In the late 18th century, our Founding Fathers decided to break away from Great Britain because of what they believed was an authoritarian regime with little or no respect for the colonies. With great sacrifice, they achieved their goal and established a government based on a new Constitution where the lessons learned from pre-Revolutionary days were put into effect. The most important of these were the diffusion of power between not only the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, but also between the federal government and state governments. The entire goal was to avoid as much as possible the authoritarian tendencies of a strong executive.
Between The Federalist Papers and the notes from the Constitutional convention, we know that this was a major concern of our Founders. They eventually settled upon a name for the executive- President of the United States. They avoided names like “King,” “emperor,” or other such titles that would conjure up visions of an authoritarian leader.
Recently in the lead up to the New Hampshire primary, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst conducted a poll and part of that poll delved into the psyche of the respondents who preferred one candidate over another. Although much of it was demographic in nature, political scientist Matthew McWilliams noted a certain trait among those who showed support for Donald Trump. That trait was authoritarian inclinations.
Although the cause of an authoritarian personality is much debated, the characteristics of those with such inclinations are not: obedience, rallying behind and following strong leaders, and aggressive responses to non-believers especially when they feel threatened or under attack. If nothing else, this seems to define the blind follower of Donald Trump. It explains why they cheer when Trump uses profanity or uses slang terms for female body parts in reference to Ted Cruz.
These inclinations are by no means unique to the Republican Party as similar polls have discovered the same tendencies in Democrats and independents over time. In 2008, it was particularly prevalent in the Democratic primary race between Obama and Clinton. This year, it is prevalent in the Donald Trump versus everyone else dynamic.
So one has to ask why these voters with authoritarian inclinations would be drifting towards Donald Trump. The answer is simple- his dumbed down responses to the crises that he preys upon: immigration and terrorism. In fact, in that same poll, other than authoritarianism, a fear of terrorism among Trump supporters was also significant. Every rational American knows full well that we are not going to deport 11 million illegal immigrants under a President Trump. The logistics alone preclude this happening. And every rational American voter also knows that there is not going to be huge wall on our southern border that Mexico is going to pay for. But, it sure sounds good and it sure sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem. Likewise, every rational American voter knows that we are not going to (1) shut down every mosque in America, (2) ban travel by Muslims, or (3) register all Muslims living in this country. But, it sure sounds like a good idea and a simple solution to a complex problem.
Other than these two issues, Donald Trump is an empty suit. He personifies the prototypical authoritarian leader profile- someone who talks tough and strong, who does not back down even in the face of facts, and someone who will say and do anything to consolidate his power. The mantra of “Make America Great Again” is eerily similar to chants, marches, rallies, speeches and slogans we heard in Germany in the 1930s.
Recently, Trump has recast himself as a strong Christian (although attempting to drop money onto a communion plate sort of negates that) by carrying around a Bible signed by his mother. Leaving aside the fact he cannot correctly quote Biblical scriptures, Trump needs to start carrying and actually reading a copy of the Constitution. I am sure Ted Cruz and Rand Paul can loan him one of their copies. Because the Trump idea of a presidency is not consensus and dealing with opposition from another party or even within his party, but using tactics akin to those used by authoritarian leaders from the past and, dare I say, Barack Obama.
While we deride- correctly- Obama’s power grabs by use of his pen with his many executive actions, would Donald Trump be any different? He would rationalize it by undoing the wrong wrought by Obama and other candidates have said the same. But with them, that is where it would stop. For Trump, he would double down on use of Executive Orders and other actions outside the legislative process. This writer is firmly of the opinion that two wrongs do not make a right. Committing a “wrong” to undo a previous “wrong” is…correction. But going beyond the correction takes us into Obama territory and a disrespect for constitutional principles. And isn’t conservatism supposed to stand for a respect for the Constitution first and foremost? A conservative dictator is no better than a liberal dictator. Fascism in the service of conservatism is just as abhorrent as fascism in the service of progressivism (see Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Barack Obama).
Our Founders who worked so hard in the heat and humidity of Philadelphia in the late 18th century attempting to forge a government that would guard against the baser instincts of human nature would be appalled at what has become of that experiment. They would look at the ascendancy of Donald Trump and realize that despite their best efforts, they potentially failed if Trump was to come close to winning the Presidency. Trump is no brown shirt in a perfectly tailored business suit with matching red tie, but he is the closest we- the Republican Party- have come. Unfortunately, he is a stain on the history of the Republican Party and an affront to true conservatives everywhere who respect the Constitution.