Politics & Policy

Trump Is Not A Despot

President Trump in the Oval Office during an interview with Reuters, January 17, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
At its worst, the Trump White House isn’t sinister; it’s farcical.

It hasn’t been easy recently to make an attack against President Donald Trump that is over-the-top enough to stand out from the run-of-the-mill hysteria, but outgoing Republican senator Jeff Flake managed it.

In a Senate speech hitting Trump for his broadsides against the press, Flake excoriated the president for using the phrase “enemy of the people.” Per the Arizona senator: “It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin.”

The association of Trump, whose offense is being crude and thoughtless while occupying an office he won in a raucously free election, with one of the greatest monsters of the 20th century is so wildly irresponsible it is its own corruption of our discourse.

Trump is not a despot. Far from being an autocrat, he is a weak president susceptible to the views of the last person he’s talked to and so deferential to Congress that he spent last year pining for a signing ceremony for literally anything lawmakers could send him on health care or taxes.

At its worst, the Trump White House isn’t sinister; it’s farcical. It’s not Recep Tayyip Erdogan carefully creating a one-party state; it’s Trump getting miscued by a TV show into a tweet undermining his administration’s own position on the reauthorization of a surveillance program.

The Trump alarmists thought that a brittle democratic culture and set of institutions were about to encounter a man representing a dire, determined threat to their integrity; instead, a robust democratic culture and set of institutions encountered the guy sitting down at the end of the bar yelling at the TV.

David Frum of The Atlantic warned at the beginning of the year of an autocratic Trump cowing the press into submission. Instead, the president faces the most hostile press at least since Richard Nixon. So comprehensively do Trump outrages dominate the news that it’s difficult for a sex scandal involving a porn star to break through.

Rather than stretching his powers, Trump has reined in the executive overreach of the Obama years, which was brazen and unconstitutional, although undertaken with much greater politeness.

There is no doubt Trump violates norms that we should want to preserve. The president shouldn’t slam reporters and news organizations by name, call for people in the private sector to be fired, criticize companies or urge his adversaries to be jailed, among other routine provocations.

Trump does not, to say the least, have a deep understanding of our constitutional system, and if he had his druthers, his Justice Department probably would be loyal to him personally.

But is he serious enough about this impulse to execute a plan to carry it out and bear the political consequences, even from Republicans? Of course not. So, he stews about his DOJ, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions remains in place and special counsel Robert Mueller continues his work.

If Trump’s eruptions don’t speak well of him, they shouldn’t be confused with unconstitutional acts. The first time Trump said he wanted to tighten up libel laws, it was alarming; by about the fifth time he said it — with obviously no intention to follow through — it was clearly an irritable mental tic.

If Trump’s eruptions don’t speak well of him, they shouldn’t be confused with unconstitutional acts.

Some of the alarm about Trump is over fairly normal expressions of democratic politics. It is a natural dynamic that special prosecutor investigations become partisan war zones. Anyone appalled by the attacks of Trump allies on Mueller should acquaint themselves with what Clinton allies said about Kenneth Starr.

The irony is that those who believe that Trump is a budding despot are themselves violating important norms. The anti-Trumpists fantasize about ending his presidency, via impeachment or the 25th Amendment, before the voters get a chance to render their verdict again in 2020.

Josef Stalin wouldn’t tolerate any of this agitation. Donald Trump rages against it, stirs it, and enjoys it, one robustly free news cycle at a time.

READ MORE:

Despite the Hysteria, Trump Is Less Authoritarian Than Obama

Donald Trump’s ‘Authoritarianism’ Is Not the Problem with His Presidency

Trump vs. Hitler. Let’s Run the Numbers.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. Copyright © 2018 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Sports

The Kaepernick Saga Drags On . . . off the Field

Colin Kaepernick’s workout for NFL teams in Atlanta this weekend did not run smoothly. The league announced an invitation to scouts from every team to watch Kaepernick work out and demonstrate that he was still ready to play. (As noted last week, the workout is oddly timed; the NFL season is just a bit past its ... Read More
Immigration

The ‘Welfare Magnet’ for Immigrants

That term refers to a controversial concept -- and a salient one, given the Trump administration's efforts to make it harder for immigrants to use welfare in the U.S. A new study finds that there's something to it: Immigrants were more likely to come to Denmark when they could get more welfare there. From the ... Read More
World

Israel’s New Way of War

Commuters on Route 4, driving toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod on November 12, were shocked by an explosion, a rocket impact next to a major intersection. Had it fallen on a car or one of the many trucks plying the route, there would have been deaths, and the road would have been closed. Instead, police ... Read More
White House

Decide Trump’s Fate at the Ballot Box

If Donald Trump’s presidency is going to end before 2025, it should end at the ballot box. A lot of what has been revealed by Trump’s desire to see Ukraine investigate Joe and Hunter Biden -- or at least publicly announce an investigation -- merely confirms character traits, instincts, and habits that have ... Read More
Culture

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More