Eric Levitz writes about the strange habits of President-elect Donald Trump:
Donald Trump won't content himself with the standard-issue presidency—he's going to have his customized. Daily intelligence briefings are out, along with the norms that prohibit the appearance of corruption. "Victory rallies" are in—as is the private security force that policed dissent at Trump's events throughout his campaign.
Wait. What? I knew about this other stuff, but Trump is keeping his private security force? Isn't that what the Secret Service is for? Ken Vogel explains what's happening:
The arrangement represents a major break from tradition…But Trump—who puts a premium on loyalty and has demonstrated great interest in having forceful security at his events—has opted to maintain an aggressive and unprecedented private security force, led by Keith Schiller, a retired New York City cop and Navy veteran.
…In interviews with about a dozen people who interact with Trump, they said even as the president-elect's Secret Service detail has expanded significantly since the election, he remains most comfortable with Schiller and his team…The Trump associates say Schiller is expected to become a personal White House aide who would serve as the incoming president's full-time physical gatekeeper.
Every time we learn more about Trump, we learn what a total whack job he is. He's like a walking encyclopedia of neuroses. But maybe that's not so bad. Maybe this means he's perfect for America, since we seem to be a national encyclopedia of neuroses these days. I predict a land office business in Xanax over the next four years.
Officials from Donald Trump’s transition team submitted requests to at least two cabinet departments demanding they hand over the names of any government employees who are working on programs that seek to combat the rise of violent extremism, according to a report from Reuters.
The news wire obtained a copy of an email sent from members of Trump’s transition team to the State Department, asking for the identities of anyone working on anti-extremism programs. “Please indicate names of people serving in those roles and status (political or career),” the email says.
While the State Department deals largely with threats posed by foreign extremists and international terrorist organizations like ISIS, a similar request was made of the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to their work on international terrorism, DHS focuses on domestic threats as well, including the rise of right-wing extremism. A 2012 report from DHS outlined the growing threat of so-called “sovereign citizen extremists,” pockets of far-right activists who reject, sometimes violently, the authority of government.
One notable example is the Bundy family, who confronted federal workers in Nevada with a small militia in 2014 and then staged an armed insurrection on federal land in Oregon a year later. Rather than strongly disavowing the occupation, the Trump campaign actively sought their vote. Cliven Bundy, the family elder, endorsed Trump.
The request made by Trump’s transition team bears striking resemblance to a similar request filed with the Department of Energy earlier this month. In that case, the incoming administration was seeking the names of employees doing any work related to climate change, which Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed as a Chinese hoax. In response, the Department of Energy politely rejected the request, instead urging climate scientists to grab as much data as they could in the event Trump instructs the department to abandon all climate research.
It’s less clear what the response will be from the State Department or DHS. One senior-level official from the State Department told Reuters that “I know of no requests that have been denied,” though the official wouldn’t comment about this latest request specifically.
Donald Trump is demanding the names of federal employees working to curb violent extremism was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements which bar them from discussing their work with journalists or the public, according to a report from Politico.Read More →
Donald Trump can't possibly be a Russian agent, because a Russian agent wouldn't be so gobsmackingly obvious about it.
President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said, prompted by a belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized. [...]
One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan.
While one can certainly debate many reforms to America’s intelligence operations, the Journal's source confirms that Donald Trump’s reason is because he believes those agencies are "completely politicized"—and it comes in the midst of an all-out Twitter war by the insulter-in-chief against the American intelligence community over their reported conclusion that Russian officials were behind hacks intended to interfere in the U.S. election. (Trump, for his part, has based his skepticism of those intelligence community conclusions on the supposed computer expertise of his 10 year old son, which is not at all insane or the ravings of a lunatic mind.) So as a result of his skepticism, he's going to cut down those agencies and "restructure" them to be more to his liking.
Oh—and the "more to his liking" part is also completely freaking insane, by the way.
Among those helping lead Mr. Trump’s plan to restructure the intelligence agencies is his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who had served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until he was pushed out by DNI James Clapper and others in 2013.
That would be the Michael Flynn who was himself accused of discouraging intelligence that went against his own beliefs, during his tenure, and who now populates both Twitter and Donald Trump’s own head with conspiracy theories. Putting Michael Flynn in charge of molding the intelligence community to better fit Trump's incompetent and uninformed beliefs is ... well, completely freaking insane.
