that it is time to “move on”. I think not. This time, we will heed those red flags and alarm bells!