They All Want To Be Dictators

Have some pearls handy? Maybe that discount lab-grown diamond necklace your cheapskate boyfriend got you for Christmas? Or, for the fellas, dig out the flea-market “bling” chain you wore ironically to college parties.

Either way, have some neckwear at arm’s length. Because you’re going to clutch it harder than grandpa grasping the Stair Lift after downing the entire bowl of Schnapps-spiked ‘nog.

Medical disclaimer: make sure your cardiologist is on call for this astoundingly heart-stopping news. Donald Trump openly mused about wielding unlimited power for one entire day.

*BANG.* *CRASH.* *SHATTERED GLASS.* *FIRE ALARM BLARES.* This is it, democracy fighters! Not a drill! Fascism has come to America!

When asked during a drooling foot-massage of an interview with Sean Hannity if he would “abuse power as retribution against anybody,” Trump committed a Freudian slip, divulging his innermost swastika-ed desire.

“Except for day one,” he admitted. Then in his surreal sui generis, meta-campy style, Trump recapitulated the exchange: “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”

A man can really dream. Or at least make a New Year’s resolution. The suggestion that Trump, reelected president and invested with all its awesome executive might, can simply close the country’s nearly two-thousand miles of southern border—not accounting for the five-and-a-half-thousand miles of our Canadian lineament—is pure right-wing retvrn wishcasting. You don’t need to watch “Schoolhouse Rock!” repeats to know that ain’t happening. Nor is tapping the plentiful oil reservoirs hiding off every coastal piece of the country.

Dictator-for-a-day sounds wondrously efficient, like Francis Bacon swallowing a super mushroom and taking a mallet to any and every institutional impediment standing in the way of human utopia. But en praxis, specifically American practice, it means signing a piece of glossy printer paper that is subsequently ignored, mocked, slow-walked, and eventually swallowed up in bureaucratic i-dotting by federal lifers.

Our would-be Orange Overlord’s idea for a day-long Caesar streak is to implement “radical” policies that would take more than one earth spin to complete. So a wasted opportunity, just like his first term. If Trump really wanted to clear-cut Swamp acreage on opening day, he need only authorize “R.A.G.E.”, known in bureaucratese as Schedule F, to unilaterally cut a big, juicy hunk of federal fat. That his first instinct when granting himself the title of Supreme Highness was to make good on twin campaign planks says two things: Revenge isn’t top of mind; and Trump, ever the commercial man, still really craves that gold-plated, surname-emblazoned “big beautiful wall.”

Naturally, the media-wide freakout reached Ned Flanders purple drapes decibelage. “Former President Donald J. Trump and his allies are not doing much to reassure those worried about his autocratic instincts,” The New York Times’s Peter Baker mews. “Trump Will Be a Dictator on Day One and Every Day Thereafter,” the New Republic warns. Biden-spit-slurper Philip Bump of the Washington Post shivers that Trump’s dictator dream is becoming “an applause line.” Former National Review editor Jonah Goldberg hoisted up his britches, wrinkled his nose, furrowed his brow, crossed his arms, and squealed, “Whether he was joking or deadly serious or something in between, saying you’ll be a dictator for any amount of time is no laughing matter, particularly for a former president who likes to test-drive real desires by pretending he’s joking.”

Hear that, giddy reader? NO. LAUGHING. MATTER. Wipe that smirk off your face, pronto.

No-joshing Jonah doesn’t appreciate hyperbolic designs for dictatorship. Which is why he wrote an entire treatise comparing liberals to Hitler, and now self-flagellates on CNN. But don’t be confused: he’s still deeply, deeply, ninth-circle-of-hell deeply, concerned that the former president entertains being a MAGA monarch, as if such dreampolitik was uniquely Trumpian.

The “unitary-executive” theory of American governance is, of course, hardly new. It dates back to the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalists debates. Political figures from the Founding verbally sparred over the extent to which executive power could be stretched. From George Washington stomping out the Whiskey Rebellion, to John Adams enforcing the Alien and Seditions Act, to Thomas Jefferson putting the Louisiana Purchase on the federal credit card without congressional approval, presidents have exceeded their constitutional bounds since America’s inception.

Today’s presidents can start and stop wars on a whim, surveil citizens’ private communications, pardon a top campaign donor’s wastrel son for selling dope, funnel billions in “discretionary” funding to pet projects in swing states, and command brigades of black-suited, Oakley-shaded, ear-pieced bodyguards to wantonly beat a vagrant to death.

(Our Oval Office sitters can also sic the entirety of the Justice Department on their political rivals for trivial process crimes—a grave abuse of power that would never, ever happen in the 21st century. *Cough.*)

The U.S. president is a de facto dictator compared to the kings of surcoats and cousin-consummation. Yet he too is invariably hamstrung by the Leviathan slow churn. The ship of state is far too vast and cumbersome to easily adjust its tiller.

Which isn’t to say Trump may try something extra-constitutional, like, say, banning an entire religion from immigrating to the country. Only that he’s stymied by the reality of administrative procedure.

Practicalities aside, isn’t Trump a “unique” and “dangerous” threat to democracy, or whatever palaver the commentariat can’t help but wretch up? Isn’t any presidential candidate disqualified in a snap for voicing such a tyrannical fancy?

Hardly. Donald Trump, for all his impulsive flaws, voices the hidden thoughts of men who yen for control, breaking the unspoken propriety of political campaigning. Washington whisperer Thomas Friedman famously aired the hypothesis of painting the U.S. Sino-red for a brief spell: “What if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions.”

The “right solutions” being whatever Friedman deems appropriate, meaning a Mickey Dee’s in every far-flung corner of the world, so our elite scribe can get his Big Mac fix whenever he’s running up the Times travel per diem.

I can’t find it on Google but I swear Barack Obama once mentioned wanting absolute authority for one day, if only to pass universal healthcare, mandate solar panels on every building, confiscate firearms, push paper straws for all, enact detente with Iran, and eradicate all mentioning of “Christmas.” Maybe it’s the Mandela effect. Or maybe the Big Tech memory-holers got to it before me. (Bastards!) But it’s not hard to picture President Obama proposing a purge-like power trip, if only in the abstract. And he’d be praised to the heavens for his Platonic imagination—”visionary,” “learned,” “inspiring,” “aspirational.”

Trump does it in a blunter vernacular and gets raked over the media coals. Every president, at heart, wants to be a dictator. But you’re never supposed to say it out loud.

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Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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