“He is the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
That was Donald Trump on Friday morning, former leader of the free world, praising murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. It set off a justified firestorm. Sure, his usual cheerleaders immediately jumped to, “He was joking! Why are you libtard sharia Soros Pizzagate Killary supporters so triggered?” or “Don’t you get it, man? It’s 9th-dimensional quantum chess.”
Sorry, I’m all out of passes in the “He’s new at this” or “He’s joking” or “That’s just Trump being Trump” categories his enablers have gotten away with using for far too long. After the last week, Trump is clearly a man who puts the dick in dictator. He’s a fanboy of Putin, Kim, Duterte, and a dog’s breakfast of the worst examples of oppression, thuggery, and anti-Western values the globe has to offer.
Why is today’s statement so much more outrageous, so much more egregious than any of a host of other Trumpian excesses, deviations from American values, shit-talking lunacy, and post-truth verbal dysentery? Because this week, Trump’s love of authoritarians, dictatorships and his actions and words came together. Donald Trump first went to the G-7 to wreck the proceedings with a combination of insult-comic shtick, diplomatic demolition derby, Putin cheerleading, and giant-toddler petulance.
He followed that with the Singapore Shitshow. It was a monstrous reality TV event, as was intended. But it left our putative allies wondering at the new Axis of Assholes Trump has joined—the CRANK: China, Russia, America and North Korea. By the end, it didn’t feel like he was after denuclearization but management tips from the portly little thug Kim.
For the American president to normalize, excuse, and ally himself with the worst of the world's bad actors while insulting, degrading, and destroying our allies and alliances would be appalling in any circumstance. The fact that Trump acts like a bumbling, eager fraternity pledge, desperate to join Phi Sigma Dictator, makes it all the worse.
Donald Trump’s authoritarian impulses have never exactly been a state secret. The entire Trump leadership oeuvre is a grotesque, bubbling slurry of reality TV star egomania and crap-tier nationalist nostrums that sound like Pat Buchanan and Lyndon LaRouche had a love child. Barely contained racial animus and a will to power are the real heroes of Trump's blisteringly awful mental and moral landscape.
We know whence some of this impulse came. A gloriously illiterate cretin with a reading level routinely bested by simple, non-digital household appliances, and talented flatworms on his best days, Trump’s interior intellectual life has never been, well, visible without the use of highly sensitive lab equipment. Roy Cohn’s tutelage, his father’s racial beliefs, and his indifferent education all contributed to the creature he is today. Trump’s bedside reading list was, according to his first wife, a collection of Adolf Hitler’s speeches. As they say, you've got to give the kids something they're interested in to make reading special.
Trump's style from the beginning was authoritarian-chic; bossy, needy, insufferable, and centered on the bright, hot star in the center of the stage. Trump was never a man running as a servant of the people; he was an avatar for their darkest, most vengeful, most petty grievances and imagined slights from a catalog of monsters from the Fox News scare closet. He wasn’t a leader; he was an avenger. He played an old tune from the authoritarian songbook: pose as the one man who will the avenge the Dolchstoßlegende committed against MAGAmerica by the perfidious Others, whether they be Mexicans, Chinese, Jews, Muslims, RINOs, the Establishment, or the literate.
In office, he adopted more than even the usual trappings of the Imperial Presidency, right down to the Royal Family serving in positions of influence. His staff engaged in behavior toward Trump that treated him not as a president, but as a king. It started before the White House, with his dictator-chic interior design sensibility striking every wrong chord, a trainwreck of Saddam and Liberace set loose with too much gold leaf, a glue gun, and a half-pound of cocaine.
Before his inauguration, Trump requested a massive, Soviet-style military parade and salute in his honor. He has consistently returned to this particular piece of Maximum Leader tableau vivant over and over again, hoping by some magical associative property of the heroism and skill of our men and women in uniform to somehow become something more than a five-time draft dodging chicken hawk.
Trumpian language, like that of so many actual and wannabe strongmen, is always overwrought, hyperbolic, and self-aggrandizing. Listen to Trump’s language or that of his surrogates and staffers, and it’s always the biggest, best, first, only. All his actions are perfect, all his thoughts are genius, all his ideas are born fully formed and intellectually unassailable. He also hits a hole-in-one every time. Oh, wait. That’s the late dictator father of his new bestie Kim Jong Un.
The disregard for truth is also another hallmark. No one conspired with Russia. The harvest was amazing. There are no children in cages. We built more tractors than ever due to the Stakhanovite workers’ determination to exceed the Five Year Plan. The Trump family charity isn’t a criminal enterprise, but rather a source of hope for millions. Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort fetched coffee, at best.
Every authoritarian hellhole—pardon me, shithole—needs a state-run media to salute the Father of the Nation for exceeding the Five Year Plan’s Beet Harvest totals, or to praise the construction of the 3,000-mile, 500-foot tall pure-titanium Glorious All-Peoples Border Wall. State-run media must offer not only praise for His Umber Majesty but also scourge and punish any apostates. The surreal outing when a Fox News host-bot demanded Marco Rubio retract his critique of Kim Jong Un because it might reflect badly on Donald Trump was one of those, “Screw it, the Westworld robots are loose, and it’s only a matter of time before they get us all” moments.
The constellation of talk radio, Fox, Infowars, Breitbart (It’s English for “Der Sturmer”), devote every byte of bandwidth not spent fellating Trump to punishing and pursuing his critics. Sean Haw Haw of Fox News spends his nightly 43 minutes of airtime between commercials for catheters, reverse mortgages, stairlifts, and survival food screaming into the camera like a turgid ham with a series of denunciations that would make Beria lean back and say, “Oh, easy there, tovarishch.” Judge Jeanine Pirro needs only a pink hanbok to rival North Korea’s Ri Chun Hee for paint-peeling agitprop in service to Kim Jong Don.
Authoritarian states also require the sick infrastructure of informers, and enforcers, petty zampolits, petty commissars and chekists do what they do; punish deviations from the constant worship, adulation, and praise of the Dear Leader. The White House is Hobbesian snakepit, and Republican politics has become filled with denunciations of any deviation from the True Faith.
When Republican National Committee Ronna Romney McDaniel tweeted, “Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake” it wasn’t just the new normal; it was a set of marching orders to monitor, report, purge and punish any variation from Trump juche.
The entire l’état c’est Trump mindset of today’s Washington, D.C., is making Trump feel frisky, as the GOP continues to lay in the road like a dead animal, even as the buzzards of reality, conscience, and truth peck at it. Paul Ryan’s utter, final moral collapse was on full display this week; now he’s pretending he doesn’t even read the news about Trump’s behavior or that of his cabinet members. Trump is unbounded, unbridled, and unhinged.
Yes, some of Trump’s distractions are to cover the pendant doom of Paul Manafort, now rotting in jail for the foreseeable future, the Cohen trainwreck, and the failure of this week's IG report to categorically demonstrate that he is as pure as the driven snow and that his Russia ties were all Hillary’s fault. But much of this authoritarian statist flirtation is because Trump wills it so.
We are told to take Trump seriously, but not literally. I’m not sure we can afford to do that any longer.
The Presidency of the United States of America is an office which imposes a vast, consequential responsibility on the person who holds it to represent America's values to the world. If those values are liberty, equality, freedom, the rule of law, and the Constitution, Trump is failing on every front. And if they are the values of the thug, the tyrant, the bully, and the circus freak third-world tinpot?
Then he’ll get his pledge pin any day now.