Tag Archives: authoritarianism

The Lawless Presidency

Published / by stevec

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David Leonhardt speaks to Trump’s disrespect for The Rule of Law in an editorial in today’s New York Times. Below are exerts:

Democracy isn’t possible without the rule of law — the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler’s whims, govern society. …Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law. President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader. He has instead flirted with Louis XIV’s notion of “L’état, c’est moi”: The state is me — and I’ll decide which laws to follow.

Let’s walk through the major themes:

LAW ENFORCEMENT, POLITICIZED. People in federal law enforcement take pride in trying to remain apart from politics. I’ve been talking lately with past Justice Department appointees, from both parties, and they speak in almost identical terms. …Trump has erased this distinction. …He pressured Comey to drop the investigation of Trump’s campaign and fired Comey when he refused. …The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is part of the problem. He is supposed to be the nation’s head law-enforcement official, but acts as a Trump loyalist.

COURTS, UNDERMINED. Past administrations have respected the judiciary as having the final word on the law. Trump has tried to delegitimize almost any judge who disagrees with him.

TEAM TRUMP, ABOVE THE LAW. Foreign governments speed up trademark applications from Trump businesses. Foreign officials curry favor by staying at his hotel. A senior administration official urges people to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing. The president violates bipartisan tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, thus shrouding his conflicts. …The behavior has no precedent. “Trump and his administration are flagrantly violating ethics laws,” the former top ethics advisers to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have written. …Their attitude is clear: If we’re doing it, it’s O.K.

CITIZENS, UNEQUAL. Trump and his circle treat themselves as having a privileged status under the law. And not everyone else is equal, either. In a frightening echo of despots, Trump has signaled that he accepts democracy only when it suits him. Remember when he said, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win”?

TRUTH, MONOPOLIZED. The consistent application of laws requires a consistent set of facts on which a society can agree. The Trump administration is trying to undermine the very idea of facts. It has harshly criticized one independent source of information after another. The Congressional Budget Office. The Bureau of Labor Statistics. The C.I.A. Scientists. And, of course, the news media.

What Motivates Trump

Published / by stevec

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What motivates trump? Certainty not ideology. The Trump strategy is driven by  Winning. “He believes in power and strength, and he believes in himself. So that becomes his philosophy,” Dan P. McAdams. Perhaps this is why he flips on issue after issue, NATO, China, Russia and Syria.

Months before the 2016 U.S. presidential election took place, Dan P. McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, set out to better understand Donald Trump. This was reported in The Altlantic January 29, 2017:  In his article “The Mind of Donald Trump,” McAdams concluded that the then-presidential hopeful is extremely extroverted, extremely disagreeable, narcissistic, and filled with anger.” McAdams suggested that Trump is a fighter, but that, apart from a desire to win, it is not clear what motivates him to fight. “It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation”

After Trump was elected McAdams, in an Atlanic interview,  made several observations, quoted here in part:

The first is that I would double down even more on the idea that what you see is what you get when it comes to Trump. … Now that Trump has won the election, we’re seeing this dynamic continue to play out. He’s still fighting, even though the election itself, and the battle that was the campaign is over. Most candidates want to win the election so that they can become president, but it seems like Donald Trump wanted to become president so that he could win the election. It’s all about winning, but even now that he’s won he can’t seem to let go of the fight.

The second thing I would emphasize more is the theme of authoritarianism. I think what we have seen in the last six months—and now that he is president—is that Trump really doesn’t know how, or want, to work within the typical institutional structures of democracy. Like an authoritarian leader, he wants to transcend that and connect directly to the people. He does that through Twitter, by going around the press, or by making it sound as though the world is an extraordinarily dangerous place and positioning himself as a sort of authoritarian leader, savior and strong man who will deliver the country from “carnage,” to use a word he used in his inaugural address.

[concerning a question about lying and deceit] The lying has gotten more extreme now that he’s in the Oval Office, and I didn’t think it would get this bad. I thought Trump utters falsehoods in order to promote some kind of agenda or for some specific strategic purpose, but now there are times when it seems like he just lies for the sake of lying.

[in my original piece] I may have underestimated the extent of Trump’s authoritarian leanings. When I think of an authoritarian I often think of someone who is a true believer in something. They take office and they have an agenda that they really believe in and Trump doesn’t seem to have much ideological conviction, so I thought, how can he be an authoritarian? But actually Trump does have principles. He believes in power and strength, and he believes in himself. So that becomes his philosophy.

I think it’s really important to try to understand who the president is. And when you learn that there isn’t much behind the mask except for these narcissistic goals and authoritarian values, that’s important to learn, and it helps you predict what kind of president he is going to be.

In Praise of Another Authoritarian

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From an Editorial in the NYTs:  Enabling Egypt’s President Sisi, an Enemy of Human Rights:

American presidents must sometimes deal with unsavory foreign leaders in pursuit of America’s national interest. But that doesn’t require inviting them to the White House and lavishing them with praise and promises of unconditional support.