So Donald Trump is about to carve up American intelligence agencies because he's so unwilling to concede Russian influence in his election—or even concede that they might know more than his 10 year old son—that he believes it requires retribution. He believes they are "politicized" simply because he's angry about what they've been telling him.
This is insane. This is utterly loony. This man is completely unfit for office.
It took a week and a half following the election, but President-elect Donald Trump has finally begun selecting cabinet members. On Friday, he announced that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is his choice for Attorney General. Former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will be his National Security Advisor.
Jeff Sessions has referred to the 1965 Voting Rights Act as a “piece of intrusive legislation” and reportedly suggested that a white lawyer might be a “disgrace to his race” because he represented black clients. The NAACP routinely gives him an “F” on its congressional scorecard.
Michael Flynn has repeatedly made it clear that he draws no distinction between organizations like ISIS and Islam as a religion. In the past, he has tweeted that fear of Muslims is “RATIONAL” (emphasis his) and that “Arab & Persian world ‘leaders’” must renounce “Islamic ideology.”
Flynn and Sessions will work in the Trump administration alongside white nationalist figurehead Steve Bannon, the president-elect’s chief strategist. That will make for at least three overt racists serving at the highest levels of government under President Trump.
In fact, out of the five major staffing decisions Trump has made since his presidential transition began, the majority have elevated figures defined by their hostility toward people of color. The other two were Koch Industries favorite Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who will serve as White House chief of staff.
Five names, three giveaways to white supremacists. Anyone who thought that Bannon’s elevation was an isolated occurrence, or that he would be a marginal figure in the new regime, should know better by now. The doctrine of the Trump administration will be white nationalism.
Trump is stocking his administration with white nationalists was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
President-elect Donald Trump has just added federal employees to the list of endangered species. According to the Washington Post:
Hiring freezes, an end to automatic raises, a green light to fire poor performers, a ban on union business on the government’s dime and less generous pensions — these are the contours of the blueprint emerging under Republican control of Washington in January.
The engine and conductor behind this effort is likely to be Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman at the right-wing website Breitbart News who now serves as Trump’s chief White House strategist and senior counselor.
The project aligns with Bannon’s long-stated warnings about the corrupting influence of government and a capital city rampant with “crony capitalism.”
Breitbart headlines also provide a possible insight into his views, with federal employees described as overpaid, too numerous and a “privileged class.”
“Number of Government Employees Now Surpasses Manufacturing Jobs by 9,977,000,” the website proclaimed in November. There are 2.1 million federal civilian employees.
But Trump may have a little trouble with his own math. Even as he says he wants to freeze the federal workforce and reduce it by attrition, he is exempting certain areas (the military or those in health and safety roles), plus, wants to ADD federal employees.
But he also wants a military with more ships, planes and troops. He has said he wants to triple the number of immigration enforcement agents and beef up the Border Patrol by thousands.
Add jobs, freeze jobs, potato, po-ta-toe, let’s call the whole thing off. If only.
Former Breitbart head Steve Bannon has been a national lightning rod ever since he was appointed CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. At-issue: Bannon’s deep ties to the growing white nationalist movement, which provided some of Trump’s earliest and most fervent supporters.
On Sunday the New York Times published a profile on Bannon, casting him as a “combative populist.” Buried deep within the profile is an account of Bannon talking about his belief in the “genetic superiority” of certain people and his support for restricting voting rights to only property owners.
A former colleague of Bannon’s, Julia Jones, recounted her interactions with Bannon to reporter Scott Shane:
Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.
“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”
Jones also previously described Bannon’s comments about voting to The Daily Beast.
Restricting voting to only property holders would take the country back centuries to its founding — when only white, male property holders could vote in most states. Today, such a restriction would disenfranchise huge swaths of people, including students, people of color, young Americans, many city dwellers, and low-income populations.
Far from populism, this is Revolutionary-era elitism drawn along racist lines. And for white nationalists, it’s a familiar goal.
Former KKK wizard David Duke, for example, has been proclaiming on Twitter that Trump’s election and cabinet picks are the first steps toward “taking America back” — that is, taking America “back” from anyone who isn’t descended from fair-skinned Europeans. In white nationalist ideology, only white Americans have a true right to the country — and the rights that go along with citizenship, like voting.
Duke: Bannon, Flynn, Sessions: the 1st Steps in Taking America Back! https://t.co/Yn2gJ934LN
Bannon’s musings on voting restrictions are a dog-whistle to white nationalists. The same goes for his reference to “genetic superiority,” a view that Donald Trump also has said he shares.
