Our Wannabe Dictator

This post is periodically updated.

There has never been a president who believes he is larger than the office - until now.

The 45th president of the United States think being president is same as being CEO of a private company. Not only is governing not the same as working in the private sector, but Donald Trump was not the CEO of a public company to which he would be accountable to a board of directors. If he had been, given his abominable track record, shareholders and board of directors would have removed him.The Trump Corporation is his. What he says there goes. He answers to no one at his company so, as his thinking apparently goes, why should he now beholden to the United States government?

We are merely a month into his presidency but already Trump has established a track record of thinking like a dictator, a despot, and autocrat, a strongman. Look no further than the Republican National Convention and his proclamation that, "I alone can fix it." Further, in December of last year he asked for a list of DOE employees who have worked on climate change and their professional affiliations. No despot is complete without a political enemies list.

One of the most egregious offenses - and strongest signs we are dealing with a would-be dictator - is the violations of the emoluments clause. The fact that Trump can sit at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while, just down the street, a government-owned hotel to which his company has the naming rights via a GSA contract can put money in his pocket is a clear conflict of interests. This type of cozy connection is expected in Russia or Saudi Arabia, not the United States.

Furthermore, someone wishing they were not beholden to the American people would clearly try to silence the press and those whose job it is to reveal the truth, especially when the truth is something he does not want his followers to hear. Apparently, this is one class Trump did attend, calling the free press "the enemy of the people" and wanting expanded libel laws so he can attack those who expose the truth.

The list of how Trump is more like a tyrant than a democratically elected president goes on. I believe it will grow each day he is in office. If nothing else, his presidency will be a dynamic civics class wherein the American people will be reminded (or maybe learn) how the government works, is supposed to work, or is in need of improvement


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Update: April 20, 2017: Filing a motion saying people have no right to protest a Trump rally

Nothing says Democracy like trying to silence dissenting voices.

Update: May 10, 2017: Nothing says "dictator" like firing the person responsible for launching an investigation into potential - though yet to be proved - wrongdoing. Obstruction of Justice is an easy go-to for autocrats and despots.

Update: May 12, 2017: Unable to fathom that he lost the popular vote by such a large margin, Trump has launched an "electoral integrity commission." This group has been instructed to gather private data, including who people voted for. That last part is especially troubling. Despots tend to take that information for purposes of repression or retribution.


Postscript: January 3, 2018: Chalk up another failure for Donald Trump. It turns out voter fraud was never the issue. Apparently, millions of American voters simply did not want Donald Trump for president. The sham electoral integrity commission tried using sham tactics and stories to try and sustain their flimsy case, but it was in vain. Fortunately, many Secretaries of State saw through the ruse from the beginning and effectively used established laws and safeguards against such abuses of power.

Update: June 5, 2017: The separation of powers is one of the greatest aspects of our government. it helps ensure no one body has an outsized influence on the country. President Trump does not like this. Whereas every president before him respected the decision of the judicial branch, though often continued to pursue policy goals within those decisions, Trump simply thinks attacking them and delegitimizing them because they will not conform to his whims is the way to run this railroad.

Update: July 28, 2017: Supporting police brutality, Trump openly suggests police should “rough up” suspects during arrests. Hey, if Hitler, Stalin and Castro could have police forces (secret or otherwise) inflict brutality, this guy’s not going to be left out of the party.

What could possibly go right?

Update: August 7, 2017: President Trump has apparently launched a Real News channel to get out the propaganda he wants more people to hear. Messaging is one thing; this is completely different. After all, Putin and Erdogan have their ways of telling people what they wish were the truth.

Update: August 20, 2017: The president, not liking the word of professionals that contradicts what he wishes were true, simply gets rid of them. For fear of their obligated reporting being repressed, the Climate Advisory Council leaked an early copy of its report. Trump's response: Disband the Climate Advisory Council as retribution for sharing information that does not comport to your own personal reality?

