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What would life be like under a Trump dictatorship?

An examination of the nature of dictatorships, democracy and possible futures, nationally and locally



Hitler giving speec
Adolf Hitler addresses the German Reichstag. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


by David Silverberg

As he has so many times in the past, Donald Trump is facing utter ruin.


This week is expected to be especially brutal. He’s facing a potentially devastating fine in his New York fraud case. He could be denied immunity from prosecution in another case. The US Supreme Court could agree with the Colorado Supreme Court and keep him off the ballot for violating the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment and make him ineligible for election. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for this coming Thursday, Feb. 8.


But Trump has faced seeming doom before. In August 2016 Time magazine declared his campaign in a complete meltdown. His Access Hollywood remarks seemed to put him outside the realm of redemption. His defeat seemed almost inevitable—and then he came back and won.


So as dark as the moment may seem for Donald Trump—both in the public view and likely by his own reckoning—it does not mean he is down and out. If the word “resilient” seems too praiseful, perhaps his sheer stubbornness, his endurance born of pure rage and ego is a better description of his ability to survive odds against him.


But if he does weather these storms and goes on to win the Republican nomination as he seems on course to do, it is worthwhile to ask: What would America be like if he went on to win? More particularly, what would life for Americans be like?


It’s worth asking the question because it puts the stakes of this election into perspective.


It can be said with confidence that the results of a Trump accession to power—whether electoral or through other means—would not result in a presidency. It would result in a dictatorship.


If past is any prologue, an American dictatorship would mean the end of individual “inalienable” rights, the end of democracy, the end of the Constitution, the end of a free press, the end of independent courts, the end of elections, the end of representative government, the end of security for individual persons and property.


Does all this sound too alarmist? Overblown? Unlikely?


It may be alarmist but the alarm is merited—and history provides a guide.


In the daily life of Americans a Trump dictatorship would mean a media diet of all-Trump all the time. It would mean an attempt to stamp out any objective reality and its replacement with a world conjured by the mind of Donald Trump; a combination of delusion, wishful thinking and pure lying that has been called “Trumpality.”


It would be a world based on this one man’s whims and caprices, where rationality and law would be discarded in favor of his appetites and urges, whether those were for power, wealth or sex, and where he would have absolute immunity from any restraint or consequence for any action, no matter how murderous or extreme.


It would mean an effort to stamp out individual will and independent thought outside the bubble of Trump-thought.


And it’s worth remembering that past loyalty is no guarantee of future reward. No expression of allegiance, of fealty, of complete subservience would ever be enough. Trump has turned on people who were otherwise slavishly loyal when it suited him or when suspicion crept into his mind.


The same would apply to cities, counties and states and their officials and representatives. Would Southwest Florida be spared? Certainly not. No matter how Trumpist and Make America Great Again (MAGA) it already is, it would be under the Trump heel just as much as any other place in the country.


What is more, this dictatorship and its oppression would not be driven just by Trump. It would be propelled by an army of enablers and sycophants pursuing their own ambitions. They would be competing to push the most radical, extreme measures and their measures would be ever more intrusive and petty. As it is, the fervor of his followers has grown with every obstacle he encounters. He has become their version of virility, their model of behavior, someone to be worshipped, not just supported; in short, their god.


Women would especially feel the heavy hand of a Trump dictatorship. His contempt for women is exhaustively documented and even led to an $83.3 million civil judgment against him. Not only would women’s right to abortion be terminated everywhere, their right to participate in society, even their right to vote, would be in jeopardy as all other rights in the Constitution were threatened.


As Trump and his worshippers demonstrated on Jan. 6, 2021, he and they are willing to go outside the law and use violence to get their way. They may not even wait for the verdict of the 2024 election before they attempt to impose their will. And in states like Texas and Florida—and in places like Collier County and Marco Island, Fla.—there are moves to break away from the “commanding hand” of federal law and the Constitution and leave its protections and lawful restraints behind.


Can all this dread be justified? Do all these warnings have any merit?


A look at history, the nature of dictatorships and Trump’s own past behaviors and statements provide ample cause, not just for concern, but for a vision of a dark, dreadful future that would follow a Trump victory.


But it also needs to be emphasized: This is not the way things must be, just the way they could be. And every voting citizen has it within his or her power to determine how things will be.


