Are We Drifting Towards Authoritarianism?

There are millions of people the world over who are living in dread of what they perceive to be the direction of America’s drift.  For centuries America has been the beacon of freedom and hope for the  oppressed and persecuted.  They fear that the beacon is dimming.  They worry that the Statue of Liberty’s torch, that has lit the path to freedom for millions, is being extinguished.  The “America First” motto that Trump touted throughout his campaign and has now been adopted as the mantra of his presidency speaks to the ethnocentrism that guides his actions.  It has long been an accepted fact that “American Exceptionalism” is the product of American diversity. This diversity, the result of a welcoming immigration policy, has been credited with growing America’s economic and technological  leadership.  Yet the ethnocentric, “America First” core of this administration places in jeopardy all that America has represented to the rest of the world. During the first 20 days of the new administration Trump and his staff have displayed some very troubling behavior.

First they have continued their corrosive and intimidating relationship with the press which became a touchstone of his campaign.  The president has dared to characterize one of the major cable news networks as “fake news” and has actually barred any of his administration’s surrogates from appearing on its news shows.  He has even called the esteemed New York Times a failing newspaper despite its subscription growth.  The Trump Administration’s efforts to destroy America’s trust in the press while intimidating journalists, is extremely troubling.  If we can’t trust the press where do we look for the truth?  No doubt, the Trump Administration will tell you that they are the primary source of truth.  However then, how do we differentiate truth from propaganda?

Dissent is a threat to any leader who wants only to hear the voices of those who agree with him and laud his words.  Yet there has certainly been no shortage of dissent during the first days of the Trump Administration.  The tweets and official statements coming out of the administration have disparaged that dissent rather than viewing it as a fundamental right of every citizen. They even belittled the more than 3 million who demonstrated worldwide the day after the Trump inauguration .  Even more troubling is that key career appointees in the Justice Department, the State Department and Immigration and Border Control were summarily fired either as a result of or to avoid dissent.  Most troubling however, is the reaction of the administration to the nearly one thousand career diplomats of  the State Department who utilized an accepted internal system to voice disagreement with Trump’s Immigration Executive Order.  The administration said, without hesitation, that those who disagree can leave, otherwise they should fall in line.  This intolerance for dissent in a democracy that was born of dissent is extremely dangerous.

A true leader avails himself of as much expertise, information and opinion as possible in the process of coming to important decisions.   Those who are responsible for making critical decisions most often surround themselves with those who will disagree and provide varying opinions and perspectives.  However, it is clear, based on what we have experienced during the early days of the Trump Administration, that broad-based information, experience and wisdom are not welcome.  We have seen that the core group engaged in Trump decision-making is small and homogenous.  Most concerning, it is a group that lacks experience, expertise or humility.  The clumsy rollout of the EOs have been a very clear illustration of this sad truth.  Additionally, Trump’s diplomatic faux pas with the leaders of both Australia and Mexico demonstrate the naiveté that is reflective of his key advisors. However, the issue of greatest concern  is the ideological focus of those key advisors.  They are bigots and haters.  They view the world through a very frightening lens.  White supremacy and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiments permeate this group.  Those who don’t match the mold are undesirables.  Where do you fit?

Finally, our new president is an undeniable narcissist with authoritarian leanings.  He lacks the intellectual vigor to learn and analyze.  He reacts to flattery as an adolescent and responds to a perceived slight as a 10-year-old. He acts without a filter of maturity, knowledge or wisdom.  He admires strength and self-confidence even if it is unwarranted.  All of this makes him easy to manipulate which raises major concerns regarding those who he views as his most trusted and intimate advisors.  Given the nature of those advisors as discussed above the dangers are obvious.

In Trump we have an intellectual lightweight who is a narcissist.  He views the press with disdain and distrust and utilizes a small homogenous group to advise him on his most important decisions.  He has no respect or tolerance for the dissent of those who dare to question him.  He has shown his disdain for the judiciary and the Constitution. In this man we have the makings of an authoritarian leader. While we would like to believe that our system will prevent this from happening and protect us, the reality is that it is up to us. We must always remember who we are, what we are and the America that we love.

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