Update: August 27, 2017: Trump pardoned one of his most ardent supporters after he was convicted but before he was sentenced. As some authoritarianism experts point out, it shows how hollow the “law and order” president really is when he uses power to circumvent lawful outcomes he doesn’t like or find inconvenient. As of now (August 2017), people are calling it a dry run to try and derail Mueller and Russia investigation.

Update: November 3, 2017: He even openly whines that he can’t just tell the Justice Department to go after his political enemies. Oh, and he believe he “is the only one who matters.”

Update: September 12, 2017: Remember that emoluments issue I cited at the beginning of the article? Yeah, about that.


Postscript: April 12, 2018: Furthering the point. I do not think it is for nothing a Malaysian tycoon is financing Trump tower in Vancouver, Canada.

Update: November 15, 2017: Trying to have DOJ investigate Clinton regarding a debunked conspiracy theory around uranium sales. To his credit, when asked about it on the Hill, Jeff Sessions said, “I would say 'looks like is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.”

Update: November 27, 2017: Further attempting to delegitimize the free press by saying there should be a trophy for the outlet that lies the most. Even if he meant it in jest, which is laughable at best given how much he depends on this trope to rile up his core supporters, it remains one of the single biggest threats to democracy. The extra dash of autocrat came when he excluded what has become the equivalent of state TV for him: Fox News.

Postscript: careful what you ask for. The people have spoken and have elected Fox News the victor. And this was conducted by a conservative-leaning polling group! In truth, this actually gives me an incredible amount of hope on an otherwise bleak landscape.

Update: December 19, 2017: Censorship. The administration gave the CDC a list of 7 words it cannot use. Since these terms are based in findings and conclusions derived from proven scientific methods that undercut the falsehoods, lies and propaganda this administration tries to peddle, it’s just easier to try and silence the scientific community than try to formulate a substantive counter argument.

Update: February 5, 2018: At a speech in Ohio, Trump suggests that Democrats not clapping for him at his State of the Union address is unpatriotic and treasonous.

Update March 11, 2018: Calling for extrajudicial killing of drug dealers.

Update: March 18, 2018: Using lies and undue influence to go after Justice Department officials to have them fired out of fear and retribution for cooperating with the ongoing special investigation.

Update: May 7, 2018: It's clear the Trump administration has a vendetta against Obama and his team. Maybe it was because Obama eviscerated him at the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner in 2011. Maybe it's because Trump knows his political winds come from stoking the hatred among the electorate that still can't believe we had a black president. Regardless, Trump's insecurities now have him hiring investigators to dig up dirt on former Obama officials to use as leverage in his opposition to the Iran deal. Nothing says Authoritarian than trying desperately to discredit reputable people because you can't make an informed and persuasive argument yourself. Update: June 13, 2018: Despite the fact most career State Department people span administrations, our wannabe strongman exhibits the typical paranoia and has foot soldiers keeping lists of people to ensure loyalty to the man. (Hint: their loyalty is to the Constitution.)

Update: June 15, 2018: Trump wants “[his] people” to sit up at attention. Apparently, Kim Jung Un looks like a better dictator than Trump, and he can’t have that. He tried to deflect when pressed on it, suggesting the people don’t understand sarcasm. Now, I’ve never been accused of not knowing what sarcasm is. So I watched the video a few times to see if I was missing something. If that was his attempt at sarcasm, add this to the very long list of failures.

Update: June 24, 2018: Wanting to strip undocumented immigrants of due process, one of the most fundamental values of the entire American system of government.

Update: August 27, 2018: Buying in to "deep state" conspiracy theories, issued an executive order to try and oust anyone he or his cabinet secretaries felt were not going along with the program. Fortunately, wiser executives before him dealt with this issue. Once again, our system of government's guardrails kicked in and handed Trump yet another defeat.

Update: January 16, 2019: Don't just take my word for it.

Update: February 19, 2019: Article I of the Constitution gives Congress control of the country's purse strings. It said no to funding a made-up emergency. So to get his way and subvert our government, the president is falsely calling it a national emergency because he thinks he should just get what he wants. Government be damned.

