Stop the hyperbole, Trump’s not a dictator
The author, Kurt Bardella, came to this dubious conclusion because President Trump hasn’t fully cooperated with Congress in ways that Bardella would prefer; Trump removed two inspectors general and may remove more from their posts; and the USA Today columnist isn’t fond of some of the US Supreme Court’s rulings, which could potentially benefit Trump.
While Bardella holds some valid concerns with the current administration’s actions, Bardella’s sensational dictatorial accusations ultimately undermine his article’s seriousness. They turn it into little more than clickbait and reveal a disdain for Trump in the process.
Love Trump, hate him, or remain ambivalent––I don’t care; that’s your right. However, by any historical example or modern definition, Trump isn’t a dictator.
Saying he is does little more than further polarize politics and cheapen real dictators’ crimes. But if you truly want to limit all presidents’ power––Republican and Democrat––then there are available options.
Much of what we know about dictators stems from the Roman Republic, which created the office of the dictatorship.
The Romans intended it to be a temporary post––lasting no longer than six months in most cases––that responded to major crises, which their normal government couldn’t handle. In these cases, the Romans appointed a dictator and assigned him a sphere of influence.
This is much different than a president operating under an emergency declaration and directing FEMA or HHS to respond. Roman dictators essentially had absolute, unchallenged power in their realm.
At first, the Roman dictatorship wasn’t associated with any negative connotation because most dictators admirably fulfilled their duties and afterward, they laid down their powers peacefully. But eventually, this changed. In the later Republic, Romans realized that if they had the army’s backing, they could seize the dictatorship and hold it for unlimited periods of time.
Indeed, Lucius Cornelius Sulla did just this and announced that he would be dictator for as long as he saw fit. During his term, he unilaterally redesigned the Roman Constitution and summarily executed thousands of Romans without due process. Similarly, Julius Caesar marched his legions on Rome largely because he didn’t want to be prosecuted for alleged crimes, and he later became dictator in perpetuity––though that didn’t end well for him.
I highly doubt that USA Today’s goal was to make a nuanced case for comparing President Trump to the early Roman Republic’s dictators. Rather, Bardella seems to think Trump is a modern dictator, which according to Dictionary.com is “a person exercising absolute power, especially a ruler who has absolute, unrestricted control in a government without hereditary succession.”
Modern dictators tend to suspend or unilaterally reform government structures and operations, be entirely above the law, remain in power for life, and supersede the justice system by executing people without due process. Modern dictators include Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, Sadam Hussein, etc. Combined, they slaughtered millions of innocent people.
Again, you can dislike Trump all you want, but he has little in common with these tyrants and doesn’t come close to meeting the criteria of a dictator. He hasn’t suspended the government, abolished judicial due process, or seized ultimate power.
The same laws that apply to you and I also largely apply to President Trump; governmental checks and balances limit his power, and Americans have the right to vote to remove or re-elect him. Other than unsubstantiated accusations, there’s nothing to suggest that Trump is a dictator.
That said, the three branches of government are meant to act as counterbalances and be co-equals. However, our republic has evolved. Presidential authority has expanded steadily over the centuries, and presidents––save for a few like Calvin Coolidge––have likewise consolidated their power, which is cause for concern. Increasingly, presidents have relied on executive orders, and over the course of many years, Congress has willingly ceded much of its power to the presidency.
If Bardella’s main worry is the presidency’s incremental power surge, which predates Trump, then that’s a well-founded apprehension. Yet, to address this, Congress need only display the courage to reassert its rightful place as a co-equal branch of government, which will inhibit the presidency’s growth and make it far more difficult for a president’s power to approach that of a despot.
In the end, could an American president become a dictator? I suppose anyone could try, but so long as Americans believe in the Constitution and are willing to defend it, the United States will remain a republic.