Trump has made some disturbing and alarming moves as an elected official. Trump has shown himself to be dangerously authoritarian.
Trump may not have taken power by force, and his election (most likely) wasn’t rigged. The problem is not his ruling with an iron fist, because technically he can’t, but the issue lies with his practices as the president.
There are three main ways that authoritarian leaders stay popular and stay in power: Projecting strength, demonizing enemies and dismantling institutions.
Projecting strength is arguably the tamest of these three practices, though when used incorrectly, it can be just as damaging to America’s reputation. Undisputed authoritarians like Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin often make grandiose displays of strength, such as military parades or personal contest achievements. Trump isn’t winning any lifting contests or taking glamour shots on bears like other world leaders, but he is obsessed with military strength.
He wanted an expensive military parade in D.C. on Veterans Day last year; it just fell through because the cost was too high. A desire for military strength is hardly unique to Trump. We’ve been the leading spender on military for years by a massive margin, but he has pushed for further increased defense spending alongside cuts to literally everything else for the sake of preserving American “strength.”
Demonizing enemies is Trump’s basis to his rhetoric. This has been a viscous tactic used by politicians for millennia. It’s much easier to diminish others than to raise up yourself. This strategy, along with the desire to have a common enemy with the people, are ways authoritarians use and create enemies in their countries to progress their goals and ideologies. Any clue as to whom Trump is demonizing?
He has constantly blamed much of the nation’s problems on undocumented immigrants, from Latin America (primarily Mexicans) to the Middle East (primarily Muslims), but keeping America safe goes beyond race and religion; it’s focusing on domestic threats too. The media is just another threat Trump deems too strong, and rather than live up to the standard of who a president should be, he tears down the “leftist, liberal media” as “fake news” to maintain his moral innocence in light of his mistakes.
Dismantling of institutions is at the core of authoritarianism. Leaders consolidate power under their own influence–the people they place in power and the rules that govern political office. This is where we can draw the line in American democracy, at least as far as the rules extend. The U.S. has checks and balances to keep Trump from reaching beyond the power invested in him, but that hasn’t stopped him from stretching his limits as far as possible.
Trump will have gone further than any president has in modern history if he decides to follow through with his threats to invoke emergency powers, when unwarranted, to get his wall built. Regardless of what he claims about illegal immigrants, if the majority of Congress doesn’t vote for a wall, Trump needs to concede and compromise a different solution for stronger border security.
Trump is not a dictator; he is the democratically elected president of the U.S. We have checks and balances to prevent a president from becoming a tyrant. Although, it doesn’t bode well for the state of the nation when we voluntarily allowed a man with authoritarian tendencies to become president. What’s in store for the next election?