Trump the Wannabe Dictator

By Alon Ben-Meir  (IPS)

US President Donald Trump with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

HAVANA TIMES – I, like many of my fellow US citizens, am extremely concerned about Trump’s dictatorial tendencies. Given his behavior – what he said and did over the past four years – he may well act on some of these tendencies, especially if he loses the election by a narrow margin.

The concerns I have are not numerous, but are extremely critical: what if he challenges the results of the election and remains adamant on calling for a recount or a new election entirely? What if he refuses to leave the White House and prevents the peaceful transition of power?

What if he calls on the military to occupy all major United States cities while he still is the Commander-in-Chief between Election Day and the inauguration of the new president? And what if he prompts his supporters to take up arms, converge into the streets, and violently confront the likely massive number of protesters who would demand Trump’s removal from the White House, which could lead to some kind of a civil war?

Although many Democratic leaders, including Joe Biden, and scores of journalists and others have spoken about their concerns in this regard, there is still no rife discussion about the above unthinkable scenarios.

Besides, does Congress – the House and/or the Senate – have the constitutional power to take action in such a situation, or does the Supreme Court have the authority to intervene? Is there anything else in the constitution that would address these troubling issues?

The 20th Amendment says that “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.” But what if he doesn’t leave? I posed this question to Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and one of the country’s foremost constitutional scholars. “After all,” he said, “that has happened elsewhere in the world. 

My hope is that the courts would quickly rule that Joe Biden is the President and has all of the powers of the office… Every incumbent president who has lost a reelection bid, starting with John Adams in 1800, has left office without incident.”

In my view, however, Trump may well be an aberration. And what if Trump still will not leave the White House? Chemerinsky said, “I doubt that the military would stick with him in that circumstance. Of course, if it did, we would then have a military dictatorship, as other countries have experienced. What if some of the military with the right-wing militias support Trump.  Then we would have some kind of a civil war.”

While many Republicans and Democrats may think that any of these scenarios are far fetched, the fact remains that Trump has dictatorial tendencies and occasionally acts on them by testing the ground to gauge the public reaction and weigh how his base responds to his moves. Here is what he displays, and how much in common he shares with dictators in general.

President for life: Trump has said on many occasions that he will be president for life —in March of 2018, he played around with the idea after praising Xi Jinping for granting himself precisely that term extension. Trump also retweeted an absurd meme showing him remaining president for 88,000 years — slightly longer than the human lifespan.

‘I can do whatever I want: Like many despots, on Tuesday July 23, 2019 Trump suggested that the constitution gives him the power to do “…whatever I want as president.” But I don’t even talk about that.” Albeit, he often tries to do just that to see if he can get away with it.

Defies reality: Trump notoriously lies and create his own reality just like many dictators do. Bob Woodward reports in his book Fear that John Kelly described Trump as unhinged: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here.”

Presents himself as infallible: Authoritarian leaders never admit that they made a mistake, and neither does Trump. For example, in a tweet he refused to back down from his “forecast” that Alabama was going to be hit by Hurricane Dorian, which was false. Trump went so far as to alter the National Weather Service’s map of Dorian’s trajectory to include part of Alabama to ‘prove’ that he was right.

Vindictive: Vindictiveness is second nature to all dictators. Following his impeachment acquittal, Trump was characteristically vindictive towards his perceived enemies. They were “evil, vicious, corrupt ‘dirty cops.'” He is habitually mean-spirited and spiteful. Trump’s cruelty is often gratuitous, without any explanation. It is just who he is.

Narcissist: We have yet to know one despot who is not self-centered to the core. Trump, in fact, is a textbook narcissist. Sander Thomaes, developmental psychologist at Utrecht University, maintains that Trump is “a prototypical narcissist.” He has grandiose visions of oneself; the need to be admired, and envied.

