President Trump is too inept to become a dictator.
Never mind the flood of Washington leaks, it’s but a drop in the ocean of the ‘Trump is a Nazi’ think pieces. Yet the idea that Trump could even remotely become a successful dictator and transform the USA into a modern Nazi state is no more than a fitful and sadistic fantasy. Mr. Trump couldn’t even run a casino and has a long history of micro management and macro failure that little suggest he has the wit or guile to bring his country to the brink of authoritarianism.
It won’t happen. You need a coherent ideology at the very least as the foundation of an authoritation state. Trump is barely coherent himself. His first month in office has been marked by profound and unprecedented incoherence as ill-thought through policies fall apart at the seams or hit legal buffers. Most recently the disconnect between the President and his VP concerning the defense of Europe and NATO and between his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the issue of Transgender rights demonstrate this problem starkly. Indeed the most worrying element of Mr. Trump’s utter failure to have any real strategy is his concurrent failure to think about the consequenses of his haphazard actions.
You also need the security services absolutely on side. He is openly at war with his spooks and utterly disgraced himself in their eyes when he boasted about his electoral success in front of the stars representing fallen CIA operatives at their HQ in Langley. The torrent of leaks continues to do real damage, the most recent being the refusal by the FBI to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories. You’d be hard pressed to find authoritarian states with this state of discord between these key levers of power at this level. Perhaps the only real similarity between Hitler and Donald Trump is that they both called their intelligence services ‘Nazis’.
To be a successful autocrat you have to control the flow of information with the grip of a strong man and the cold wisdom of a pragmatist. Few clichés ring truer than ‘knowledge is power’. Mr. Trump may be nominally the most powerful man in the world but his ignorance makes him extremely vulnerable to manipulation and easily avoidable mistakes. The violence of the president’s rhetoric on Twitter and his never ending campaign tour bring to mind the classic bar room drunk lashing out wildly at a world he doesn’t understand by boiling everything down to catchphrases to repeat ad infinitum to anyone who will listen.
The vice driving the tee-total president of course is praise rather than booze but there again we see a reason why Trump is not cut out to be a 21st century dictator. The likes of Stalin and Hitler’s vice wasn’t praise but power; they used a cult of personality hugely successfully to sustain and amplify their message, but in the pursuit of ultimate control rather than to collect yet more piles of magazines with their face on the front of them. It was a means to an end whereas for Trump it is the be all and end all.
Advising someone as startlingly ignorant as the president, a man who takes little stock of evidence that amounts to more than a tv report or headline, one can imagine that it might not be terribly hard for his chief advisor, Steve Bannon, to get what he wants. Much like the ‘bogeyman’ or the awful ‘elf on a shelf’ can be white lies employed by parents to keep their children in check; what is to stop his chief advisor from spinning him utter falsehoods in order to advance his own agenda. Might Mr. Bannon be the source of at least some of the multitude of falsehoods uttered by President Trump?
There is a hideous irony that a man who leveraged ignorance with such immense success during a campaign peppered with crass and racist conflations now finds himself utterly leveraged by his own ignorance and the subsequent reliance on questionable sources and questionable people.
Another reason President Trump would make a terrible dictator is his appaling record for personal discretion. Millions of words have been written about almost every suspect, unsavoury or just outright illegal thing he has done. He’s leaked many of the good and bad stories himself over the decades in his never ending courtship of attention, be it for fame or for infamy. The myriad social and business connections to the mob, the countless examples of systematic racism toward both staff and tenants, the rape of his wife Ivana and the multiple allegations of sexual molestation are all well known. The role of unifying father of the nation that dictators have to play is one Trump is both unwilling and incapable of taking on. Yes his taxes haven’t been released yet but it can’t be very long before they surface; when they do they will help complete the picture of the most exposed leader the free world has ever or likely ever will have again.
President Trump is more like a dictator in reverse. Hitler going mad in the bunker blaming everyone but himself. Gaddafi ranting and raving defiantly as the sun set on his bloody reign. He behaves the way dictators do not when they are amassing power, but when they are losing it. Indeed unlike the self made strongmen of the past who began their lives modest and ended it drowned in sycophancy, Trump has had little but money and praise since he took over his father’s company at the age of 31. We can but hope that he'll take this reversal theory to it’s logical conclusion and end up a condemned man of modest means. Given his history of flirtation with bankruptcy and the wide spread condemnation against his nascent presidency, this would be a far less odd turn of events than many of those we've seen in the last year.