Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, and Joesph Stalin. What do they all have in common? An authoritarian vision. It may seem foolish and dramatic to compare our current U.S. President with two of the most notoriously vile authoritarian rulers known to humanity, however, there are alarming similarities that cannot be disputed. According to Brittanica the definition of authoritarianism is as follows: “Authoritarianism, principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action. In government, authoritarianism denotes any political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite that is not constitutionally responsible to the body of the people. Authoritarian leaders often exercise power arbitrarily and without regard to existing bodies of law” . While this definition does an exceptional job at stating how authoritarian rulers of the past operated, it is not emblematic of Trump’s leadership for obvious reasons. Chief amongst those is, by constitutional law, Trump is required to answer to all of the American people no matter if they support his policies or not. While Donald Trump does not resemble the characteristics of a traditional authoritarian leader, he resembles traits of a modern, post-Cold War authoritarian leader and does so by operating though what Ozan O. Valor coins as “Stealth Authoritarianism” .
Following the the end of the Cold War, a worldwide crackdown ensued with the hopes of eradicating any and all authoritarian regimes, such as those run by Hitler and Stalin, from an increasingly democratized world. Spearheaded by the United States, efforts to ensure democratic practices around the world increased and by 1998. NGO’s could be found across the globe promoting democratic prosperity. Some of the most famous NGO’s include: The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), and The Eurasia Foundation (EF) . While the sincere efforts to combat authoritarianism did make an impact for some time, authoritarians in the modern, twenty-first century era, such as President Donald Trump, have begun to take shelter behind the very same policies and institutions which were enacted to combat authoritarian regimes. Author Ozan Varol would likely agree as he writes, “Paradoxically, these mechanisms, which have narrowly focused on eliminating transparent democratic deficiencies, have provided legal and political cover to stealth authoritarian practices and created the very conditions in which these practices thrive” .
Authoritarianism within the twenty-first century, although more likely to occur in nondemocratic regimes, has the innate ability to manifest itself anywhere including in prominent democracies such as the United States. The current authoritarians today will actually thrive more in a country with more hardened and defined democratic qualities, such as the United States. This is due to them becoming far more comfortable hiding behind these laws and operating in the shadows where their actions are less likely to be scrutinized or questioned. To be more specific, a modern authoritarian ruler will tend to mimic traditional authoritarian practices to the best of his or her ability without directly violating any laws or checks and balances in an obvious way. The examples of “Stealth Authoritarianism” are as follows: the regime will tend to ignore or disregard various laws and constitutional amendments, abuse their ability to declare martial law, quell any and all who oppose the regime through the use of aggressive tendencies, intimidate and suppress voters, and the regime will try to corrupt the political system by filling the political system with supporters of the regime. From looking at the tactics of a twenty-first century authoritarian, there is irrefutable evidence that Donald Trump embodies most if not all of these mechanisms.
Our president harasses and intimates his opposition through social media, declares any news or news source that doesn’t support him as “fake news”, has limited the movement of necessary outside immigration into our country, and has been accused of countless other constitutional violations. While not directly resembling the tactics of a Hitler or Stalin, Trump is taking advantage of the the democratic climate in the United States to impose his authoritarian will unto a democratic population.: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Authoritarianism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2 Nov. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/authoritarianism. : Varol, Ozan. 2015. “Stealth Authoritarianism.” Iowa Law Review 100(4): pp. 1673-1742. Parts I, II and III. : “Soft Power: Democracy-Promotion and U.S. NGOs.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/soft-power-democracy-promotion-and-us-ngos.
I think this is a well reasoned approach to the very real dangers presented by the Trump administration. Your statement that current authoritarians “thrive more in a country with more hardened and defined democratic qualities” really resonated with me, because it really crystallizes a lot of the issues we currently struggle with. There’s a common perception that if it’s constitutional/legal/not challenged, it’s perfectly reasonable and permissible in a democratic country, and in the United States that is especially the case because our norms and rules are so entrenched–they can’t possibly go wrong if they’ve been working for this long, after all.