The nature of dictatorships


Dictators don’t lack for support. All past dictators have provided benefits to some element of the population they ruled. They were put in place by people who wanted that dictator in power, often enthusiastically. Those who opposed and dissented were crushed, killed or repressed.


Dictatorships are also governed by an internal logic of power, which can provide some indication of their future actions.


Americans have seen other dictatorships abroad but have never experienced one on their own soil. They have not been ruled by an authoritarian power since they overthrew the rule of King George III in the American Revolution. They have not had one imposed by military coup. They have certainly never chosen to be governed by a dictator who came to power in a free election.


So today there is little experience or appreciation in America of what a dictatorship means and how it manifests itself in everyday life.


Because this would be Trump’s second effort to hold power, it would be different from the chaotic and amateurish first administration. Now there are elaborate MAGA plans in place to overhaul the government to concentrate executive authority. The kinds of guardrails and institutional checks that hindered Trump’s worst instincts last time would likely be swept away.


An example of the direction that dictatorships take occurred on April 26, 1942. It’s not a date emblazoned in anyone’s memory but it should live in infamy.


It was significant because on that day Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany, asked for and was granted more power than any other human being has ever wielded.


In a very long, rambling speech to the Germany Reichstag, Hitler reviewed the world situation. But toward the end he got to the point.


The only thing that was important was victory, he said. “Nobody at this stage can insist on his vested rights and all must know that today there are only duties to be fulfilled.” (Emphasis ours.)


All the rights that Germans had enjoyed under constitutional parliamentary government—and there were quite a few—were now irrelevant, he was saying. Those rights had been abused and weakened ever since he took power in 1933 but now he was asking that they be formally swept away altogether.


“Therefore, I ask all the German Reichstag the definite assurance that I possess the legal authority to see to it that every individual performs his duty and that I may condemn such cases which in my opinion do not fulfill their duties to be imprisoned or to be deprived of their office and position no matter who they be or what rights they may have acquired and especially because there are only very few exceptions among millions of decent people.”


In other words, Hitler was asking—and was granted—the sole, unchecked, unrestrained power of life and death over every German and every human being under German control. No one any longer had any inherent, “vested” rights, including the right to live.


He and he alone would decide their fate. What was the basis for making his judgments? As he said: “my opinion.” If he thought someone needed to be out of the way he now had the legal authority to eliminate that individual in any way he saw fit.


It was as great and absolute an authority as any single individual has ever held—and it was the logical outcome of the Nazi dictatorship.


This is the ultimate end goal of all dictatorships and it would be the logical end point of a Trump dictatorship.

In contrast, in the American Declaration of Independence, the Founders stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


The idea that people have “inalienable” rights is the cornerstone, the absolute, fundamental bedrock of the United States. In fact, American rights are so fundamental they’re embodied in a Bill of Rights that was immediately amended to the US Constitution.


Democracies respect and protect human rights. Dictatorships crush them. A Trump dictatorship—like any dictatorship—would attempt to crush those fundamental rights.


Why? Because the animating principle of a dictatorship is the will of the dictator and subservience to that will, not the will and rights of the people. People’s inalienable rights get in the way of dictatorial rule, so dictators can’t abide them.


Trump’s whole life and his past administration was an effort to bend the American people and the world to his will and his will alone.


This was tellingly revealed on June 1, 2020 in a telephone call Trump held with the nation’s governors in the midst of the George Floyd protests.


“You have to dominate,” he told the governors. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”


American presidents don’t “dominate.” They lead, govern, preside, inspire, convince, sometimes cajole. The language of domination had not been used in American political discourse before. It’s not democratic language, especially from a president working under a system of checks and balances and serving the people. It’s the language of a tyrant.


It’s also worth remembering that total domination by one person means total submission by all others.

To date, that has not been the American way.


So it’s worth remembering just what rights Americans currently have that will be put in jeopardy by a Trump dictatorship.


The end of freedom


Right now Americans are free people. They can think what they like, say what they want, and protest if they feel the need. They can assemble without hindrance and petition government for a redress of grievances. If dissatisfied with a decision or policy they can appeal it through the courts.


All those rights, which people simply assume they have now, would be gone in a Trump dictatorship.


In dictatorships free thinking is prohibited. People are expected to think the way the dictator wants them to think and any deviation is punished. No expression of any other viewpoint is allowed.