Update: March 14, 2019: The president issues a not-so-veiled threat of violence against his opponents. He even suggested he could use the US military and the police against everyday citizens if the time came to "get tough." It sounds like a line from a bad mafia film: "Nice democracy you got here. It'd be a shame if something happened to it, ya know?"

Update: May 21, 2019: Any dictator worth their salt would take an opportunity to weaponize the justice system against political enemies, real or perceived. Trump is no different.

Update: June 21, 2019: One of America's greatest assets as a functioning democracy is the free press. Transparency and the rule of law breakdown when dedicated journalists cannot accurately and freely investigate a topic and publicize the truth to everyday men and women. The press has been a thorn in the side for countless dictators, autocrats, and strongmen. Punishing and repressing reporters is in a despot's DNA. So it should come as no surprise our current president threatened a reporter from Time magazine with jail time during a press spray in the Oval Office.

Update: July 1, 2019: The president wants tanks because, well, Putin, Kim, and Ji have them.

Update: July 10, 2019: Dictators and despots cannot stand the idea that the people not only do not love them, but they sometimes outright despise them. Like any cowardly autocrat, Trump does not want to deal with the ugly side of being in the public eye. Thankfully, the the First Amendment allows for, "the right of the people...to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Update: July 24, 2018: Perhaps Trump thought nobody would notice his cowardice in Helsinki as he threw American intelligence agencies under the bus and sided with the man who deliberately attacked the foundations of American democracy, but many foreign policy professionals did and had no qualms letting him know just how badly he screwed up. Because of his thinnest-of-all-skins, Trump is now considering revoking the security clearances of those who point out just how badly he screwed up. Because what dictator would allow people to criticize him? Update: July 23, 2019: The president once again showed his complete lack of knowledge about how our system of government functions. He apparently thinks Article II makes him a king.

Update: August 9, 2019: Not only does our current president have no idea how government works, he has no idea about technology either. In response to conspiracy theories about tech firms having an anti-conservative bias, Trump wants to issue an executive order (which to him is akin to a dictatorial decree) to have the FTC and FCC police them.

Update: August 21, 2019: Trump, in defending his trade war with China, right after he said it is not his trade war, looks up to the sky and declares he is "the chosen one" to deal with the perceived slight of foreign trade.

Update: August 23, 2019: The president "hereby orders" companies to start looking for alternatives to China. Were there a national emergency with China (which there is not), he might be able to pull such a stunt. However, true to dictatorial form, he simply assumes he has the power to make such edicts. (Also, for all of the fear mongering over socialism in America, this is closer to it than anything offered by anyone else.)

Update: August 28, 2019: A two-for-one day. In true strongman fashion, Trump could not care less about laws like eminent domain. Just take the land for the wall. Take it. And he is willing to pardon anyone caught breaking the law. As if that were not enough, the news outlet he sees as his personal Ministry of Propaganda is disappointing him, though he - like many Fox News viewers - seems unable to distinguish between the two sides of the house: news and opinion. (Something Fox does little to clarify.)

Postscript: Apparently Fox News continues to "not deliver" the way a Ministry of Propaganda should.

Legal protections be damned.

Update: October 2, 2019: Despite whistleblowers being protected by law against retaliation, Donald Trump wants to know who reported his wrongdoing to the intelligence community's Inspector General. The "law and order" candidate simply does not care if the law says he cannot do it.

Update: October 9, 2019: With an impeachment probe heating up and popular polling showing a desire for impeachment, the wanna-be dictator's allies have run to the Ministry of Propaganda to call the potential impeachment "regicide" -- the killing of a king.

Update: January 16, 2020: It has come to light that Marie Yavanovitch, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine until Trump recalled her for not going along with his scheme to have Ukraine interfere in US elections, was surveilled by Ukrainian thugs at the behest of Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giulliani. Not only does this violate the longstanding Geneva Conventions regarding treatments of the diplomatic corps, it is precisely the type of thuggish strongman behavior he sees in someone like Kim Jung Un.

