American University

How President Trump Lies and Fires His Way Towards Authoritarianism by Dominique Kren @American University

On March 23, CNN Politics released an article titled “This White House Just Keeps Not Telling the Truth Over and Over and Over Again”, a sentiment which has been repeated across news outlets since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency.[1]  As the pillar of American democracy, the Executive Office has historically been required to uphold the democratic ideals this country is governed under with the threat of impeachment should these values be ignored.  And yet, President Trump’s term has thus far been riddled with accusations of lying and manipulation of facts.

The most recent of these incidents occurred as Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders vocally and vehemently denied reports that there were any changes coming to his staff while simultaneously planning for the departure of National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster.  Combined with Trump’s continued accusations of “fake news” directed at any news outlet which prints a non-purely positive story about Trump, many are concerned of his infringement of democratic ideals, specifically abandoning the requirement of a trustworthy executive branch and a government which upholds the freedom of the press.

One of the primary pillars of a democratic society is the establishment of a government which is entrusted with ensuring the well-being and good of the people they govern.  This balance of trust is essential.  As American Sociologist Charles Tilly asserts in his article, Trust and Democratic Rule, the coordination and collaboration of, “public politics, insulation of categorical inequalities, and integration of trust networks produce the broad, equal, binding, and protective relations between citizens and governmental agents that characterize democracy”.[2]  When this balance is tampered with, democracy wavers.  This is what is currently occurring in America.

Newsmax CEO and Trump confidant, Chris Ruddy, admitted that “the President is not a fact-based president.  He is a salesman.  He is probably the greatest salesman the country has ever produced.”[3]  However, a democracy led by a salesman is not a democracy, rather this just provides an excuse for the President’s lack of trustworthiness.  A further exemplification of President Trump’s disregard for upholding the ideals of democracy are his reactions to accusations of undemocratic activity.  Instead of attempting to resolve the issues at hand, Trump has taken the approach of removing those who oppose him from power and suppressing the press, tactics very reminiscent of authoritarian regimes.

The structure of our democratic republic is one which includes checks and balances and these come in the form of freedom of press and inclusion of a plethora of top officials in decision making. The list of key governmental officials Trump has fired or otherwise forced out of office continues to grow and includes, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell, and numerous White House Press Secretaries, just to name a few.  This indicates a disturbing trend of silencing the leaders who dare to disappoint or oppose the president.  A byproduct of this is the increase of groupthink mentality in top leadership.  As Trump weeds out the people he doesn’t like, the ones who are left either blindly support Trump or are too afraid to speak out and thus fall in line like the others.  Similar to authoritarian regimes of the past and present, this suppression of opinion within the top leadership leads to a lack of conversation in decision making, effectively making the president the only decider.

On the civilian level, the silencing of the press is also indicative of this collapse of democracy and erosion of trust between the people and the president.  Trump has not formally put legal restrictions on the media, however his comments about the press being “the enemy of the American people” and referring to every news story and organization which he doesn’t like as “fake news”, provides the same affect of negatively impacting democratic values.  Trusted news outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times are having their works and journalists defamed as they strive to elucidate the true state of American and world affairs despite the president disagreeing with this portrayal.  This poses a dangerous threat to democracy because according to a study done by The Washington Post, this is just the tip of the iceberg and in a study of 79 cases where media has been restricted in countries since 1981, in 34 of these cases the increased restrictions coincided with, “increases in torture, police killings and other forms of state violence”.[4]  While America is still technically a country with a “free media”, Trump has made it clear that he would welcome an increase in social, economic and legal restrictions on media outlets which criticize the government.

Disregarding the future potential implications, the current effect these silencing policies are having is dismantling the trust the civilians have in their government.[5]  This is the most devastating outcome of all because a populous which doesn’t trust their government will not respect their government and this could lead to a decay of society and societal structures as a whole.

While the Trump presidency may prove to be an anomaly in the United States’ history of democracy, it reflects a disturbing global trend away from democratic ideals and towards authoritarianism.  As world leaders shift the social and political climate away from open conversation and towards the silencing of dissidents and opposing views, the future of a democratic world is at stake.

 

 

[1] Cillizza, Chris. “This White House Just Keeps Not Telling the Truth Over and Over and Over Again.” CNN. March 23, 2018. < https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/23/politics/trump-mcmaster-resign-analysis/index.html >

[2] Tilly, Charles. “Trust and Democratic Rule.” Theory and Society. February, 2004.

[3] Hill, Daniel and Lupu, Yonatan. “Restrictions on the News Media Area a Bellwether for Two Disturbing Trends.” The Washington Post. April 17, 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/17/restrictions-on-the-news-media-are-a-bellwether-for-two-disturbing-trends/?utm_term=.33e499c7e7cd >

 

[4] Hill, Daniel and Lupu, Yonatan. “Restrictions on the News Media Area a Bellwether for Two Disturbing Trends.” The Washington Post. April 17, 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/17/restrictions-on-the-news-media-are-a-bellwether-for-two-disturbing-trends/?utm_term=.33e499c7e7cd >

[5] London, Martin. “Spiro Agnew’s Lawyer: Donald Trump’s Lies are Fatally Wounding Our Democracy.” Time. December 4, 2017. < http://time.com/5048402/donald-trump-michael-flynn-russia-lies/ >

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