Yet that’s what President Trump did on Monday in not just welcoming but celebrating one of the most authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, a man responsible for killing hundreds of Egyptians, jailing thousands of others and, in the process, running his country and its reputation into the ground.

The expressions of mutual admiration that permeated the Oval Office were borderline unctuous. Mr. Trump praised Mr. Sisi for doing a “fantastic job” and assured him he has a “great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”

 

The Travel Ban

Published / by stevec

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In the words of Dan Rather

In the past few days Mr. Trump has launched a very serious and very dangerous campaign of suggesting that if an attack occurs it will be the fault of federal judges who ruled that his Executive Order on immigration was Constitutionally problematic. And more recently he suggested it might be the fault of the press for not reporting on terrorist attacks – an assertion which any fair read of the evidence shows is a lie. As with the sweeping allegations of millions of fraudulent voters (where is the investigation of that dire threat to our democracy now?), the White House cannot supply facts to back up the President’s claim.

Mr. Trump is the Commander in Chief. The armed services and intelligence community report to him. Searching for scapegoats to blame even before an event occurs is to sow the seeds of destabilization to the very fabric of our republic. These are the tactics of a thin-skinned bully who may realize he is in far over his head… This is a common tactic of authoritarian rulers I have seen around the globe.

… I do not see either judges or reporters backing down. Quite the contrary.

Crazy Scary Stuff

Published / by stevec

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Recent Huffington Post articles caught my attention. One concerns the operations of the White House as inferred from the rash of recent leaks. The other is an article about Steve Bannon which delves into his beliefs.

The Huffington Post 02/07/2017      Leaks Suggest Trump’s Own Team Is Alarmed By His Conduct. Exerts from the full article:

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump’s 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president’s conduct.

While some of the leaks are based on opposition to his policies – the travel ban on all refugees and on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations, for instance – many appear motivated by a belief that Trump’s words, deeds and tweets pose a genuine threat.

“I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president.”

The Huffington Post 02/08/2017    Steve Bannon Believes The Apocalypse Is Coming And War Is Inevitable. This article illustrates a truly scary side of Bannon:

Bannon, who’s now ensconced in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s closest adviser, has been portrayed as Trump’s main ideas guy. But in interviews, speeches and writing — and especially in his embrace of Strauss and Howe (who argued that American history operates in four-stage cycles that move from major crisis to awakening to major crisis. These crises are called “Fourth Turnings”) — [Bannon] has made clear that he is, first and foremost, an apocalypticist.

In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged. The apocalypse is now.

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post last month, “is the birth of a new political order.”

Steve Bannon Believes The Apocalypse Is Coming And War Is Inevitable

Is Trump a Populist or Authoritarian?

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With regard to Trump being a “populist'” Krugman has some things to say about this,  Reality TV Populism. For example:

Europe’s populist parties are actually populist; they pursue policies that really do help workers, as long as those workers are the right color and ethnicity. As someone put it, they’re selling a herrenvolk welfare state.

Trump, however, is different. He said lots of things on the campaign trail, but his personnel choices indicate that in practice he’s going to be a standard hard-line economic-right Republican.

…in what sense is Trump a populist? Basically, he plays one on TV — he claims to stand for the common man, disparages elites, trashes political correctness; but it’s all for show. When it comes to substance, he’s pro-elite all the way.

So what is the evidence that he an “Authoritarian?” Recently there has been lots written about this. For example Trump’s Authoritarian Approach to Managing Public Opinion, Trump ‘Is a Fraud’ Sending Nation in ‘Authoritarian Direction’. A CNN opinion piece by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Trump is following the authoritarian playbook, makes a couple of persuasive arguments:

  1. Trump is targeting the media.
  2. Strongmen also target the judiciary.

Strongmen show aggression to the press as part of a slow-drip strategy of discrediting all information that is not dispensed by their close allies. Many were surprised at Trump’s rude treatment of CNN at his recent press conference. Calling the media outlet “fake news,” he refused to allow reporter Jim Acosta to ask a question. This was classic authoritarian posturing.

Strongmen also target the judiciary, since it stands in the way of their “reforms” that often veer into extra-legality. ..So look forward to Trump administration efforts to tar individual judges who seem to block the fulfillment of GOP agendas or interfere with Trump’s personal interests.[e.g., U.S. District Judge James Robart temporary block of the travel ban]

Assuming that Thump and his set of White House advisors are “Authoritarians” — probability 1.0 — what should we do?  I found two sets of advice that appeal to me. One is from a Keith Ellison interview on Trevor North Feb. 6 where Ellison gives advice on strategy for dealing with Trump and the current set of Republicans. The other is from Global Voices, These Venezuelans Have Some Ideas to Share With Trump Opponents. Both argue that we have to fight tooth and nail to regain the support of those that depend on us the most.

From the Keith Ellison Interview: We have to fight him at every turn. People do not expect you to be always successful but they expect you to be faithful.

From Global, Voices: Recognize you’re the enemy they need; show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those that brought Trump to power; by all means be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.