Trump: A Tyrant?

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By Haley Vaughan ’18, Perspectives Editor

Every day I wake up and think: “there’s nothing that Donald Trump could do that could surprise me anymore” and everyday I am proved wrong. Between firing James Comey, calling other countries “s***holes” or potentially “s*** house” (because that term is so much better…), standing by Roy Moore, and his comment that there were good people on “many sides” in Charlottesville, the bar has been set almost humorously low. But not long ago I woke up to the most blatant threat to our democracy yet. During a private fundraiser for Republicans hosted where else but Mar-a-Lago, Trump, in response to China’s President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power and attempts to change the rules so he can be president for life, said the following: He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.” This should alarm any person who values democracy. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue.”

In 1796 in his infamous Farewell Address, George Washington warned against allowing one person to remain in office for too long. “The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.” In 1951 in response to Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms, the 22nd amendment was passed that limited a president to two terms in office. Making someone president for life takes away the people’s voice. If a president is elected at age 45 and doesn’t die until 85, 40 years have passed without the people having any say in the leadership of their country. A child born the year this hypothetical president is elected would not be able to vote until they were 40. The heart of democracy is the people. The Constitution, the cornerstone of American government, begins with “We the People.” A President for Life would not run a government “by the people, for the people” because they have no reason to respect the people. They have power for life. The very idea of that should scare the s*** out of any person.

In a way we should have seen this coming. This is not the first time Trump has revealed his tyrannical tendencies. He has complimented no more than nine notorious dictators. Let’s break down a few of these appalling adulations:

1: Vladimir Putin – President of Russia

What Trump said: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him. I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean you can say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a terrible thing’, the man has very strong control over a country….But certainly in that system, he’s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.”

Why this is concerning: Putin’s political opponents in Russia are jailed or “disappear”. According to the U.S. State Department “Authorities restricted citizens’ ability to choose their government through free and fair elections and increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent.” In Russia the government owns over 60% of newspapers. Journalists are subject to attack. Meetings, demonstrations, and marches must be approved and registered with the government. There have also been substantial allegations of torture.

2: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – President of Egypt

What Trump said: “We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt. The United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing.”

Why this is concerning: Sisi’s government is maintained with “excessive use of force by security forces, deficiency in due process, and extreme suppression of civil liberties” says Human Rights Watch. Egypt uses the pre-text of fighting terrorism to keep their citizens submissive.

3: Rodrigo Duterte – President of the Philippines

What Trump said: “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

Why this is concerning: Out of context this seems like a harmless quote, but Duterte killed suspected drug dealers. Duterte’s war on drugs has killed at least 12,000 people. According to Human Rights Watch “ No one has been meaningfully investigated, let alone prosecuted, for any of the “drug war” killings. Instead, Duterte has pledged to pardon policemen implicated in killings.” The government of the Philippines attacks news sources and threatens journalists that have exposed wrongdoings by the officials.

As seen above Trump has a tendency to admire authoritarian figures, but if we look at his comments about the American judicial system, FBI, media, or any of his political opponents, his distaste for democracy is clearly discernible. Trump has and continues to attempt to discredit the media that he labels “fake news.” He throws jabs at outlets like CNN and The New York Times in almost any of his addresses. On February 17th 2017 he tweeted “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” This mirrors President Nixon’s statement in 1972 that “the press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy” As a reminder, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Not exactly a great role model.

The press is the voice of the people. It is protected in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Justice Hugo Black in New York Times Co. v. United States, famously stated that “the press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” This Supreme Court case surrounded the New York Times’ publishing became known as the “Pentagon Papers Case.” The government was attempting to prevent both the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing articles detailing the activities of the U.S. in Vietnam. The Supreme Court ruled that the government’s attempt to stop the publishing the Pentagon Papers was unconstitutional.

Trump’s attacks on the judicial system are almost two numerous to count. Nevertheless here are some highlights:

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.”

“Our legal system is broken! 77% of refugees allowed into U.S. since travel reprieve hail form seven suspect countries. SO DANGEROUS!”

“Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot- resign!”

The Court’s purpose is to protect the Constitution. If a court deems a law or “ban” unconstitutional then the President should accept it with grace and move on. Instead, Trump acts like a toddler. His tirades on twitter are veritable temper tantrums. The judicial branch keeps the people safe from a government that tries to impose on their constitutional rights and civil liberties. Trump’s proclamations of displeasure and accusations of unfairness creates doubt about the validity of a key element of democracy not only in America but worldwide.

Trump’s authoritarian attributes are perhaps most noticeable in his continuous battle against the FBI. Trump and his close affiliates have concocted a crackpot theory that the FBI is plotting against him and attempting to bring him down. The FBI protects the American people and upholds the Constitution. If Trump colluded with Russia then he would be convicted of treason and impeached from office, as well as face jail time. Trump and his corrupt cronies would do well to remember Watergate and its consequences. Truth will out.

Whether or not we like it, Trump is the President. He is the face of our nation and a symbol of America. Do we want foreign countries to view America as a hypocrite? Because they will when in the past we’ve criticized authoritarian regimes but now have a man in power who uncannily mirrors the very same governments America has previously condemned. The notion that our president would suggest that the U.S.A should give the idea of presidency for life a shot is alarming. To be frank Donald Trump is a selfish, egotistical, immature man who craves absolute power too much to have been given any in the first place. It is up to the people in 2020 to elect someone who will protect democracy if Trump doesn’t proclaim himself president for life before then.