Update: February 11, 2020: Post-impeachment trial, Trump is doubling down. First he took retribution on Lt. Col Vindman and Ambassador Sondland for complying with legal Congressional subpoenas to testify. Adding insult to injury, Vindman's twin brother, who also worked at the National Security Council, was also ousted. A double dose of dictatorial traits: needless retribution for a perceived slight, but punishment because of presumed guilt by association.

But that was not enough. Trump feels federal prosecutors were unfair to his guilty friend, Roger Stone. Now the Department of Justice is looking to have the 7 to 9 year suggested sentence lightened. The four federal prosecutors who worked diligently and lawfully on the case have quit in protest. Autocrats throughout time have needlessly punished those they see as not loyal and tinkered with legal systems to help perceived allies. But it's not just him. Trump, like any successful dictator in history, needs enablers. The Republican party is providing them in droves.

Update: February 25, 2020: Strongman 101: Root out anyone deemed insufficiently loyal to the leader. Post-impeachment trial, the White House isn't even hiding the fact that this is exactly what it is doing.

Update: February 26, 2020: In keeping with yesterday's update, the Trump campaign filed a libel suit against the New York Times for a past opinion piece. Like any autocrat, Trump does not care for the differences between an investigative piece and an op-ed. Anything bad said or printed against the dictator is grounds for silencing them.

Update: March 26, 2020: Trump threatens TV stations airing damaging ads. The president's abysmal handling of the COVID-19 outbreak has provided political opposition with plenty of fodder to attack him, as any group would do in an election year. PrioritiesUSA Action has created just such an ad. It's powerful. However, as any autocrat would, Trump is using threats and intimidation to silence opposition speech. As the person who appoints the Federal Communications Commission, which controls licenses, Trump is threatening to remove the license of stations airing the ads.

Update: April 5, 2020: In true dictator fashion, and with no attempt to hide his intent, Trump retaliates against a perceived political enemy. Although the job is non-partisan, Trump suggested firing the independent watchdog set up to assist whistleblowers against corruption and abuses of power. The office and the job are apolitical, but to Trump everyone owes him loyalty. Ironic that the man who touted himself as the "law and order" candidate cannot abide the rule of law.

Postscript: Trump removed the watchdog Congress arranged to oversee money given to corporations during the Coronavirus pandemic. The concern is that without this oversight, the Trump administration, known for its dictator-esque practices, will favor companies and individuals who sufficiently fawn over the Trump. Postscript: Trump, during a press conference, went on a lie-riddled tirade against inspectors general. True to autocrat fashion, Trump does not like being held accountable. For anything. Thankfully, every single one of his claims has been disproved

Update: April 13, 2020: During the daily press conference in which Trump underscores his utter ineptitude in dealing with the Coronavirus, he said the president's power is "absolute" and that, where it concerns him telling the states how to handle their affairs, it is "total." It is not either of those things thanks to the 10th amendment of the Constitution. Remember this particular meltdown the next time he tries to stoke fears about socialism coming from Democrats. This is so much closer to Chavez and Maduro than anything coming from Trump's enemies, real or perceived.


Postscript: Somebody gave Trump a quick lesson on The Constitution, especially the tenth amendment. He has, in complete embarrassment, stepped away from yesterday's "absolute authority" comments.


Update: May 8, 2020: Use of the Justice Department as a political cudgel against the principles of our democratic republic continue Attorney General William Barr has moved for the Justice Department to drop its case against Michael Flynn. Flynn, a retired Army General and Trump's first National Security Advisor, twice admitted lying to the F.B.I. during the investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. This is not Barr's first time introducing political motives into what should otherwise be an independent judicial process. Recall that Barr put his finger on the scales of justice for Roger Stone back in February.


