Character is Destiny: He Never Misses an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity (to Establish an Effective Authoritarian State)

This post builds on WWHD: What Would Hitler Do? There, I proposed a thought experiment: how would Hitler handle the coronavirus? Here, I want to say something about how Trump—that “performative authoritarian”—missed two golden opportunities to lead American into true authoritarianism.

Missed Opportunity Number One

When Trump took office in 2017, his approval was above water, not underwater. He had run on a campaign stressing, among other things, huge new spending on infrastructure and a splendid new healthcare system to replace defective Obamacare.

Assume a Hypothetical 2017 Trump who

  • had all of Real Trump’s moral flaws, but
  • had none of Real Trump’s intellectual deficits, and who
  • was prepared to lead American into authoritarianism.

Here is what I think Hypothetical 2017 Trump would have done—and, may I say, with some considerable difficulty, but it could have been done:

  1. Replace Obamacare with some kind of single payer system, and call it Trumpcare
  2. Pass and implement big infrastructure spending
  3. As a sop to the affluent, pass a huge tax cut for the rich
  4. Borrow a boatload of money to pay for items 1, 2, and 3, and
  5. Make really nice with the evangelicals, and do everything possible to outlaw abortion

Hypothetical 2017 Trump could have knocked a lot of heads together, painted the professional Democratic politicians into a huge corner, and built bigly on his previous base of support. Having done those things, he could then start, relentlessly and methodically, chipping away at the Constitution. His support would probably have been at the 60 percent level, maybe close to 70 percent.

Missed Opportunity Number Two

Assume a Hypothetical 2020 Trump with the same characteristics: he

  • had all of Real Trump’s moral flaws, but
  • had none of Real Trump’s intellectual deficits, and who
  • was prepared to lead American into authoritarianism.

My Hypothetical 2020 Trump is exactly like the hypothetical 2017 version, but the situation is vastly different, and the opportunities for authoritarianism vastly greater.

Hypothetical 2020 Trump wouldn’t have to make fundamental changes in our political party alignments and ideologies. His task, instead, would have been childishly simple. All he would have had to do is, like so many governors, listen to the best scientists, act decisively, take action to alleviate the issues in the medical supply chain, pick the right people to marshal the full resources of the federal government, and present clear, consistent, and accurate messaging to the public.

His approval ratings would have shot sky high, he could easily have won reelection, and he would have been in a position to destroy the Constitution to his heart’s content.

But, friends, did Real Trump have it in him to follow this simple roadmap? No, he did not.

And America has, I believed, dodged a bullet.