Nowhere on earth is this more rigidly enforced than in North Korea, a country for which Trump has expressed admiration. “I may be wrong, but I believe that Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as president, can make that vision come true,” he said in 2019.


Nor has Trump respected freedom of assembly and the right to protest and petition government. On the same day he called for domination, Trump had non-violent demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd forcefully cleared from Lafayette Square outside the White House so that he could be photographed holding a Bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church. The incident was widely condemned as a violation of the First Amendment. It would only be a foretaste if he got in power again.


The end of press freedom


Trump has been at war with the media from the time he descended the escalator in Trump Tower to declare his candidacy on June 16, 2015.


Most recently, on Jan. 16, he called for suspending the broadcast licenses of CNN and NBC because they cut away from his victory speech in Iowa.


Right now that kind of retaliation against the media for coverage he doesn’t like is purely rhetorical and theoretical. But in a Trump dictatorship it would be imposed with the power of the state.


One of the fundamental causes of the American Revolution was British repression of the American press. It’s one reason that freedom of the press was written into the First Amendment.


As his Jan. 16 remarks make clear, under a Trump dictatorship there would be no freedom of the press—for anyone, including media that’s now considered sympathetic to Trump. It would all be under his control. There would no longer be coverage of an objective truth; the only “truth” would be the “truth” that Trump allowed. To see what that would be like, one has only to read his Truth Social postings.


Reporters, editors, broadcasters—anyone involved in professionally communicating with the public and especially journalists covering the presidential campaign—have to be aware that anything they do to advance the candidacy of Donald Trump will ultimately result in their repression, possible imprisonment and loss of freedom if he wins.


The first Trump administration is close enough in time that people can remember what life was like while he was President; there was a constant, non-stop stream of news about Trump. If it wasn’t his latest tweet, it was his latest outrage, his latest gaffe, his latest pronouncement. He dominated the airwaves, the news pages, the Internet, the morning breakfast table.


Even in exile he was constantly in the news.


Now, imagine him in power again and dominating the media using state authority. The media would no longer provide coverage; it would only uncritically propagate whatever he wanted delivered. It would be all Trump all the time. He would literally be like Big Brother, a constant, inescapable, overwhelming presence. There would no longer be news, there wouldn’t even be conversation any more, there would only be Trump. He would even insert himself into peoples’ dreams.


The reason for government


Since human beings have inalienable rights, states the Declaration of Independence, “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”


A dictatorship doesn’t exist to secure people’s rights nor do people consent to provide its “just powers.” It has no “just” powers, only power. A dictatorship exists solely to assert and implement the will of the dictator.


In the United States, the people’s consent to be governed is expressed through elections where they make their will known. For democracy to function, all parties have to accept the will of the majority as expressed through the election results.


Donald Trump most spectacularly rejected the election results of 2020 expressing the will of the majority of the American people that Joseph Biden be their president. He lied about the legitimacy of the election, he tried to use every stratagem he could to overturn the results (for which he is facing trial in Georgia), he explored the idea of using the military to seize voting machines and cancel the ballots, he attempted to have fake electors invalidate the results, and when all that failed, he incited a mob to stop the certification of his opponent and even murder Vice President Mike Pence.


Trump’s refusal to accede to the will of the people was made clear in a conversation that Jenna Ellis, one of Trump’s lawyers, recalled to Georgia prosecutors.


A few weeks after the 2020 election, she said that Dan Scavino, one of Trump’s advisors, told her that “under no circumstances will the boss be leaving,” in reference to Trump.  “We’ll just stay in power.”


She replied, “Well, it doesn’t quite work that way, you know that.”


Scavino responded, “We don’t care.”


Trump was ultimately forced to leave office. However, if he is elected in 2024 it is unlikely that he will ever voluntarily leave office again no matter what the election results—even if there are any elections again during his lifetime.


Truly, it will be the end of American democracy, as Biden has pointed out.


His people and his movement



Trump supporters waiting to storm the US Capitol on January 6
A Trump-incited mob attacks the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Tyler Merbler)


Dictators don’t come to power in a vacuum; it takes an army of enablers, enforcers and encouragers to put them in power and keep them there.


