From the start of his presidency, Donald Trump has expressed a discomforting admiration of autocratic leaders across the globe–Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China (until the estrangement earlier this year), Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Recep Erdogan of Turkey and a number of lesser lights. Trump has maintained a torrid affair with the despotic ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, as Kim has built a formidable nuclear weapons capability, with improved means of delivering them to the U.S. mainland.
No other American President has expressed such passion for foreign autocrats or actually employed some of the tools in the autocrat playbook in an effort to hang onto power. The playbook calls for weakening democratic norms and institutions in the subject country–the free press, scientific community, justice system, civil service and any other institution that stands between the autocrat and total power.
Writer Amy Suskind has compiled a remarkable list of hundreds of democratic norms Trump has broken during his tenure in office–things like embracing white supremacists, personally profiting from public funds, ignoring/denigrating scientific consensus on climate change and control of the coronavirus, falsely attacking the integrity of our elections and on and on. Breaking these norms weakens our democracy and strengthens one-man control over numerous levers of power previously unavailable to the president.
Trump’s consistent lies have weakened the ability of credible news outlets to hold him accountable. One news organization has documented over 22,000 false or misleading Trump claims during his presidency and such claims are now increasing at a clip of about 50 per day. Our democracy depends on a free press to shine the light on governmental conduct and prevent misuse of power. By free press I mean news organizations that fact check and verify news before publishing it. The lies are designed to discredit factual news and replace it with government propaganda favorable to the great leader.
The norm breaking and lies are right out of the autocrat playbook–Autocracy 101, as it were. Perhaps the most frightening play occurs in the advanced stage of autocracy–persecution of opponents of the regime. Every self-respecting autocrat does his level best to round up and incarcerate his opponents. Trump has not yet succeeded in this task but it is not for lack of trying. He has called for numerous regime targets to be indicted for crimes and/or locked up–Hillary Clinton, Barack Hussein Obama, Hunter Biden, James Comey, Andy McCabe, Gretchen Whitmer, John Brennan, Joe Biden, Peter Strzok, John Kerry, Adam Schiff, John Bolton and an expanding cast of others, including Trump’s curious “arrest somebody” tweet on October 7.
Because he is the most loyal lap dog available, you can bet that Attorney General Bill Barr would long ago have indicted and arrested each and every one of Trump’s targets, if any credible evidence existed against them. Barr was put to the test with McCabe when the federal trial judge told the Justice department to put up or shut up. Barr backed away. Indeed, as the election approaches and Trump gets more demanding about indicting, arresting and charging his opponents, Barr has gone mysteriously silent. Has anyone heard a peep out of him lately?
Trump claimed that several investigations he unleashed would prove skulduggery against him, but each such inquiry has fizzled and died. Trump is left beating an incomprehensible dead horse involving the Bidens, the Russian mayor of Moscow, a damaged laptop and Rudy Guiliani, that even Trump’s pal, Vladimir Putin, has brushed off as no big deal. It is clearly time to retire Trump. He does not need an additional term in office to try to dredge up an even worse Attorney General who would do anything he commands.