Ruth Ben-Ghiat writing for CNN.com predicts Trump’s authoritarian playbook – what’s next? (h/t Paul McCreary)
Just before Donald Trump took office, I argued that our new President would likely follow the “authoritarian playbook,” an approach toward governance that privileges executive power and makes the leader’s personal goals and needs the focus of his public office. Now, six months later, those predictions have come true.
Believe me, I wish I had been wrong. I warned that President Trump would escalate his attacks on the media, disregard political customs and democratic norms, and single out judges or other government employees who might challenge the legality or ethics of his actions. Two weeks later, Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and over the next months, United States Attorney Preet Bharara and FBI Director James Comey.
So what’s next for Trump and his authoritarian playbook? What is he likely to do over the next six months of his presidency?
Here’s the short version.
The most important item of the authoritarian’s playbook is this: He is in office not to serve the nation but to protect his own position of power, often enriching himself along the way. As Prime Minister of Italy, the business and sports tycoon Silvio Berlusconi set the standard here. He transferred certain functions of his business to his children but never resolved most of his conflicts of interest. The constant legal and juridical fallout from this fazed neither him nor his supporters. Look for Trump to continue doing the same – and with the same attitude.
… he is on his way to accomplishing the most important things an authoritarian leader must do to survive over the long term. The strategies that he’s already used effectively will also guide his next phase of rule.
… he’s created what Carl Bernstein called “a cold political and cultural civil war” by pursuing a media strategy that’s benefited him but further polarized the country. Discrediting the mainstream media is the authoritarian’s insurance policy: He cashes it in if allegations of corruption surface, or if events occur that merit a government crackdown.
Now, President Trump will continue to cultivate ties with followers that are based primarily on loyalty to his person. He knows that what matters the most is not whether they believe him, but that they believe in him. He’ll use rallies and tweets to keep up this direct connection, and continue to brand the mainstream media as “fake news” purveyors. It’s already paid off handsomely: His support has held and much of his base is wedded to his version of reality (or has decided they don’t care if he tells untruths).
See my other post today on the new communications director. The principal qualification Scarymucho (as I call him) has is his over the top loyalty to and love for President Trump.
President Trump will also fulfill his end of the bargain with supporters who wish to stymie America’s shift to a minority-majority country. Look for aggressive action on the kinds of voter suppression tactics that disadvantage people of color and for attempts to cast doubt on the veracity and validity of elections. …
At the same time, President Trump’s adviser Stephen Bannon and his Republican allies will accelerate their campaigns against sectors of society that uphold the value of evidence and expertise, such as the media, the intelligence community, and the judiciary. The GOP’s increasing negativity toward higher education, and NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre’s inflammatory comment that academic, political, and media elites are “America’s greatest domestic threats” also herald the ramping up of this strategy.
Finally, look for Donald Trump to leverage the culture of threat he’s created and profited from. The President’s recent circulation of a meme showing him punching a CNN logo raises the belligerent tone, as do the NRA’s recent videos, one of which asserts that “the clenched fist of truth” is the only means of saving the country from the left.
Studies show that once political elites have concluded their deals with authoritarians and signed on publicly, they usually stick with those leaders to the bitter end.
It took the Eurozone crisis of 2011 to finally bring down Berlusconi. The question now: What will it take to end Trump’s presidency?