Domestic military intervention: Trump is quick, like all tyrants, to resort to the military to show his strength and authority. On June 1, 2020 Trump deployed the military to intervene during the protests in DC. He dispatched federal troops with no identification to quell the protests in Portland two weeks ago against the will of the mayor, which continue to haul peaceful protesters off in unmarked cars, akin to the Gestapo. He is further threatening to send more federal law enforcement officers to major US cities. “We’re not going to let this happen in our country,” he said, “all run by liberal Democrats.”

Praises dictators: Trump’s affinity for dictators, whom he envies for doing whatever they please without accountability, is well-known. On Sept. 7, 2016 Trump said on NBC: “If [Putin] says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him. I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader.” About the ruthless Turkish President Erdogan, he stated “I’m a big fan of the president.”

Attacking media: Free media is the biggest threat to authoritarian regimes. Trump’s attacks on the media are routine, calling it the “enemy of the people.” During last year’s trip to the G20 summit in Japan, Trump said to Putin regarding the media present: “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?”

Conspiracy theorist: Trump is a master in conspiracy theories. That’s what despots often concoct to punish their enemies. Among the many conspiracies he promotes, Trump claims Ukrainians, not Russians, interfered in the 2016 election and were working against him (despite overwhelming agreement from intelligence that Russians hacked the DNC server).

Withdrawal from international agreements/organizations: Authoritarian leaders often defy international agreements when it serves their interests to appeal to their political base. Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement on climate change in June 2017, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018, and the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018, among many others.

Trump’s attacks on critics: Dictators do not tolerate any criticism. In January 2017, in response to criticism from Rep. John Lewis, Trump said “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

Surrounding himself with Yes men: Like any despot, Trump retains only those who agree with him. As a former National Security Council official told Politico “I feel like you already don’t have an A Team or B Team. You’re really getting down to who’s left that will say ‘yes.”

I do not believe that Democrats and responsible Republican leaders should simply dismiss any of the above alarming scenarios only because they did not happen before. Trump is unlike any of his predecessors; he is corrupt to the core and his self-interest as he perceives it comes before the nation.

He desperately wants to cling to power, in whatever way he can. Just like any dictator, he will stoop to any low, cheat, lie, threaten, viciously attack his opponents, suppress voting rights (especially of the Black and Hispanic communities), and continue to delegitimize the upcoming elections even before they take place.

His enablers, the leadership of the Republican party, stood idly by all along and allowed him to run wild, to jeopardize the country’s domestic security and global standing, for which they will pay dearly come November.

I am hopeful that none of the above scenarios will occur. But can we be certain that, given his disturbing behavior and consistent efforts to emulate dictators, Trump would simply concede if he loses the election and peacefully vacate his office come January 20, 2021?

We can only hope so, but it will be a grave mistake not to take these clear warning signs seriously. Be aware United States and be prepared to act.


*Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU), teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

13 thoughts on “Trump the Wannabe Dictator

  • July 28, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    Occasionally a Trump supporter has something to contribute that isn’t a blatant lie and we have no problem with that kind of comment. In your case the biggest problem is you constantly send comments from different false emails under dozens of different names. If you are actually a serious reader and not some kind of troll use a real email (which nobody else sees but me the editor) and one name. That way I can contact you when there is a problem with a comment.

  • July 28, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Are opinions from the right not allowed to be expressed in Havanatimes? It’s evident that Left points of view are highlighted and cannot even be challenged – that is NOT an open mind. Civil discourse, disagreement is GOOD! Castro, Ortega and Chavez are terrible 100% dictators but they are praised in some articles but Trump the wannabe does not get to have supporters with opinions? Than we are back to square one – CENSORSHIP.

