Trump Behaves Like the Head of a Banana Republic

Donald Trump gestures after being sworn in as president of the United States in Washington DC, January 20
Donald Trump gestures after being sworn in as president of the United States in Washington DC, January 20 (Hillel Steinberg)

Considering pardons for himself and his family, calling on soldiers to support his political agenda and using a scout jamboree to trash his opponents — Donald Trump looks more like the head of a banana republic, as Phillip Carter puts it, than the president of the United States.

This weekend, Trump urged sailors attending the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford to discard centuries of military ethics as well as the armed forces’ own rules to lobby their congressmen and senators to approve his health and spending plans.

It wasn’t Trump’s first breach of republican norms and it wouldn’t be his last. Read more

Resist the Strongman’s Siren Call

Monument on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC, November 12, 2012
Monument on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC, November 12, 2012 (Laurabl)

Larry Summers, a top economic advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, tells Axios that today’s economic challenges — artificial intelligence, automation, globalization — require a leader on the scale of Germany’s Otto von Bismarck, England’s William Gladstone or Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt:

I think it would be a gross misreading of history to think that a laissez-faire, preserve-what-is and don’t-add-anything-new in terms of public institutions and public programs will be sufficient to enable our societies to deal with these trends, which are very much under way.

But that assumes transformational leadership is needed for transformational change, which is doubtful.

And Summers should be careful what he wishes for. Clamoring for a strongman can open the door to less benign figures. Just look at Donald “I-alone-can-fix-it” Trump. Read more

Duterte’s Play for a Dictatorship

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines attends a meeting at the Malacañang Palace in Manila, September 12, 2016
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines attends a meeting at the Malacañang Palace in Manila, September 12, 2016 (PPD/King Rodriguez)

When you yearn for a caesar, you more often than not get it. Such now is the price being paid by the people of the Philippines, who swept to power a man whose harsh authoritarianism was clear as day. As the southern island of Mindanao slips into chaos, Rodrigo Duterte’s not-so-subtle desire for absolute power has become all too obvious. Read more

Trump Reveals Himself to Be Bumbling Strongman

American president Donald Trump makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24
American president Donald Trump makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24 (Michael Vadon)

What is the essence of Donald Trump? Is he an aspiring strongman? Or is he just a plain old bumbler?

These two schools of thought have been in competition ever since we started to take Trump seriously. Of course he’s narcissistic, duplicitous, misogynistic, bigoted and so forth. But what is at the heart of Donald Trump? Does he intend to emulate Mussolini? Or is he primarily an uncurious incompetent?

The answer: He’s both. And after the firing of FBI director James Comey on Tuesday evening, this has been made astoundingly clear. Read more

What the Hell Just Happened to Turkey?

Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and his wife wave at supporters in Balıkesir, February 28, 2014
Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and his wife wave at supporters in Balıkesir, February 28, 2014 (AKP)

And “to” seems the right word, because this was done to Turkey by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political machine. International electoral monitors cite fraud; so too does the powerful Republican People’s Party. That hardly matters, it seems. Turkish election officials will not allow a recount.

And so even if cheated, it is a victory for Erdoğan. It has been a long road for a critical Middle Eastern nation. The geopolitical trajectory of Turkey is now set. Read more

Erdoğan Asks Turks to Jump Off a Cliff with Him

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at a rally in Istanbul, March 26
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at a rally in Istanbul, March 26 (Turkish Presidency)

Turks will be asked on Sunday if they trust Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to run the country on his own or want to preserve at least a pretense of democracy.

Of course, that’s not how it’s put on the ballot paper. Nominally, Turks will be asked to approve or reject constitutional changes that would transform the country from a parliamentary into a presidential republic.

With the compliance of his party men in the cabinet and parliament, Erdoğan has already turned what what used to be a ceremonial post into a de facto executive presidency.

Should the referendum go his way, Erdoğan would also get the power to suspend parliament and appoint prosecutors and judges. Read more

Venezuela Lurches Toward Authoritarianism

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela waves at crowds during an Independence Day parade, July 5, 2016
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela waves at crowds during an Independence Day parade, July 5, 2016 (Prensa Presidencial/Yoset Montes)

Venezuela has plummeted to new depths. In an act of blatant disregard of the separation of powers, the Supreme Court has stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its lawmaking power and revoked immunity from all assembly members after accusing parliamentarians of “contempt”.

This latest step toward authoritarianism was denounced as a “coup” and “a final blow to democracy” — not just by opposition parties, but by the international community and even some within the government (the state attorney general). Read more