If Donald Trump proved anything to the world it was the unfortunate truth that there is no bottom to the barrel he can scrape for willing sycophants, miscreants and grifters to do his will.


If elected, Trump will bring back all the incompetents and parasites who served him in the first term as well as an even more mendacious and malicious cast of new characters. Indeed, applications are already being taken.

He will likely pardon all the criminals who have been justly imprisoned since January 6th and put them in charge of the nation’s business.


Former general and Englewood, Fla., resident Michael Flynn is one example. After losing his position as national security advisor and being convicted of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Flynn was pardoned and participated in the infamous Dec. 18, 2020 Oval Office meeting where he argued for seizing voting machines, declaring martial law and overturning the election results.


Once a dictatorship is established it develops a momentum of its own. Those who put the dictator in place have a vested interest in keeping him in power. A dictatorship builds a machine of repression that keeps chugging just to keep itself in existence.


There is a story from Africa that in 2008 when 83-year-old President Robert Mugabe, a dictator by all measures, lost the parliamentary and presidential elections in his native Zimbabwe—an election he expected to reliably keep him in power—he was ready to leave.


An army general sat him down and told him: “It’s not your decision.” Mugabe had to stay in power even if he was tired and ready to retire, said the general, because all the forces vested in his dictatorship needed him in place and could not allow him to leave. So Mugabe and his allies overrode the elected will of the Zimbabwean people using violence and fraud and his disastrous presidency continued for nine more years—only then was he was overthrown by the army.


It’s the same with all dictatorships. They need to be self-perpetuating. As Winston Churchill once put it: “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount.”


Even if the charismatic figure is no longer at the helm, autocratic governments don’t automatically revert to democracy. Instead there’s a scramble at the top to replace the old dictator with a new dictator and since disputes in a dictatorship aren’t settled with elections, it opens the nation up to political strife, palace intrigue and even civil war.


Feeling the evil


So how would citizens feel a Trump dictatorship in their everyday lives, in Southwest Florida and everywhere else?


Aside from an all-Trump-all-the-time media, they wouldn’t be able to speak freely, think freely or feel protected by law.


It would be like living in an abusive relationship with a deranged, mercurial and unpredictable spouse, someone given to sudden rages, temper tantrums, and violence but with absolute power over your life.


You would have to self-censor, worry who was listening when you spoke, suspect that you were committing some unintended sin, and fear authorities who would not be there to protect you but to protect him—from you. Like so many people oppressed in so many places around the world you would have to build a secret life just to stay sane and determine reality and you would never know who could be trusted.


In 2020 the American people emerged after four years of an abusive relationship with their president. However, they had the comfort of having been protected by a Constitution and Bill of Rights, institutional checks and balances, a Congress that impeached him twice, and a tradition of democracy. Most of all they were protected by patriots in government who courageously worked hard to do what was right.


But Trump, his MAGA mob and the eviscerated Republican Party are determined to do away with all that in a second administration. If it comes to pass there will be no guardrails, no protections, no restraint, certainly no checks or balances and “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” as Trump stated in 2022.


That means there would be no recourse to courts or the legal system in the event of disputes or grievances or simply to seek justice. With the judicial branch neutered, corrupted or perverted, as it always is in a dictatorship, there would be no remedy, appeal, or relief for everyday people.


Moreover, with the state revolving around a single personality there wouldn’t be any way to rationally consider a decision, whether in government or personal life.


Why? Because in a law-ordered society, behavior is built on rational rules and logical laws. A person can base his or her decisionmaking on reasoned considerations and expect society to respond with equally rational reactions. Of course, there are people who violate laws but then they face rationally formulated penalties and they know it. (As the saying goes: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”)


But in a personality-based society, rewards and punishments are based on the whim and capriciousness of the dictator and no one can reasonably anticipate his responses.


There was an interesting example of this in Congress last October when Rep. Tom Emmer (R-6-Minn.) looked like he was going to get the Speaker’s gavel in the House of Representatives.


Although Emmer had not previously supported Trump, Trump told the world that Emmer had changed because Emmer had told Trump he was his “biggest fan.” Then, when Emmer, seeking support for his speakership, posted a video of Trump saying that, Trump was infuriated. He thought it sounded like they were too close. He instantly turned on Emmer, worked the phones, disparaged him as “totally out-of-touch with Republican Voters” and a “Globalist RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and Emmer’s candidacy immediately sank.