Update: May 29, 2020: Trump threatens to shut down social media channels after Twitter added a Fact Check warning to his baseless claims that mail-in election ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud. He claims, falsely, that such an added mechanism stifles conservative view points. Yet he does not realize, as anyone with a functioning brain would, that his tweets are still posted. Therefore, no speech stifled. Further, Twitter, like all social media platforms, is run by a private company. Their house, their rules. The government has no place telling them what to do. Once again, what Trump is trying to do is more akin to a socialist dictator than anything on offer from politicians labeled "radical leftists" or "socialists."


But this is what autocrats do: try to stifle any outlet that confronts them with facts that don't align to their personal agenda.


Update: June 1, 2020: The use of force against peaceful and lawful demonstration for a photo-op. Until now, Trump's dictatorial nature has been expressed through some truly jaw-dropping speeches at a podium, rage tweeting, and issuing Executive Orders that were legally challenged. One way or another, his uninformed bluster was reined in and we braced for the next outburst.

The coward's idea of courage.

All of that changed today when Trump revealed what many have known: he, like most dictators and bullies, is so insecure that if given the chance, he would trample the law and resort to physical force to project what he believes is an image of power. Hence the use of National Guard troops deploying tear gas and riot control tactics to remove lawful and peaceful protesters from Layfayette Square.


In the wake of this event, unmarked federal agents in riot gear were deployed throughout the district and National Guard troops were called under the guise of "restoring order." But it was never about that. In the end, peaceful protest is anathema to the strongman. Trump, like any autocrat, mistakes tyranny for strong leadership.


Postscript: The Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, publicly contradicted Trump saying that the state of peaceful protest did not warrant use of the Insurrection Act, which allows the President to deploy American troops as domestic law enforcement. In addition, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, publicly admitted his presence at the photo-op, especially while dressed in combat fatigues, was inappropriate and gave the perception of military involvement in domestic politics. Both men have, as a result, been on the dictator's bad side ever since.


Update: June 20, 2020: Politicization of the Justice Department continued on June 19th when Attorney General Barr announced the resignation of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman. Berman has been (now had been after being forcibly removed by Trump himself) investigating potential corruption among Trump's inner circle. The problem is, Berman was not resigning at the time of Barr's announcement and confirmed he was staying put. Barr then publicly kicked it to the autocrat president who then fired Berman. Once again, the "law and order candidate" has shown himself for the tyrant he is.


Lost in the shuffle of this latest abuse of power and the use of military force against peaceful protests was this other bit of intervention by the Attorney General on behalf of Trump associate Paul Manafort, who was convicted for a list of unsavory behavior that came to light as part of Mueller's Russia investigation.


Update: July 18, 2020: Protesters in Portland, Oregon are being apprehended up by federal agents wearing military-style gear - but with no markings of their names or agencies - and being thrown into unmarked vehicles and taken off. We are told it is DHS officers sent there to protect federal property such as a courthouse. However, the protests have been largely peaceful. Any agitation appears to be coming from anarchists with a much different agenda than those protesting police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's killing. The president, as any autocrat would do, has tried to conflate the two to serve his power-grabbing ends.

The first amendment means nothing to a fascist regime. (Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images.)


Postscript: Taking a page from the dictator's playbook, Trump refers to anyone who disagrees with him as a terrorist. Meanwhile, we learned that DHS collected intelligence, similar to the kind collected in combat zones, against American journalists in Portland. More secret police tactics worthy of Venezuela, Turkey, or Russia, but not the U.S.


Update: July 31, 2020: Trump has tweeted he is interested in delaying the presidential election. Aside from the "law and order" guy not knowing that the law stipulates when elections will happen, and that its Congress' power to call them, this is something you might see in China. Funnily enough, the very next day, a pro-Beijing majority government in Hong Kong delayed elections for a year. How bad is Trump's idea? So bad that even the Federalist calls it a fascist move.

Fact: No proof of widespread voter fraud in America exists.

