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Rob Abadee discusses why even though Donald Trump may seem harmless, we should be concerned with his increasingly authoritarian attitude,
I used to find comparisons between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler rather amusing.
Although Trump promised to rebuild a nation that had lost its intrinsic “greatness” and exploited prejudices through a distinct brand of populism, equating the guy who judged “The Apprentice” with the most famous demagogue in modern history seemed a bit of a stretch.
If all else, surely Trump’s love for America’s founding ideals of democracy, the rule of law and the unalienable rights of all citizens would prevent him from adopting anything resembling Hitler’s authoritarianism. Surely it was impossible for an individual to successfully dismantle the key democratic institutions needed to establish authoritarian rule in the United States? Surely a Trump Presidency could not, and would not, present a threat to American democracy?
Yet, four years later, we should be increasingly concerned by clear authoritarian tendencies from Trump and horrified at the prospect that these tendencies would have the potential to develop should he be re-elected in November. We should be especially disturbed at the rapid rate at which these tendencies are increasing in the lead up to the election. Americans must recognise that this is the most consequential election in the modern history of their country and do everything to vote Donald Trump out of office.
Undoubtedly you are thinking I have gone a little bit overboard. Maybe I am a worrywart who has no conceivable justification to believe that Trump has a vested interest in threatening American democracy, or the means to meaningfully do it even if it was his goal. As I try and detail the most worrying of these authoritarian tendencies, I would like you to understand that you are precisely who this article is intended for.
The first, and perhaps most worrying, of his most recent actions is his attempt to normalise the destruction of one of the core components of American democracy through his rhetoric; namely that a President is only able to serve two terms in office. At the Republican National Convention last month, Trump opened his first speech of the event telling the live crowd chanting the conventional “four more years” that “if you really want to drive them crazy, you say 12 more years.” At rallies in Wisconsin on August 18th, North Carolina on September 8th and Nevada on September 14th, Trump repeated a rhetorical device that goes like “we’re going to win (insert state) and win four more years, and then we’re going to get four more years after that.” As we get closer to November 3rd, it seems that this is a point Trump is increasingly wanting to emphasise.
While supporters of his quickly try and suggest Trump is merely just “joking,” this increasingly common rhetorical device follows patterns of Trump’s other provocations; he will slip something outlandish into a speech as if he’s just musing on an idea, say he is just joking when people are rightfully shocked and then proverbially shrug his shoulders and suggest it’s not too crazy an idea.
Now you might not think this is a big concern, that this is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump and that these kinds of “jokes” do not really have any real political consequence. That when Trump muses about whether injecting disinfectant could be effective against COVID-19 in front of the world or “jokes” that he’d love to punch protestors at his rallies “in the face,” it is the irrational “fake news” who overreact hysterically and fulfill their status at “the enemy of the people.”
Yet, using this “joking but not joking” rhetorical device to address serious issues such as the Constitutional limit on Presidential service is actively normalising the destruction of a core tenet of American democracy to his fervent base. Once Trump’s base undoubtedly accepts this message as it is increasingly repeated by him, a group who would not abandon Trump even if he “shot somebody on 5th Avenue,” there is a credible possibility that he disregards laws intentionally designed to prevent this exact scenario from arising . If we just accept Trump’s horrific “joking” we move closer to a fascism that transforms jokes and memes into the threat Trump had been telling us about all along.
The second obvious authoritarian tendency is Trump’s clear attempt to discredit the result of the November 3rdelection should it not fall in his favour. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 Pandemic has profoundly transformed the nature of the 2020 Presidential Election and will significantly influence the way many citizens cast their ballot. The rapid surge in those who vote early and by mail will certainly present a new challenge to the ability of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the Federal Election Commission to effectively coordinate the election. Whilst there are very few, if any, reasonable politicians within the Democratic Party who will not acknowledge these common sense observations, Trump is deliberating discrediting the possibility of a fair election and is thus planting the seeds for serious dispute if he loses, especially if it is a narrow result.
At all his rallies, Trump immediately establishes that this is inherently a “rigged election” because many will embrace mail-in voting and mail-in voting will favour Joe Biden because “evidence” shows this to be the case. Although these baseless statements about mail-in voting and voter fraud have been debunked here, here and here, Trump’s assessment that “the only way I will lose this election is if it is rigged” presents a fundamental problem for the conduct of a democratic election.
Trump has also echoed one of his most outlandish statements from the 2016 Campaign, that he would “see at the time” whether he accepted the result of the Election. Whilst Candidate Trump saying this sent shockwaves through the political world, President Trump reiterating that statement should absolutely frighten us and make us realise forcibly removing him from office is a realistic option at the conclusion of this election. Discrediting the result of the election also has important implications for his base because if Trump asserts that the election has been “rigged” we could potentially see violence erupt all over the country.
For someone so concerned with being the “law and order” President, it is clear that Donald Trump has no respect for the laws that reign in his power to ultimately preserve, protect and defend the US Constitution. Whilst it is a sobering thought to think that the leader of the free world is actively trying to dismantle one of the core foundations of his country and of liberty itself, we must see what Trump is actively doing and do whatever we can to prevent him from being re-elected.
The United States must understand that the early building blocks for authoritarianism are being built for them and recognise that history is full of nightmares that nobody saw coming until it was too late.
Maybe Donald Trump doesn’t have the desire or the capability to turn “the greatest beacon of liberty and prosperity in the world” into a dictatorship. Then again, many at the time were saying a pretty similar thing about a particular man in Germany.