Dictators rule. In the U.S., presidents are supposed to govern. The differences between ruling and governing are stark, e.g., Russia’s Vladimir Putin rules, Germany’s Angela Merkel governs.
Unlike Ronald Reagan, our current president just doesn’t get it. President Donald Trump tends to praise the Putins and disdain the Merkels.
“President Donald Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders across the globe has been one of the few constants during his chaotic first few months in office,” CNN reported. “From Russian President Vladimir Putin to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump has gone out of his way to lavish praise on some of the world’s most notorious strongmen.”
In 2016 Trump told NBC news regarding Putin, “He is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a terrible thing’ – the man has very strong control over a country.
In November 2017 he boasted of having “great relationships” with Philippine despot Rodrigo Duterte and China strongman Xi Jinping. He also touted his “great friendship” with Turkey dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Meanwhile, Trump has literally given Merkel the cold shoulder, even refusing to shake her hand at a White House meeting last year.
In February, Trump allegedly lost his temper in a call with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto that resulted in a cancelled state visit to the White House. A year ago, an angry Trump cut short a phone call with Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (A meeting last month seemed to ease tensions, but reports indicated serious divisions remain.)
Dictators set policy. Leaders who govern have to work with other factions and often must seek compromise to establish policy.
Could it be that Trump admires dictators’ power and resents having to work with others to get his way?
Earlier this month when China’s Xi got himself anointed president for life, Trump commented, “He was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
It’s no secret Trump has been dissatisfied with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He regularly slams him on Twitter. In January news reports said Trump complained he couldn’t get his appointees at the Department of Justice “to do my bidding.” In December, he told a NY Times reporter, “”I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”
Lately, Trump has begun to shed leaders in his administration who don’t exactly do his bidding. Earlier this month he abruptly fired National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Gary Cohn quit as director of the National Economic Council and top White House Economic Advisor.
Then, there were his controversial firings of FBI Director James Comey, who wouldn’t drop his Russia investigation, and Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to defend Trump’s original immigrant travel ban.
The U.S. presidency was designed to be held by a leader who governs, not a dictator who rules.
How far Congress and the American people will let Trump go before reining in his strongman tendencies, is one question.
A more important one may be, will Trump’s strongman example become the norm for future U.S. leaders.