  • July 27, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    Mr MacD,
    There are aspects of libertarianism that to me make sense. There are certain aspects of socialism which also seem perfectly reasonable to me. But if I was a big fan of Corbyn I would say so. And I reckon that if he was a ‘Marxist’, he would say so.
    As for myself, I would suggest that Karl Marx is one of the foremost Political Philosophers in history. His works are fascinating. But I’m not a ‘Marxist’. In fact I’m just as likely to quote Groucho as Karl and I would certainly never join any political party that would have me as a member!
    Ultimately I’m just a plain old pragmatist.
    Did Corbyn congratulate Nicholas Maduro? Wouldn’t surprise me. I recall that the Conservative Prime Minister, Teresa May went scurrying off across the Atlantic to be the first ‘world leader’ to congratulate trump. It’s what these people do.
    Regarding the U.S. Democrat Party, I take your point. It is a broad church. And you are correct in that there are Socialists amongst its congregation. But President Obama, Joe Biden and folks like that would be regarded as centrists by modern European standards.
    I also take your point regarding the two party system in the USA. But that just seems to be the way they like it.
    Why do mainstream Conservatives keep throwing in their lot with people way further to the right then Mr MacD?
    (You seem to have a certain expertise in obfuscation when it comes to that question – An obfuscation which always causes me to chuckle somewhat.)
    Perhaps it’s simply their idea of pragmatism huh?

  • July 27, 2020 at 12:57 am

    Corbyn, a supporter of the Castro regime, a supporter of Hugo Chavez, a supporter of Nicholas Maduro – even writing to congratulate him upon assuming presidency of Venezuela. But to you Nick, to associate such actions with support for Marxism “is a blatant nonsense”. Just face and accept reality!
    You choose to deny the view that I expressed that as the Republican Party lies to the right of the Democratic Party, and that it is consequentially logical to describe the Democratic Party as being to the left.
    Obviously, you must have been unable to access the debates within the Democratic Party during their leadership race. Mr. Sanders and indeed two other candidates, would have been quite at home in the British Labour Party. Indeed Mr. Sanders like Mr, Corbyn, described himself as a “socialist”, but was quick to add that unlike Mr. Corbyn, he is opposed to Marxism and communism. Hence the mainstream Republicans being concerned about fiscal responsibility – and note, that I was explaining the reason for their view. Do you think that was incorrect?
    It is correct that Joe Biden is regarded as moderate – in comparison with Mr, Sanders, and almost any candidate would be a welcome relief from Trump. I continue to wish Mr. Biden success.
    In bringing up the subject of health care, you provide much support for my expressed view that the US two party system has two bad choices. Neither party supports a universal health care system, Both support private health care systems with insurance, drug and medical providers receiving 17.1% of the GDP.
    I do not use the term Marxist as “some kind of term of insult” but as recognition of reality.
    I again note with amusement, your statement that you are no defender of the British Labour Party – but you are most certainly a constant critic of any political views that lie to the right of the policies of that party, and are always willing to find any ameliorating factors for the policies of the far left.

  • July 26, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    In the USA there is no moderation? I would think there is indeed some moderation and certainly hope that there is enough.
    There is certainly a degree of divergence. But Mr MacD, your comment (and the comment from Dennis) suggests that the Democrat Party is likely to be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ or in some way ‘leftist’.
    By normal modern European standards, the U.S. Democrat party would be considered fairly centrist. A fairly mainstream, centrist, Capitalist political party. But then in the USA many people have been convinced by right wing media propaganda that a basic level of healthcare for all is an example of ‘leftism’. In Europe this is a basic and fundamental human right. The spectrum appears to be somewhat skewed.
    By the way, I’m no member of or defender of the British Labour or of Jeremy Corbyn. But my understanding is that the party members supported his leadership but the parliamentary party didn’t. Either way, to describe him as a Marxist is a blatant nonsense. As is the use of ‘Marxist’ as some kind of term of insult. It’s all a bit random and irrelevant to the topic in hand isn’t it?
    Perhaps throwing this in is an attempt to divert attention from what we are seeing in the USA: Yet another example of fairly mainstream Conservatives throwing in their lot with those very much further to the right. History is littered with examples of this. It’s a timeworn Conservative tradition. We are merely seeing the latest example.

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