By Dr David Laing Dawson
My optimism was short lived. After watching Trump’s speech at the CIA headquarters and Sean Spicer’s first press conference I wondered how one goes about dismantling a democracy. I assume there is no manual for this. So I thought I would create a Coles Notes version so we can all follow along:
1. Make frequent reference to the utter failure of all previous administrations. Take credit for anything good that happened during the most recent administration.
2. Promote a cult of personality. Suggest the new leader has God-like powers, such as controlling the rain, and solving complex and intractable problems with forceful statements.
3. Paint a bleak picture of the current state of affairs and grossly exaggerate the risk, the dangers posed by outsiders and nonbelievers.
4. Promote law and order and military power as the only forces that can keep us safe.
5. Incrementally reduce voting rights by insisting on regulations that favor your supporters and disenfranchise others. Do this by claiming you are controlling corruption and fraud.
6. Choose an enemy or two, give them names, and promise to eradicate them. Use emotionally inspiring words such as evil, kill, wipe them out, get rid of them once and for all.
7. Exaggerate the size of your support and the crowds attending your rallies. Refer to this as a movement.
8. Lie frequently and often. Use big, bold lies. This is a form of desensitization. More and more will believe your lies. The remaining citizens will stop caring.
9. Undermine the Fourth Estate. Seed distrust of news and information. Call all reporters and truth tellers liars. It will be difficult to fully control the media (this is not Russia) but consider using licensing bodies, libel laws and the courts to tie their hands.
10. Promote the idea that the people of your nation, your followers, are superior human beings, exceptional, and deserve to live better than others. American Exceptionalism. Or is that “Uber Alles”?
11. You will need the armed forces and intelligence agencies so flatter them frequently, while you replace their leaders with your own men.
12. You will need cabinet members and spokespeople who will unabashedly promote you and your statements and policies no matter how unpalatable or ludicrous they become. Some will be willing to do this for money, others for power and glory of their own, and others because of their own anger and resentment from earlier grievances. Unfortunately such people abound. But remember, it is not loyalty that binds them to you, but self-interest. Reward them generously; always be prepared to kill them.
13. Quickly disparage and render impotent any leader who opposes you. Memorable name calling and disinformation will suffice.
14. Create a language of code words for anything that remains unacceptable for most citizens. For example: “alternative facts” for lies, “violence in the inner cities” for racial profiling.
15. Use hyperbole at all times. A person or event is either “great”, “fantastic”, “amazing”, or “a disaster”, “evil”, “total failure”. This fosters a dichotomous view of the world and will help dehumanize victims when the time comes to purge.
16. Find some allies in other countries by directly or tacitly supporting their extreme views. Examples might include Putin, Duterte, Boris Johnson, Marie Penn and Netanyahu. Be unpredictable for the others. Keep them on edge.
17. Finally, incrementally increase your power and authority until you can accurately call yourself “president-for-life” or “Supreme Leader”. This will take time. At some point you will need a crisis at home (Terrorist attack for e.g.) or you will need to provoke a crisis abroad and at home (Palestinian response to moving embassy to Jerusalem for e.g.). This will justify your transfer of a specific power from a democratic body (congress/senate/parliament) to your own office. This can be done on the grounds that only you know all the facts, and quick decisions are required. It is also more acceptable if the democratic bodies are perceived as ineffective or too partisan. Your people can ensure the latter condition is met.
18. In the meantime cater to the dominant political force in the democratic body by quickly implementing all their pet projects (e.g anti-abortion legislation), and by cancelling all the social and health initiatives of that upstart negro president.
19. Build monuments to yourself. Oops. I forgot. You already have. Good. Build more. Start with the Trump Great Southern Wall.
20. Throughout this process continue to emphasize that you are working for the people. Use the words “people”, “working people” and “democracy” frequently. As you usurp power explain that you are protecting democracy.
