When President Barack Obama attacked Republican Donald Trump in his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday by declaring that as Americans, “we don’t look to be ruled,” Obama appeared to be stating one theme very clearly — Trump could become not a president, but a dictator.
The same worry has been expressed often throughout 2016, including by political conservatives, such as the National Review online magazine, which has published articles on Trump with such headlines as, “Dictatorship, American Style,” and “Trumpism is Just Two-Bit Caesarism.”
The President of the United States is literally making the case for democracy over authoritarianism. In 2016.
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 28, 2016
Of course, Democrats have also declared Donald Trump a potential dictator, particularly following Trump’s nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren remarked that Trump “sounded like some two-bit dictator” and former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted his own reaction as he was watching the speech, and Trump declared that “I alone can fix” America’s problems.
Trump: “I alone can fix this.”
Is this guy running for president or dictator? #RNCwithBernie
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 22, 2016
Watch Trump’s full acceptance speech in the video below.
But Trump’s own behavior and statements throughout the 2016 presidential election campaign have also given rise to worries that if elected, he would move to become a dictator, rather than the lawful executive officer that the Constitution demands.
Here are five troubling points that voters should consider in deciding whether Donald Trump would act as a “normal” president — or become a dictator.
Donald Trump Wants To Spy On U.S. Citizens
Over the past week, Trump has found himself facing questions about his connections to the government of Russia after Russian hackers, U.S. officials say, infiltrated the Democratic National Committee email servers, stealing and apparently leaking potentially damaging information that could prove beneficial to Trump in the election.
But when he was asked whether he was concerned about Russia hacking into private servers of American citizens, Trump not only said that he was not concerned, but that he wished he had that ability himself.
“Honestly, I wish I had that power,” Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I’d love to have that power.”
But as the online news site Vox.com pointed out, he will have exactly that power if he becomes president. The National Security Agency, the country’s electronic intelligence service, operates a multitude of highly sophisticated cyber-espionage programs, including hacking and electronic surveillance — which under the law are intended for use against foreign powers.
“But in principle, a future president could turn those capabilities inward, using them to spy on domestic political opponents, journalists, and activists,” Vox writer Timothy B. Lee reported.
Dictator Donald Trump could simply order the NSA to hack into the computer systems of his critics and political opponents.
“Hopefully if President Trump ever ordered the NSA to hack into the computer systems of domestic opponents or critics, NSA leaders would refuse,” the Vox report said.
“But the president has the power not only to choose the NSA director but also to prosecute whistleblowers for leaking classified information. So we shouldn’t be too confident that internal resistance at the NSA would stop him.”
Trump Calls For His Political Opponent To Be Jailed
In the campaign trail, Donald Trump has not merely tried to rally his supporters to defeat his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, at the ballot box — he has repeatedly called for her to be jailed.
Jailing critics and members of the political opposition, generally on false or exaggerated criminal charges, is characteristic of dictators throughout history. Most recently, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin had his top political opponent, Alexei Navalny, sent to jail for a five-year term for “theft,” according to a Reuters report.
For all the talk of Trump tamping down “Lock her up!” chants, let’s not forget Trump called for Clinton to be jailed https://t.co/IPJQl3AlFF
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) July 28, 2016
Most famously, Putin jailed two women who belonged to the punk-rock protest band Pussy Riot, after they performed an anti-Putin song in a church. The charge was “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
Just within the past year, political opponents of dictators and other ruling powers have been jailed in numerous other countries throughout the world, including Pakistan, Uganda, South Sudan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Turkey, among others, according to information compiled by the activist site Humanosphere.
Trump Vows To Crack Down On Press Freedoms
While the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, which acts as a check on the power of politicians and the government, Trump has punished news organizations for critical stories by revoking their press credentials to his events. And this week, at a rally for Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, a Washington Post reporter was frisked and prevented from entering by a police officer.
Donald Trump has also promised to “open up” libel laws, giving public officials greater ability to silence critics with lawsuits, and he called for National Review editor Rick Lowry to be fined after comments that Trump’s former Republican primary opponent Carly Fiorina had “cut his balls off.”
But it is not only print and broadcast media that Trump has said he wants to restrict. Last December, he also declared that he planned to “close” the internet, or at least parts of it.
This sociopath thinks he is running for Dictator-In-Chief: Donald Trump said he would ‘close the Internet’ https://t.co/gDTixfK7vh
— Mexican Judge (@laloalcaraz) July 25, 2016
“We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet and we have to do something,” Trump said, according to an ARS Technica report.
“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas closing that internet up in some way.”
Trump Has Encouraged Use Of Political Violence
During the primary campaign, Donald Trump campaign events were frequently interrupted by violent acts, usually pitting Trump’s supporters against his critics — protesters who showed up at his rallies. According to evidence compiled by the Huffington Post and other media outlets, Trump actively encouraged the use of violence against his political critics.
Trump told his followers that, “There used to be consequences,” for political protest, but “there are none anymore.” At one point, Trump told a crowd that he, himself, would like to “punch him in the face,” referring to a protester, and said of one African-American protester who was beaten at a Trump rally, “maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
The use of violence against political opponents is a common tactic used by dictators to maintain their power, as detailed in the 2016 book, Dictators and their Secret Police: Coercive Institutions and State Violence, by political scientist Sheena Chestnut Greitens.
Trump Often Praises Foreign Dictators
Perhaps the most potentially revealing trait that could point to Donald Trump’s desire to become a dictator is his praise of numerous dictators in foreign countries, which suggests that these often ruthless and brutal leaders would serve as role models for Trump.
The Hillary Clinton campiagn seized on Trump’s praise of dictators and used it in a campaign ad, in the video below.
According to a Washington Post report, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was deposed in the 2003 U.S. invasion and later executed by his countrymen, was praised by Trump for “killing terrorists,” something Trump said that Saddam did “so good,” even though Iraq, under Hussein, was listed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Donald Trump also praises Russian president Vladimir Putin as “a leader” and has also offered plaudits to communist dictator Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and longtime — now deposed and deceased — Libya dictator Moammar Ghaddafi, as well as the autocratic royal family of Saudi Arabia, once declaring, according to a Daily Beast report, “I love the Saudis. They make a billion dollars a day.”
[Featured Photo By Evan Vucci/Getty Images]