Dictators always need to justify the concentration of power within themselves. Josef Stalin, for example, argued that because political power belonged to the Soviet proletariat and that the Communist Party was its manifestation, as leader of the Party, he manifested (and could exercise) its power himself. This enabled him to establish a totalitarian regime. In Germany, Adolf Hitler argued that that political power belonged to a ‘superior’ Aryan race, and that its manifestation was the National Socialist party.
In his inauguration speech, Donal Trump also revealed this intention when he said: “Today’s ceremony…has very special meaning, because today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, DC, and giving it back to you, the people.”
Unlike rights which everyone has, power needs to concentrate in one person or privileged group. It was obvious that when Trump spoke about giving power back to the people, he was in fact saying ‘power belongs to me’. This is why after leaving the inauguration he went directly to the Oval Office and started issuing executive orders. He exercises power on their ‘behalf’.
Furthermore, when he spoke about the “special meaning” of this transfer, in effect he was saying that as he is the manifestation of people’s power the administration and the power of the state has to be at his personal service. This is why when the acting US Attorney General disobeyed him he did not simply fire her but declared it an act of betrayal. As a leader who seeks total power and demands total obedience, anything short of either is a betrayal.
We must also pay attention to Trump’s slogans about putting ‘America first’ and ‘making America great again’. The United States can only become ‘first’ in international politics if the rest of the world’s countries play a subservient role. The factors which elevated the US to a dominant position have fundamentally changed.
For example, when the US became a ‘superpower’, Asia was nowhere to be seen. Now, many of these country, like China, it is wealthier and more developed than the US, and without Chinese money the American budget deficit would sky rocket and inflict a body blow to the American economy (which is not the biggest debtor in the world). If Trump tries to reverse the situation with the use of military, it only can make things much worse.
If fact, Trump and his team present an existential threat not only to the US but to the world. History tells us that the path to democracy is not a one-way ticket and can be reversed. Now American democracy is facing its strongest test since the Civil War. It is not strong enough to protect itself against power partly because its bureaucracy is based on the principle of hierarchy.
Therefore, the task of defending democracy is left to American civil society. If the parts of this society which it seem to have understood the danger, do not mobilize their forces to resist the fast-expanding power of it elected dictator, America’s demise will be accompanied by the demise of democracy and the post-democratic age in which, more than fifteen years, the academics are talking about will be solidified.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Is Trump on the Path to Dictatorship?’