Donald Trump has been president for just over a week, and experts on authoritarianism are already expressing serious concern about a number of policy decisions and executive orders made by the new administration.
After a few eventful days filled with new executive orders, ThinkProgress followed up last week’s survey of academics with some new questions for America’s authoritarianism scorecard. Here’s what they said:
President Trump is disturbingly similar to candidate Trump.
Robert Paxton, the Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science at Columbia University: “It’s hard to say we are on track to establish a fascist dictatorship. Alternative forces are still there. Though there’s not much doubt of the desire of Trump to govern as dictator.”
Sheri Berman, a political scientist at Barnard College: “I watched [the ABC] interview. I don’t understand why I’m still stunned, but I still can’t believe I’m watching this. That’s who he is. A lot of people pointed out what is both obvious but shocking at same time. He’s the same person he was during the campaign so in a way it’s very straight forward and there’s been no change. Some of us implicitly expected both his personality and policies would moderate somewhat. We got what we should have expected.”
Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia: “I personally think I was wrong on one important thing. I assumed that Trump would make a distinction between policies and propaganda and that the policies were in the hands of Heritage Foundation-type Republicans, who would pretty much deregulate the state and do all kinds of things that one would expect of the GOP. And that the radical right part of his entourage — mostly [Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve] Bannon and to a certain extent [NSA Director Michael] Flynn — were more important for propaganda; messages, speeches, and organizing rallies to rally the troops.
“The fact that Bannon is now on the NSC board, as well as [the fact that he] allegedly altered the Muslim ban by keeping green card holders in it — that’s a whole different level. That means that that he is going to be involved in the most important and hands-on decisions that President Trump makes. Bannon has a near-apocalyptic view of the world. That is pretty terrifying.”
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University: “The big news of the week since Inauguration is also how prominent and influential Bannon will be in this administration, and that’s perhaps the most frightening thing of all.”
Trump and Bannon’s description of the media as an ‘opposition party’ is a major red flag.
Mudde: “This is a very classic [reaction] for a populist or illiberal democrat or autocrat. It’s classic to think in a Manichean world view, in which there is us and the enemy, and no space in between. Trump, as well as Bannon, clearly believes if you are not with him, you are against him. If you are against him, you don’t have legitimacy, because he won the elections. So it reflects extreme majoritarianism, where you argue — ironically for someone who didn’t win a majority — ‘I won, so I can do whatever I want, and you should just accept this, because I have that legitimacy.’”
“There’s virtually no major radical right or racist organization that doesn’t do this.”
Berman: “You don’t want a main adviser calling out individual press outlets or journalists as enemies of the state…This is a question of norms. This is clearly a violation of longstanding American norms of what we understand freedom of the press to mean.”
Trump’s plan to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants is classic nativism.
Mudde: “I studied radical right wing parties in the 90s in Europe, and I actually read their magazines. Almost every radical right party did this in its magazines. They list crimes by non-whites who are not necessarily undocumented. There wasn’t just rapes or murders — it was specifically [focused] on non-natives. It’s classic nativist, if not racist, behavior. There’s virtually no major radical right or racist organization that doesn’t do this. It’s deeply troubling and obviously what it does is identify undocumented people with crime, but also the crimes with undocumented people. So, [it implies] whites don’t commit those crimes — all illegal aliens commit those crimes.”
The White House has been on a ‘Blitzkrieg of sorts’ to destabilize resistance.
Berman: “People are so taken aback by the flurry of activity, or the nature of it. Any opposition is having trouble getting their feet anchored, though there have been a lot of popular protests, a lot of individuals speaking out in bits and pieces. It’s just not coherent, because of the nature of his policies and the unusual nature of what he’s doing is keeping people off balance. He just is who he is.”
Paxton: “All of those acts taken together are a blatant disregard of political institutions and the Constitution, and there has to be push back. When you look at Hitler and Mussolini, it wasn’t inevitable that either one of those got into executive office…
“Hitler or Mussolini could have been blocked, even legally without departing from legal actions…I think people have to use the tools they have to try to block some of the measures he’s taking. Surely when he goes beyond laws, as he’s tempted to do, that should be done.”
Ben-Ghiat: “This has been a Blitzkrieg of sorts, and one designed to leave Americans disoriented and caught off guard. The popular protests have been amazing to behold, and some GOP luminaries have come out against Trump’s actions. And of course the pushback from various federal agencies, and now the Assistant Attorney General.”