Last October, I wrote a post titled The Man Who Would Be King in which I examined some of then-candidate Trump’s statements and actions that seemed more in keeping with a wanna-be dictator than a wanna-be president. A number of things have come onto my radar this week that have caused me to revisit that idea. But first, let us consider …
In February, Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, published an article titled 7 Signs American Democracy Is Sliding into Tyranny. Those seven signs of tyrants are:
- They exaggerate their mandate to govern: claiming, for example, that they won an election by a “landslide” even after losing the popular vote. They criticize any finding that they or co-conspirators stole the election. And they repeatedly claim “massive voter fraud” in the absence of any evidence, in order to have an excuse to restrict voting by opponents in subsequent elections.
- They turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them: calling them “deceitful” and “scum,” and telling the public that the press is a “public enemy.” They hold few, if any, press conferences, and prefer to communicate with the public directly through mass rallies and unfiltered statements (or what we might now call “tweets”).
- They repeatedly lie to the public: even when confronted with the facts. Repeated enough, these lies cause some of the public to doubt the truth, and to believe fictions that support the tyrants’ goals.
- They blame economic stresses on immigrants or racial or religious minorities: and foment public bias or even violence against them. They threaten mass deportations, “registries” of religious minorities, and the banning of refugees.
- They attack the motives of anyone who opposes them, including judges. They attribute acts of domestic violence to “enemies within,” and use such events as excuses to beef up internal security and limit civil liberties.
- They appoint family members to high positions of authority. They appoint their own personal security force rather than a security detail accountable to the public. And they put generals into top civilian posts.
- They keep their personal finances secret, and draw no distinction between personal property and public property – profiteering from their public office.
Now, at this juncture, I stop short of calling Trump a tyrant or a dictator, but his four+ months in office have certainly been what I would refer to as authoritarian. Putting aside, as much as we can, his juvenile rants, tweets, and temper tantrums and looking only at actions, let us start with the immigration ban, travel ban, or Muslim ban, whichever it is being called this week. The first draft was shot down by several judges, most notably District Court Judge James Robart and the ruling was upheld in the 9th Circuit court on February 9th.
A few days after Judge Robart’s ruling, Trump tweeted: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” It wasn’t overturned, but Trump’s tweet incited a flurry of threats against the judge from Trump’s supporters. Then in April, Trump said he was considering splitting up the 9th Circuit court of appeals. (See list #5)
Trump has attempted to intimidate the press since his days on the campaign trail when he threatened to “ … open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” More recently, he has frequently referred to the press as “the enemy of the people”. (See list #2)
The leaders he panders to and appears to admire most are other authoritarian leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and he has even expressed admiration for North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un.
Two stories caught my eye today that further my concern of Trump becoming more authoritarian. The first is that apparently Democrats are being stonewalled when they request information from various agencies, on orders from the White House. Information requests are ignored, or met with a response that “We only speak to the chair people of committees.” Since there is a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, all chair people are Republicans. When Democratic Representative Matt Cartwright asked acting General Services Administrator Tim Horne for certain information, Mr. Horne replied, “GSA has a new policy only to respond to Republican committee chairmen.” Uttam Dhillon, a White House lawyer, told agencies not to cooperate with requests from Democrats, according to Republican sources inside and outside the administration. This is disturbing.
Former FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify before a congressional committee investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election next Thursday, June 8th. A portion of his testimony is expected to relate to conversations he had with Trump between January and April relating to certain requests Trump made, such as asking Comey to drop the investigation against Mike Flynn, asking him to make a public statement saying that Trump is not being investigated, and asking Comey to sign a loyalty oath. Now Trump is considering invoking his ‘executive privilege’ in order to bar Comey from testifying. Executive privilege is a legal doctrine that allows the president to withhold information from other government branches. It is questionable whether he would be successful in this, and it would be politically unwise, as it would give the appearance that he has something to hide, but we all know that Trump rarely makes decisions based on logic.
Add to these the fact that earlier this year, the White House discontinued the practice of releasing visitor logs to the public, greatly reducing the transparency of daily business conducted by the president and others in the administration. And the fact that Trump is refusing to release his tax returns. (See list #7) And the fact that he has granted more waivers of ethics rules for lobbyists and White House staff in four short months than President Obama granted in his entire eight-year presidency. What it all adds up to is a man who makes his own rules as he goes, a man who wishes to rule with an iron fist … a man who thinks he is a king.