The Indispensable Leader

Harold Meyerson in The American Prospectresponding to passages in Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in which he referred to himself as “the voice” of those who “no longer have a voice”, and claimed: “[n]obody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”:

what made Trump’s speech truly ominous and without precedent in American politics was the role he assigned himself—and the rest of us. We are mute and defenseless. He is our voice. He alone can fix our problems. That doesn’t really leave much for the other 300 million-plus citizens of our democracy to do. It doesn’t leave much for other elected lawmakers to do, either.

Authoritarianism is not about ideology per se. That’s to say, there have been left and right wing authoritarians. Either way, it’s dangerous. And an indispensable leader is one who, because they and no one else can right the wrongs of society, must be given power that is unlimited in scope and duration. In such a mindset, any opposition to the leader is intolerable.

Trump is a right-wing authoritarian, for the most part, despite his rhetoric about standing up for the “voiceless” workers who’ve been “crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals”.  To the extent that he has a coherent ideology at all, it is all based on a narrative in which “foreigners” and “foreign forces” routinely take advantage of “real Americans” and threaten their very lives, all thanks to weak or even traitorous leaders in Washington caught up in their own webs of corruption. Think of it as a vague form of American fascism. But even if Trump’s opposition to trade deals were sincerely motivated by concern for social justice and workers’ rights (it isn’t, which is why he’s all for keeping wages low and crushing unions), that would not make his authoritarianism an innocuous or positive thing.

Governments are dangerous. They are the best instrument we as a species have so far devised and managed to implement on a wide scale for managing our collective affairs. But they all too easily fall into the role of entrenching their own power and that of powerful interest groups in society. They inflict violence in the name of maintaining order within their territory, and they inflict violence on people in other territories, supposedly in the national interest. The power of the state to do good is considerable if that power is properly constrained and channeled, but the power of the state to do harm is vast. At best, governments are going to be an imperfect institution, people being what they are, especially when they are given power over other people. The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance.

That is why I was heartened by Bernie Sanders when he said that the “political revolution” he sought to foment wasn’t about him, it was about people coming together to promote real, positive change from the grassroots up. Sadly, some of his supporters didn’t seem to understand, and still don’t. They seem to think it’s all about getting someone we like into power so that person can fix everything. If Bernie Sanders had claimed to be that person, I would never have supported him, for he would be either a deluded fool or a dangerous narcissist.

It is risky enough to put anyone in a position of such power as the U.S. presidency. To put anyone there who refers to themselves as so uniquely suited for the role as to be indispensable would be the height of recklessness.

 

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