Serious political divisions were brewing in our country long before Trump decided to run for president. That is being driven primarily by growing economic inequality, racial, ethnic, and religious bias, as well as immigration issues. However, today Trump and his Republican legislators are the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime.
Trump has taken fanning the flames of the current political division to a whole new level. He is executing the “Dictator’s Playbook” and doing it brilliantly. That strategy says: focus on issues that already divide the electorate; amplify them through disinformation and extreme rhetoric; exploit the resulting increase in polarity; attack the free press as being an enemy; undermine the credibility of democratic and public institutions of government; question the patriotism of political rivals and promote their prosecution and imprisonment; attack minority religious and ethnic groups; promote, encourage, participate in, and defend hate filled rallies with slogans and chants to work supporters into a frenzy against political opponents instead of engaging in fact and truth base dialog.
Shrewd charismatic personalities have use those tools before to kill democracies. They can even kill OUR democracy. Hitler and Mussolini both used them in exactly the way Trump is using them now to establish their dictatorships in Italy and Germany from what at the time were democracies. Today Trump is the same kind of character – one who does not seem to respect any institutional norms, the rule of law, the equal authority of the other branches of government, or the unique protection from authoritarian rule that the free press provides. That should frighten every American.
I don’t know or claim that Trump is consciously trying to institute an authoritarian US government that he might head, but he is making all the moves that previous successful dictators have historically use to subvert democracies. That should show all Americans they need to take him as a credible threat.
Trump is an absolute genius at lying, twisting the facts, distorting the truth, and manipulating the media and public opinion for his personal purpose and benefit. And he has already suggested publicly that “the people” may demand he serve more than two terms. That is authoritarian thinking and rhetoric any way you dice it.
The sad part is that I actually agree with some if his positions. I think for example that the European NATO countries should shoulder more of the collective defense burden, and for China to be called out and punished for its theft of intellectual property and interference in Western democracies. Regardless, his approach is rank amateurish. Large as our economy is, the US simply does not have the capacity to change China’s behavior alone. We need to unite with our allies in coordinated economic pressure if we hope to influence China to change.
Trump’s methods have already made any real long term progress in the China arena impossible, at least on his watch. He and Xi still may make a public display of some kind of deal but it will all be fluff. The Chinese simply won’t yield to his kind of threat. Their authoritarian leadership can’t afford to appear to cave to Trump and still keep their own population in line. We can’t get where we need to go with any of our adversary nations – China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea – alone using his international strategy, if in fact he has one.