Trump has repeatedly connected his success to his “good genes,” as ThinkProgress previously reported. He’s said that his children “don’t need adversity” to build character or skills, because they share his good genetics. In an interview once, he went so far as to compare himself to a “racehorse” and discussing his “breeding” at length.
The belief in the genetic predisposition of qualities like intelligence are a hallmark of white nationalism.
In Trump’s rhetoric on genes, white nationalists hear validation of their belief that genetics alone can qualify someone for leadership — or make them inherently inferior. Genetics and connections to race are a common theme on white nationalist, neo-Nazi sites like American Renaissance and Stormfront.
Yet despite the validation Bannon (and Trump) have given to white nationalist ideologies, many insist that the term “white nationalist” is inappropriate. Woven throughout the New York Times profile were quotes from Bannon’s friends and family pointing to his personal relationships with people of color, and therefore insisting that he was not, himself, a racist.
This sort of tokenism is a familiar rebuttal. Take Bannon’s excuse in the quote above that his black executive assistant was “different” because “she’s family.” It’s a near-textbook example of using, for example, having black friends as a defense against racism.
But this is a false parallel: It’s possible, even common, to hold negative views of a race in general, while thinking that a few members of that race are “different” and therefore acceptable. In fact, according to psychology, it’s an integral phenomenon to how we build and accommodate stereotypes.
Meanwhile, prominent white nationalist leaders are thrilled by Trump’s victory, and with Bannon’s new high profile role as Trump’s chief strategist.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Trump said that he didn’t want to “energize” the group, and said that he “disavowed” them.
It was one of the very few times that Trump has tried to separate himself from his racist fan base in his year-and-a-half long campaign. But Trump offered no details about why, exactly, he felt compelled to disavow the group — and white nationalist ideologues have said that while his words were “disappointing,” instead they were focused on his actions.
And in his actions, Trump has elevated figures like Bannon and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, another white nationalist favorite. Their history and words validate white nationalist ideas, as do some of Trump’s own. With validation from national leaders comes what Trump called “energy” — a public resurgence of white nationalist fervor.
Steve Bannon’s disturbing views on ‘genetic superiority’ are shared by Trump was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
President-elect Donald Trump demonstrated his authoritarian impulses once again on Tuesday with a call for the criminalization of dissent. In the early morning, he took to Twitter – his favorite platform for exercising his own right to freedom of expression – to proclaim that burning a U.S. flag should be punished by "perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" This
This article originally appeared on www.rollingstone.com: Donald Trump's Dictatorial Approach to Free Speech
President-elect Donald Trump held a press conference on Wednesday that was widely compared to addresses delivered by autocratic rulers due to his refusal to answer questions from news outlets he didn’t like.
Trump’s behavior at the presser — which included calling CNN and “fake news” and BuzzFeed a “pathetic pile of garbage” — drew praise from renowned journalist jailer, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Speaking to local administrators in the Turkish capital of Ankara, Erdogan said that when Trump shouted down CNN’s Jim Acosta, he had put the reporter “in his place.”
Erdogan’s enthusiasm for cracking down on a free press has made Turkey into the world’s leader in jailing the media, with 81 journalists currently behind bars. The world’s second largest jailer is China with 38.
If there’s any silver lining, it may be that Turkey’s opinion of the U.S. is slowly rising. The Turks are currently upset that the U.S. won’t hand over a Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric that it claims runs a shadow state; Ankara is also unhappy with the U.S. policy in Syria that provides support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Trump’s Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, recently suggested his strategy to defeat ISIS would be to provide additional support for Kurdish units in Syria — something Turkey adamantly opposes.
In Russia, where journalists are used to covering autocratic press conferences, Trump’s presser was met with mockery.
“Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear,” Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev wrote on Medium.
In Russia, journalists aren’t regularly jailed, but outlets can have their editors easily replaced by more obedient figures — or murdered. Since Putin came to power for the first time in 2000, around 35 journalists have been killed in Russia.
As if Erdogan and Putin aren’t good enough company, Trump also drew praise from former New York City Mayor and Trump’s cybersecurity czar Rudy Giuliani.
“It is refreshing and it is very good for our democracy that we have a president that is trying to get us back to a free press,” Giuliani said on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News on Thursday.
