Friday, November 2, 2018

The Desperate Despot

Paradoxically, Trump has had no greater ally in his political career than the media. His attacks on it as the "enemy of the people" energize his base as that same media keeps broadcasting Trump nonstop and allowing him to define the media narrative. All he has to do is to tweet something obnoxious and the entire news gathering apparatus will shift its focus.

Trump is best described in Brian Klaas's formulation as a wannabe despot. He has not yet completely bent the apparatus of the government to his will, but his behavior in the last two weeks shows that it is not for lack of trying. Trump has declared that he will end birthright citizenship, and is sending troops to the border to combat the threat of poor refugees that are 800 miles away. He has threatened these refugees with concentration camps and murder. After one of his supporters sent bombs to his opponents he has persisted in verbally attacking them, as well as CNN, who also received a bomb.

The media has been breathlessly reporting on all of this, implicitly burnishing Trump's image as a "tough" leader and man of action. I see something very different. I see the behavior of a man who is desperate and scared.

Because we keep chasing the shiny objects that flash before us on Twitter, we often miss the bigger perspective. Trump has not forgotten that with a Democratic Congress comes investigations into his finances and dealings, and potential impeachment. If you listen to the Trump Inc podcast (and you should) you'll know that any official lifting up of the rock of the Trump Organization is going to reveal all kinds of nastiness and crime. His own bag man, Michael Cohen, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation. Anything and everything Trump does is to protect himself. He really thinks that stoking anti-immigrant hate is going to save his skin. While his core beliefs are ethno-nationalist in nature, he being open about it at this moment because he thinks it will win the midterm.

One of the biggest myths about despotism is that it works hand in in hand with competence. Trump can't be a despot, we are told, because he is so chaotic and inept. Anyone who knows their history knows that these attributes describe a lot of autocrats. In fact, it's the norm rather than the exception for despots to be incompetent boobs. Trump is one of these boobs, flailing desperately in the face of his potential reckoning. Get out there this weekend and make sure it happens.

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