Thursday, October 08, 2020

Is Trump authoritarian?

US President Donald Trump is portrayed as part of the current set of authoritarian leaders that includes Russia's Putin, Turkey's Erdogan and Brazil's Bolsanaro.

An article in the FT makes the interesting point is that Trump's instincts are libertarian rather than authoritarian. He simply doesn't match the profile of the classic authoritarian leader  who favours greater use of executive power. The author argues that Trump wants to roll back the state, not advance its frontiers:

If the president’s illness has shown anything, it is that he differs from classic strongmen in a very US way. His populism tends more to the libertarian than the repressive. The mask-spurning, the cavalier gatherings, the call to not let the virus “dominate”: it is personal freedom to which the president has shown a heedless attachment. A conventional despot would use the pandemic as a pretext to hoard and exploit executive power. Mr Trump has used it to define himself against a meddling state. His line of attack against Joe Biden, the Democrat candidate, is that he would smother America’s economic bounceback with fussy curbs on everyday life. 

In other ways too, Trump's instincts go counter to those of the classic autocrat. He is wary of the military, he doesn't favour too much of a fiscal stimulus and he doesn't want the state intruding into the life of the ordinary person. 

Trump may brush aside rules, his utterances may be jingoistic, he may be impatient with criticism but  he is not your classic dictator who uses the state to repress citizens. Liberals are wont to call somebody they think is unpleasant 'authoritarian' but that doesn't make the characterisation accurate.


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