Update: August 4, 2020: Who has time for free and fair elections? As any good dictator would, Trump tries to assert authority he does not have. Were it not for the guardrails of our democratic republic, he might get away with it. Faced with the threat of losing re-election badly, he is trying to tamper with mail-in voting, a process that is proven safe and effective. However, the autocrat mindset led Trump said about curtailing mail-in voting, "I have the right to do it." He does not. It's up to each state. However, Trump has successfully p laced a loyal donor as Postmaster General, and his recent actions are seriously impacting the Postal Service's ability to deliver mail in a timely manner, which could negatively impact ballots. Just what an unscrupulous autocrat with no time for free and fair elections would want.


Update: August 25, 2020: The GOP unveiled its platform for 2020 and, in keeping with the party’s continued attraction to authoritarianism, is nothing more than a statement of fidelity to Trump. Platforms usually contain ideas, organizing principles, a sense of vision. Not this time. Read for yourself.

Update: September 24, 2020: One element that so distinguishes America from dysfunctional states is its longstanding history of the peaceful transfer of power. For the first time in American history, the president refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer, opting instead for his well-worn route of sowing confusion by saying, "We'll see." Strongmen the world over do what they can to cling to power, even if it means abusing military force to either cling to office or intimidate the opposition. And right now, they are smiling because the current American president is emboldening them.

The playbook authoritarians in 2024 will reference.

Update: September 30, 2020: Trump wants "his people" to "go into the polls and watch very carefully." I mean, what autocrat, wannabe or otherwise, can be taken seriously without tacit approval of some casual voter intimidation?


Update: October 7, 2020: Someone must have told Trump that real dictators lock up their political opponents. Why else would his impotent rage, always expressed via Twitter, have focused on that very thing? I mean, maybe he is trying to shift the spotlight away from the weakness his COVID infection revealed. Or maybe he simply has no regard for the rule of law. Yeah, I'm going with that.


Update: October 12, 2020: Don't just take my word for it. There's an entire book gauging the president's - and the party's - increased embrace of authoritarianism.


Update: November 4, 2020: With the election far from over, and with many legally cast mail-in votes yet to be counted, the President fired off the below tweet. True to authoritarian form, he believes he can just “claim” states for his power-grabbing purposes, especially using a big word like "hereby". The actual will of the voters be damned.

Update: November 5, 2020: In shock and disbelief that yesterday’s tweet did not work, Trump took to the podium in the White House briefing room – at an hour he knew all major networks would be airing their afternoon news and would therefore cut to him hour – to unleash a tirade of conspiracy theories and lies in an attempt to undermine the integrity of the elections. Fortunately, most networks cut away when the realized the dangerous moment unfolding on their airwaves. At least Dear Leader still has the rest of the party willing to sell out our democracy to keep him happy.


Update: November 11, 2020: In true dictatorial fashion, Trump is installing loyalists to direct the Department of Defense. Since Trump’s unlawful use of military force against lawful protests this summer resulted in commitments to not politicize the military, and given Trump’s never ending dictator envy, it looks like America’s wannabe strongman wants lackies bending the military apparatus to his will.


Update: November 12, 2020: The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement regarding its monitoring of this year's presidential election. A surprise to no one with a functioning brain, they concluded, "[t]here is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." However, Autocracy 101 teaches us that no one shall contradict Dear Leader. Therefore, it comes as no surprise Trump fired America's cyber chief when he failed to go along with the former's attempts to undermine the very foundation of our democracy.

Shoulda stuck to football.

Update: November 19, 2020: What strongman, real or otherwise, would be complete without perpetually attempting to cling to power in its waning days? For two weeks the Trump campaign has launched a wave of specious and laughable court cases aimed at overturning the very real results of this year’s presidential election. As of this writing, the campaign is 2 for 31 in court. That’s less than 10 percent of victories, just a hair above this year’s New York Jets (who are currently 0-9), though not as good as the New Jersey Generals (who were 31-23 all time. To date, the Trump campaign has tried to invalidate 1 out of every 10 ballots counted in the election. And when he can’t do it directly, his henchmen are on the job.


Update: November 16, 2020: When the leaders of Western democracies call to congratulate the President-Elect and the world's autocrats don't, that's a sign.


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© 2020 by Mark Konold