World’s top jailer of journalists praises Trump for putting a reporter ‘in his place’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
President-elect Donald Trump's incoming administration is considering a plan to remove the press corps from the White House, according to a report published Saturday by Esquire.Read More →
Donald Trump tweeted excitedly this morning that Bikers for Trump are on their way to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration along with “record numbers” of people. In reality, the “record numbers” may refer to the people coming to town to protest. Bikers for Trump plans to create a “wall of meat” to protect Trump and his supporters from protesters who might try to disrupt the proceedings, founder Chris Cox has told reporters.
Bikers for Trump became a sort of vigilante security force working in consultation with Trump’s head of security during primary rallies. Politico reported in April that at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania “Cox’s men were assuming functions typically reserved for paid security and police – patrolling the dirt floor of the arena, snatching and tearing protesters’ signs and following close behind law enforcement officials as they dragged protesters from the arena, ready to lend a hand.”
The group was also present in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. Cox told Reuters before the convention that his group would “be doing a victory dance” over Trump’s nomination but said “if the Republican Party tries to pull off any backroom deals and ignores the will of the people, our role will change.” In Cleveland, the group participated in the “America First Unity Rally” sponsored by Citizens for Trump along with conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones and right-wing political strategist Roger Stone. That rally had originally been planned to mobilize opposition to any attempt by GOP insiders to wrestle the nomination away from Trump, but as that possibility faded it became a right-wing victory party featuring, among many others, Breitbart’s self-described “dangerous faggot” Milo Yiannopoulos and gun advocate Jan Morgan, a frequent speaker at right-wing events who banned Muslims from her shooting range.
Cox has described members of the group as “people who want to stand up to the leftist, racist murderers that are killing cops.” While Cox has said the role of Bikers for Trump at the inauguration will be to help police keep the peace in case protesters get out of hand, he was captured on video wrestling a banner away from a peaceful protester inside the Republican convention.
Bikers for Trump created a GoFundMe page in June with the goal of raising $250,000 “for the sole purpose of electing Donald J. Trump president of the United States of America.” The page is still taking contributions, topping $120,000 this morning.
Donald Trump plans on displaying the United States military's strength when he becomes president by having troops march in parades.
“Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country,” Trump told the Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday morning. “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military."Read More →
In a feature about Donald Trump’s infamous “Make America Great Again” slogan, the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty asked the president-elect about how “greatness” can be measured. What does he mean by “great”?
Trump responded by citing the sort of spectacles that were commonplace in autocracies like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia — military parades.
“Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country,” Trump told the Post. “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military.”
“That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military,” he added.
The portions of the interview published by the Post don’t indicate Trump mentioned anything else while discussing his definition of greatness. For Trump, making America great is about spectacles, not policy achievements, but creating and capitalizing on spectacles is what Trump’s brand of politics has always been about.
Trump made beefing up the military a theme of his campaign. In August, he told a crowd in Philadelphia that “we want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military dominance.” He’s since outlined a spending plan that would end the sequester on military spending and thereby add about $450 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
It’s arguable whether it’s a good idea to plow that sort of money into the military. While hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) argue sequestration has weakened the American military, the U.S. is already by far the biggest defense spender in the world. Last year, the fiscal policy-focused Peter G. Peterson Foundation, citing numbers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, put together this graph showing that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next seven highest-spending countries combined:
That debate aside, it’s telling that Trump’s immediate response to a question about his goals for the country is to discuss his desire for military parades, which haven’t been a significant part of American history.
As Time’s Ishaan Tharoor detailed in a piece about the history of military parades in 2009, they have historically been used by “rulers” who “projected their power through displays of strength and awe, going back to humanity’s first civilizations.”
“As empires dissolved into nation-states, these spectacles of power swapped their air of mysticism for a more tangible tone of aggression,” Tharoor writes. His piece goes on to cite this quote about the Nazi goosestep from George Orwell, who lived in England while it was besieged by the Nazis: “[The goosestep is] one of the most horrible sights in the world. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face.”
“Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army,” Orwell added.
In 2013, David Waldstreicher, a professor of history at Temple University, told the History News Network that the reason military parades haven’t regularly occurred throughout American history is because the Revolutionary War itself was about removing standing armies from cities.
“American national liberty, at home at least, is associated with freedom from men in arms marching through the streets,” Waldstreicher said.
But Trump has repeatedly raised questions about his commitment to the traditional notion of “liberty.” In September, he praised Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin as “a leader far more than our president [Obama] has been.” During the campaign, Trump also commended former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein because he effectively “killed terrorists” without due process and expressed appreciation for the ruthless way North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un took power.
