Authoritarian by Instinct

Article/Op-Ed in Slate
Evan El-Amin from shutterstock
July 31, 2017

Yascha Mounk wrote about whether Trump is becoming a dangerous authoritarian for Slate's The Good Fight.

When I first argued that Trump was an authoritarian by instinct rather than by ideology, I thought that this description pointed to a hope as well as a danger: Ideological authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have a much better sense of their ultimate destination and can therefore pursue the destruction of independent institutions in a much more consistent manner. Instinctive authoritarians like Trump, by contrast, might take a while to stumble in that same direction, making big blunders and squandering key opportunities along the way.
In many ways, this has proved to be true. If Trump were more competent and more disciplined—pursuing his goals in a more consistent manner and abstaining from needless fights—he could have marshalled far greater public and congressional support for his agenda. And if he were more farsighted, he could have made far more effective use of past opportunities to expand his power. (Although Neil Gorsuch is turning out to be an extremely conservative jurist, for example, there is no real indication that he would rubber-stamp a Trumpian power grab.)
And yet, it is also clear that, six months into his presidency, Trump is already morphing into the authoritarian he was destined to become. Frustrated with the barriers put in his way by independent institutions, he now considers himself at war with them. Though he remains a lot less ideological than Orban or Erdogan, his authoritarian instincts are pushing him toward the same destination. There is little reason to think that he is less of a danger to democracy than they have proved to be.
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