After the election, all of us should ask – especially Democrats – what did Obama think when he said he would use executive orders to override a recalcitrant Congress? When he declares, “I’ve got a pen,” what did he think would happen when an impulsive, Republican strongman moves into the Oval Office with the same attitude? Did he think Democratic House and Senate minorities would be able to block him? Or did he, like a naive academic or your pet dog, not think the country would ever elect a Republican strongman?
It’s something of a puzzle, as Obama must know his drive to circumvent Congress was neither constitutional nor democratically healthy. Everything about his public speech shows he can distinguish between the president’s power, and the country’s aspirations or policy directions. Did frustration make him forget history? Did pride make him forget basic principles of politics? These are political puzzles we have to think about now, as president after president – Obama has not been the first – has used executive powers to strengthen the presidency and weaken the national legislature.
The country Trump prepares to lead seems ready for a dictator. Our new president has no use for democracy. He is not the only one.
No one would say that Obama wanted to bring dictatorship to America. Yet how can he leave office and say that the precedents he set did not point in that direction? One open advocate of dictatorship, Joseph Goebbels, wrote in 1932: “Mussolini’s work is unshakable, for he is his people’s idol. He gave back to Italy what has always been the surest and best foundation of a state: confidence.” Thirteen years later, Mussolini hung upside down in a public square, executed by Italian communists, while Goebbels murdered his children and committed suicide with his wife. Is that confidence or what?
Now Trump intends to give America confidence again. That’s what he means when he urges us all to make America great. His strong-minded predecessors assisted Trump’s undemocratic, dictatorial instincts with ample groundwork, foundation stones placed among our political institutions. The country he prepares to lead seems ready for a dictator. We continue to tell ourselves we have a democracy – the more troubled it becomes, the more our mainstream leaders harp on the concept – but we cannot pretend for long now that it still exists. Our new president has no use for democracy. He is not the only one.
“Nothing is more foreign to dictatorial thinking than the bourgeois concept of objectivity.” ~ J. Goebbels