It was a perfect illustration of a tyrant turning on a follower for irrational reasons. There was no way Emmer could have known in advance that posting his video would offend Trump. No sensible calculation could have warned him or induced caution on his part. No thinking being could have anticipated Trump’s purely emotional response.


Emmer only suffered a blow to his ambitions. In a full-on dictatorship people suffer far greater punishments for far smaller offenses.


Nor is there any protection for those who believe themselves to be loyal. Indeed, the closer a person is to a dictator, the more precarious the person’s position and the more drastic the punishment at the dictator’s whim. As the careers and reputations littering the road to and from Trump’s White House attest, no one has proven this to be true more than Trump.


So all those Republican politicians who think they’ve made their careers and solidified their positions by endorsing Trump or who think they can publicly pander to the MAGA base while expecting he won’t win, or are actively working to make this man president, should think again.


In Southwest Florida that means its congressional delegation of Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and lately and belatedly Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.), all of whom have bent the knee or are aggressively promoting his candidacy. They will be as vulnerable and defenseless against Trump’s wrath as any other citizen if he wins and takes office again, perhaps even more than most. Furthermore, they will have the special onus of knowing that their endorsement helped put him in position to destroy them if he chooses.


A better way



symbol of US freedom
The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


These are only a few of the potential consequences of a Trump victory in 2024.


This essay doesn’t even go into the probable effects on the civil service, the economy, which would be thrown into chaos, the likely roundup of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, the institutionalized racism and the catastrophic effects on America’s place in the world. (As The Washington Post’s Max Boot pointed out, a Trump victory “could be the end of the Pax Americana. We would then enter a chaotic post-American world where rogue states committed aggression with impunity, democracies cowered and trade ties frayed. Sea lanes turning into shooting galleries would become the norm, not the exception, with the US economy paying the price.”)


Some people have been awake to the threat of a Trump dictatorship from the moment in 2022 when he declared his candidacy again. More and more traditional Republicans who voted for him in 2016 are publicly repudiating him now. A parade of his past officials, the people who worked most closely with him and know him best, have come forward to warn of the danger he presents.


And Biden has clearly and explicitly explained the choice before the American people.


“Trump’s assault on democracy isn’t just part of his past.  It’s what he’s promising for the future.  He’s being straightforward.  He’s not hiding the ball,” he said in a speech on the third anniversary of January 6th.


Despite this, Trump retains his grip on the Republican Party. Republican elected officials at all levels are falling into line behind him. Locally, the Florida Republican Party as a whole is expected to take a formal vote to endorse Trump at a meeting in Wesley Chapel, a town near Tampa, this coming Saturday, Feb. 10.


Nationally, Trump retains the power to block badly needed legislation like border and immigration reform and aid to Ukraine and Israel. He is already imposing his will on right-wing media.


There’s no guarantee that the overt threat to the Constitution and American democracy will wait until Election Day to play out. Some kind of action could occur sooner, especially if his candidacy is invalidated in court.


But for everyday, law-abiding citizens the defense lies in the ballot and if all goes as planned the balloting will be completed on Nov. 5, 2024.


Americans, including conservative Southwest Floridians, have to understand and fully appreciate that this election is not “normal.” This is not politics as usual. This is history, it is epochal and the alternatives are stark: this is a choice between freedom or tyranny, darkness or light, good or evil, democracy or dictatorship.


It is not enough to simply vote. Americans who want to preserve their democracy need to get active in every possible legal, civilly-responsible way to achieve the outcome that keeps darkness at bay.


Right now Americans have the power and freedom to choose their own destiny. They can work and vote to keep their power and freedom or give it all to a would-be despot.


As Biden put it in his January 6th speech: “This is the first national election since the January 6th insurrection placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy.  We all know who Donald Trump is.  The question we have to answer is: Who are we?  That’s what’s at stake.  Who are we?”


On one thing and one thing alone, those who would defend democracy should heed Donald Trump’s words.


On Jan. 6, 2021 he said in his speech on the Ellipse: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”


He’s right. Unless Americans fight Trump like hell for their country and their democracy this year they’ll lose it all.

Game on.


Special to Big Mouth Media from the Paradise Progressive. Originally posted on February 4, 2024.


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