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A Trump Dictatorship Won’t Happen

Although Donald Trump is many things, most of them bad, he was not a fascist when he was president, and he would not become a dictator if elected again. The power of constitutional and bureaucratic hurdles, combined with a dearth of sympathetic right-wing radicals, ensure that anarchy is more likely than tyranny.

CHICAGO – Americans have worried about their presidents becoming dictators (or, in the old days, tyrants) ever since the Unites States was founded. The framers of the US Constitution understood that in classical democracies and republics, leaders often tried to seize power from legislatures and other assemblies. That is why they created a system of checks and balances on government power.

So far, so good. No US president has ever been a dictator. Nonetheless, accusing the other side’s candidate of seeking dictatorial powers has become a quadrennial ritual, one that has started early this time around. In a widely circulated Washington Post commentary last week, Robert Kagan, repeating his earlier prediction that former President Donald Trump would become a fascist leader, warned that he would become a dictator if he is elected again in 2024. Kagan likens a Trump victory to an asteroid crashing into the earth, echoing the widely ridiculed commentary by Michael Anton, who likened a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016 to a suicide attack on an airliner.

Trump was and is many things, most of them bad. But he wasn’t a fascist when he was president, and he won’t be a dictator if he is elected a second time. Far from a strongman, Trump was weak throughout his previous term. His main accomplishments – a tax cut, a stimulus package during the pandemic, and appointments of conservative (but largely mainstream) judges – all went through normal constitutional procedures, with Congress fully involved. Meanwhile, Congress thwarted Trump’s promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and to build a wall on the border with Mexico.