The hallmark of American democracy is more than casting a ballot. Over 200 years of history demonstrate the peaceful transition of power between U.S. administrations and 45 presidents who willingly surrendered control when their office expired.
Until President Donald Trump, no sitting U.S. president has ever refused to abide by democratic rules guiding a federal election. Refusing to leave office was always his plan. In the 2016 presidential race, Trump declined to answer whether he would accept the results if he lost. His daughter and campaign manager, Ivanka Trump, assured the American people that he would.
After Joe Biden became the president-elect on Nov.7, Trump rallied sympathizers to march on his behalf, filed election lawsuits in six key swing states and asserted he would bring his fight to the Supreme Court after stacking it with three justices.
A look at Trump’s authoritarian tendencies
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted, “Trump claiming a victory he never won, and saying he will take it to the Supreme Court. This is what dictators do. Stop.”
Trump forces the American people to confront an unprecedented domestic threat: the executive office. When comparing his actions to autocratic leaders, there are many frightening similarities. Here is the list:
Targeted attacks on the free press
Trump’s media criticism is no secret. He has often described the press as the “enemy of the American people” and journalists as “the most dishonest people.” In July, the Washington Post released an article detailing more than 20,000 false or misleading claims that the president made within 14 months.
Trump’s harmful behavior includes accusations of “fake news,” barring reporters such as Jim Acosta from the White House, threatening to revoke news licenses and issuing a gag order to prevent information from being posted on government websites.
In May, he signed an internet censorship executive order to allow the federal government to monitor free political speech on the web during the same week that Twitter flagged his tweets for fact-checking.
Equally frightening is that Trump’s vicious attacks on the news media are coupled with rewriting the truth. It’s hard to forget about former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway’s defense of “alternative facts” as we enter into an age of post-truth politics.
When Trump was elected four years ago, America was already in a stage of heightened and emotional partisan politics. Even in Nov. 2016, polls showed that Trump supporters and opponents staunchly divided on what they believed the truth was, choosing media that reinforced their pre-existing beliefs.
Trump’s significant effect on partisanship is seen in the 2020 presidential election exit polls. Of Republican voters, 52% believe that Trump ‘rightfully won’ the election despite lacking evidence to support their claim. Partisanship in the age of Trump has transcended facts, and that is what he wanted.
Purging top U.S. officials to replace them with Trump loyalists
Trump is leading a post-election purge of top government officials. Since Election Day, at least 12 senior administration members have been fired and resigned from their positions.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency , Christopher Krebbs, is the latest official Trump fired. His removal from the DHS came after the CISA declared that the 2020 presidential election was the most secure in U.S. history.
The Washington Post reported that thirty-year-old Trump aide Johnny McEntee is tasked with firing administration officials and replacing them with loyalists. The Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was booted out of office even before Krebbs after he rejected election conspiracy theories.
Insiders expect more firings are underway, including another cybersecurity official who disputed Trump’s claim of election fraud. A presidential transition is one of the most delicate periods, especially when the two-party system is wrought with tension and hostility. Trump’s refusal to concede increases instability during a global pandemic and economic turmoil.
It is no wonder that Trump’s presidential administration has had a 91% turnover rate in top officials. The count has not stopped yet. Even some GOP lawmakers weigh in on who they believe will be next to go. One thing is clear,the politicization of federal intelligence agencies is a flagrant abuse of power.
Use of state force against Black Lives Matter protestors
In August, President Trump and Attorney General William Barr used a legal loophole to deploy the national guard against Black Lives Matter protestors in Washington, D.C. In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act to prevent federal troops from being used for purposes outside of law. Barr’s interpretation of the act allowed President Trump to categorize state force against protestors as part of the national guard’s training.
The Trump administration also stretched this law to deploy unidentified federal law enforcement officers from the Department of Homeland Security against protestors in Oregon, many of whom were injured, mistreated, unlawfully arrested and shoved into unmarked vans. These repressive actions are expected from authoritarian regimes, not the president of the United States.
Abusing the Executive Office through nepotism
Nepotism is a long-standing problem in American politics. While government officials have involved their families in their campaigns and office in previous administrations, Trump brings an unprecedented corruption level into the Oval Office.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are uniquely unqualified to hold some of the nation’s highest government offices. The Trump family’s use of power dynamics was problematic from the outset of Trump’s entry into office. Former White House Chief of Staff Stephen Bannon was asked to resign after a verbal clash with Trump’s son-in-law and appointed Senior Adviser, Jared Kushner.
Both Ivanka and Jared have been given enormous responsibilities despite lacking political experience. Ivanka’s pre-White House resume included serving on her father’s Trump Organization board, running a name-brand clothing line and acting as a reality TV show judge on The Apprentice. Now, she is the White House senior staffer.
Ivanka is involved in policy-making at an unprecedented level for someone with zero political experience. Vox reports that she has overseen “hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants,” as well as represented the U.S. at the G20 Summit, shaped the 2017 tax cut and even searched to appoint a new World Bank President.
Ivanka has consistently violated the Hatch Act, which the Departmental Ethics Office describes as generally prohibiting “federal employees from any activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group.”
Before Trump appointed Kushner as his top aide, he was a real estate mogul and publisher of the “New York Observer.”
Kushner has been tasked with overseeing the U.S. border wall, intervening in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, addressing the opioid crisis and managing America’s medical stockpile during a global pandemic. Kushner’s firm Cadre likely benefited from the 2017 tax reform law Ivanka shaped, receiving $90 million in offshore investments.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are following suit, expanding their father’s Trump Organization interests worldwide.
Where are we now?
Defining “Trumpism” is problematic because it lacks a clear policy agenda or ideology. Instead, it reflects the problem caused by an uninformed electorate and their non-attitudes. However, a close look at the Trump administration will reveal one distinctive quality: it is fiercely committed to promoting self-interest.
The 2020 election results show us that this brand of anti-intellectualism and unapologetic corruption appealed to more than 73 million Americans. Although Biden will assume office on Jan. 20, 2021, Trumpism is here to stay.
The events we witness are no longer ones of political attitudes, clashes of Democrats and Republicans, but rather a blatant and brutal attack on American freedoms, laws and sacred institutions.
Fear and anger are an appropriate response to Trumpism by anyone who believes in the integrity of democracy and places their hope in the value of American ideals.