An ad the Trump team ran in the final months of the campaign concluded by claiming, “DONALD TRUMP WILL PROTECT YOU. HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN.”
That sort of rhetoric has prompted a number of scholars to compare Trump with fascistic leaders like Mussolini, who told Italians while he was in the process of consolidating power that “Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary.”
Trump will Make America Great Again by parading the military through the streets was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
We're now learning that President-Elect Trump wanted a full Soviet-style inaugural parade, with tanks, missiles and missile launchers. The Pentagon nixed that idea but agreed to a jet fighter flyover. In an interview published Wednesday morning Trump had spoken about his desire to hold military parades during his presidency. But this is the first sign he had tried to hold a Soviet style military parade for his inauguration.Read More →
While more than 2.5 million people around the world demonstrated in opposition to his inauguration on Saturday, President Donald Trump traveled to Langley, Virginia, to deliver an address to the CIA.
The speech represented an important opportunity for Trump to try and build a positive relationship with an intelligence community he’s feuded with throughout the presidential transition. In response to a trickle of leaks and public reports about the intelligence community’s findings regarding Russian interference in the presidential election on his behalf, Trump has repeatedly maligned their work. After the Washington Post reported last month that the CIA had told U.S. senators it is “quite clear” Russia used cyberattacks to help Trump, the then-president-elect released a statement describing the CIA as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
Trump later compared leaks from intelligence officials about Russian meddling to the behavior of officials in Nazi Germany.
But instead of outlining a vision for the CIA on Saturday, Trump briefly praised his nomination for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), hinted that he wants to bring back torture — “We haven’t used the abilities we’ve got. We’ve been restrained,” Trump said—vowed to rid the world of ISIS, and then pivoted to bashing the media for reporting on how small his inauguration crowd was.
“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest humans being on earth,” Trump said, dismissing reports about his feud with the intelligence community. He then turned to reports about inauguration attendance.
“We had a massive field of people — you saw that, packed,” Trump said. “I get up this morning, and I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field.”
“I made a speech, I looked out, the field — it looked like a million, a million and a half people,” Trump continued. “They showed a field where there was practically nobody standing there… and it said we drew 250,000 people. Now, that’s not bad, but it’s a lie.”
Trump went on to claim that the National Mall was packed all the way back to the Washington Monument. But photos indicate that was nowhere near the case.This overhead shot was taken shortly before Trump’s swearing-in ceremony. CREDIT: ABC News
And even if Trump thinks it’s a “lie,” the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies says that about 250,000 tickets were distributed for his inauguration.
In all, Trump devoted nearly one-third of his roughly 16 minute speech to bashing the media. He declined to mention that, as he was speaking, about 500,000 people were marching in the streets of D.C. in opposition to him — about twice as many as turned out for his inauguration.
Trump treated the speech like a campaign rally. While some of his lines generated applause, journalists who attended the event at Langley reported that “when Trump began drifting into the more political sections of his speech… the [CIA] senior leadership remained stoic, and did not applaud.”
Trump’s first speech to CIA was mostly complaints about media coverage of his small inauguration was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Invited guests of President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and CIA director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) cheered and laughed at the President’s remarks at CIA headquarters on Saturday, according to a new report.Read More →
President Donald Trump has only had a few days to govern so far.
In that time, he staged a press conference where his press secretary blatantly lied to the media, told the National Park Service not to tweet, and met with an American intelligence agency in an “uncomfortable” meeting. One of his senior advisers introduced the worrying concept that the Trump administration’s lies will be considered “alternative facts.”
ThinkProgress surveyed a group of political theorists and scholars of authoritarianism and asked them to evaluate the new president. Trump is already trying to rule in the style of a populist authoritarian, they said.
Sheri Berman, a political scientist at Barnard College, said that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s invocation of “alternative facts” was particularly alarming.
“Former scholar of fringe politics. Current scholar of mainstream politics.”
“It’s one thing to bash journalists but when you start talking about facts not being facts, and bar people from access to information, major red flags are going up,” said Berman.
“There is no doubt he is an authoritarian, which is completely logical because he has always worked in a structure in which he has absolute power and to me that is clear in his understanding that he sees politics as a business,” said Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia. “He sees democracy as ‘I have won, so I can do whatever I want or whatever I think is best for the country and I’m allowed to do that because I’m the CEO of America, Inc.’”