21. Have patience. Others may deliver you the crisis and fear that will allow an incremental or bold increase in power. When you assume new powers present yourself as reluctant to do so.
22. Use as much pomp and circumstance as possible. People love ceremonies. Emphasize the sacred trust your office embodies.
23. Visit a religious leader (televised of course). Ensure him and the American Public that you understand the enormity of your office and the need for God’s guidance. Try not to sneer or chuckle doing this. It is not wise to compare yourself to God, but you can hint that He favors you in some way.
24. Don’t worry about the physical quirks the cartoonists seize upon, the little black mustache for example, or the blonde comb over. Ultimately these will confer upon you icon status.
25. There will be protests and marches against you. Be gracious in your response to those that remain peaceful. Come down very hard on those that become violent. Emphasize these, and use them to accrue more power. But, be assured that any large gathering of people can become violent with a little help from your friends.
26. Toady up to the leaders of organized religion, the church. With few exceptions these religious leaders will see you as a means of helping them achieve their long term goals. They will not stand against you for fear of losing their own power.
27. Allow others to live vicariously through you. This is a fine balance. While allowing the people to view your sumptuous life style use colloquial language, talk as they do. Remind them you work tirelessly for them. Pretend that one day they can all live as you do.
28. Women are tricky. Have one or two around you but not many. They tend to have empathy for others, children, small animals. They tend to prefer compromise and cooperation. Reference your own dear mother frequently, and say how much you respect women. But subtly denigrate them by your own actions, and limit their voices and rights through reproductive and child-care legislation.
29. Gain increasing control of your population. You can start this by controlling all immigration and visitation to your country. Then pick the minority group most feared or misunderstood by your followers and order a registration process. This will appear harmless, like getting a driver’s license. Then incrementally increase the strength of this process, include more identifiable groupings, until all citizens must carry “papers” with them and submit to police checks. This will instill fear.
But Donald Trump’s performance at CIA headquarters was not so much of a man seeking autocratic rule but of unbridled narcissism. A narcissism that cannot be sated. Even a hint that the adoring crowd was not as big as Obama’s set him off on a delusional reconstruction, or, as Conway called it, “alternative facts”.
And his claim that 3 million votes were cast fraudulently may not be (by Donald himself) a clever ploy to undermine democracy but rather his narcissistic rage against a perceived slight. (Overall more people liked Hillary).
So I suspect he is not so much a would-be tyrant as a man needing constant adulation, threatened by any possibility he is not loved and admired as much as he feels he deserves.
But let me be clinical for a moment. In psychiatry we talk of “personality disorders” – dependent, borderline, narcissistic, sociopathic for example. Now we all have some of these traits. Who isn’t a little narcissistic? But what makes a human trait a “disorder” lies in its insatiability. A dependent person can find someone to take care of him or her and life goes on smoothly. Each satisfies the needs of the other. But for some the dependency must be re-enacted and reconstructed, reinforced in each and every encounter. Then we have a problem. A little normal/average narcissism can be satisfied by a simple comment perhaps once per week: “You look really good in that dress”. But it is a disorder when it must be reenacted and satisfied in each and every encounter. When it cannot be even temporarily sated. For most of us, being elected president would suffice, or even being treated well by a store clerk.
So Donald Trump’s narcissism is pathological, insatiable, needing to be reenacted, reinforced every day. He cannot tolerate even the smallest insult to his ego. This is a disorder. And such a disorder seldom ends well. In this case it could end badly for all of us.
And this flaw makes Trump an easy stooge for others who truly hunger for power and world domination. He is a blunt instrument with no guidance system of his own. I’m sure many in the Republican party are using him now, perhaps Putin as well, each hoping they can rid themselves of Donald J. Trump when their goals are achieved. Some of those goals are ideological, some are about power, some about money. But it is a high stakes game they are playing.
Please, when he has done all you desire and becomes uncontrollable, when you decide to impeach him, first take away the nuclear codes.