(Mudde’s Twitter profile reads: “Former scholar of fringe politics. Current scholar of mainstream politics.”)
But while Mudde and Berman said that Trump undoubtedly displays authoritarian tendencies, they were careful to note that he is not a fascist or totalitarian. Totalitarian regimes tend to control every facet of society, including culture, politics, and media. Fascism is a form of right-wing totalitarianism which tends to be nativist, nationalist, and anti-individualist. Authoritarians, on the other hand, demand a strict adherence to authority at the expense of individual liberty.
“I don’t like conflating populism with fascism,” Berman said. “Both are on the spectrum but there are critical differences. We’re certainly not there yet.”
“I will not call him a fascist,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, told ThinkProgress. “He’s not trying to have a one party dictatorship.”
Trump has exhibited certain personality traits shared by authoritarian rulers, including a tendency toward nepotism, a fragile ego, and an unwillingness to gracefully accept criticism. But he will have a hard time consolidating power, so long as there remains political opposition, a free press, and checks and balances in government. Experts in authoritarianism said his movement also lacks the organization that would allow it to fully supplant existing institutions.
Totalitarian regimes of the past, like Communists in the Soviet Union or the Nazis in Germany, rose to power after incredible organization and could call upon hundreds of thousands of members. Despite already having an intricate structure in place, “even they achieved a totalitarian regime after a long time,” Mudde said.
Compared to those regimes, it’s staggering how unorganized Trump’s movement is, Mudde said. “While I worry about autocratic tendencies, I don’t see ideology or structure for anything that is comparable to fascism.”
But there are certain moves Trump could make that would suggest a line had been crossed.
“If he started passing laws or trying to use his influence to hinder CNN’s ability to report or broadcast [that would cross a line],” Berman said. “Not talking to members of the press you don’t like is bad, but to use the power of the presidency or government to actually stop parts of the media doing their job would be clearly crossing a line.”
Other triggers would include using the government to “pass laws that impinge on certain citizens of ethnic or religious backgrounds,” said Berman. “Characteristics that are not just un-American, but antithetical to precepts of liberal democracy.”
The fact that Trump isn’t there yet doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to fear. Vigilance is important going forward, as Trump’s ascension to the presidency shows that a considerable portion of Republicans accepted the more radical aspects of his candidacy.
“The main concern is the flexibility of the GOP,” Mudde said. “We have seen in the last couple months that GOP leadership has a remarkable tolerance toward Trumps illiberal tendencies as long as he lets them get a pro-market, anti-regulation program.”
“Vulgar populism might not be shared, and some of his economic nationalism isn’t shared, but the nativism is shared,” Mudde said, “both towards Mexicans and Muslims, and so those parts of the agenda can be very easily pushed through.”
The toleration, or in some cases radicalization, of the GOP establishment is more threatening than Trump’s presidency on its own, said Ben-Ghiat.
“Formally, we have checks and balances. I’m of the school that those things are not going to stop him,” Ben-Ghiat said. “We put all the blame on Trump but the GOP has seen in him a kind of vehicle to get certain radical things they want done and [to push] a certain cultural shift in the nation.”
“The only thing between Trump and autocratic and illiberal democratic rule might be the GOP and I’m not sure how much that is going to do for us,” Mudde said. “I don’t think there is reason to panic. There is reason to organize.”
Experts in authoritarianism are very concerned about Trump’s first few days as president was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Without Scott Pruitt on the ground at the Environmental Protection Agency to provide the appropriate set of alternative facts, there’s a chance someone at the EPA might reveal an actual fact. And Donald Trump is having none of that.
- No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
- No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
- No blog messages.
- No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
And while the flow of information out of the EPA has been locked down, it’s far more than press releases that have ceased to flow.
EPA staff has been instructed to freeze all its grants ― an extensive program that includes funding for research, redevelopment of former industrial sites, air quality monitoring and education, among other things ― and told not to discuss this order with anyone outside the agency, according to a Hill source with knowledge of the situation.
These grants power everything from sampling pollution around Superfund sites to community recycling programs and environmental education programs used in schools. The grant lockdown follows reports that Trump intends to cut $815 million from the EPA’s budget, destroying not only the ability to fund research, but to enforce existing standards.
Requests for comment from the EPA drew no response. Of course.
The Department of Agriculture has instructed over 2,000 employees in its Agricultural Research Service to cease all public communications.Read More →