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From trump failing be an actual authoritarian

Not exactly reassuring but this observation strikes a note that’s been subtonal for a while: he’s about looking big, and we’re his toys. A feckless, flailing president.

Trump has never been shy about his authoritarian impulses. He regularly voices admiration for dictators and has expressed his belief that Article II of the Constitution allows him to do “whatever I want.” Yet that authoritarianism has not manifested with as much force as some might have feared (or desired). Trump has exerted power aggressively in the realms where he is least restrained, most notably immigration enforcement, but he has not pushed far beyond that: There have been no jackboots deployed against dissidents, no shipping off of presidential enemies to Guantánamo Bay. And in some instances, such as the ongoing pandemic, Trump has largely declined to exert federal power at all—instead shrugging his shoulders and leaving the work of actually governing to the states.

All of which makes this past week an important cautionary tale for the election itself if Trump does, in fact, lose. The authoritarian instinct will still be there, of course. So will the flailing weakness, we suspect, and the effort to get his administration to take wildly inappropriate, even illegal steps. His degree of panic will presumably be even higher then than it is now, as will the stakes—which will be nothing less than the peaceful transition of power. We can only hope that, once again, the weakness will overwhelm the authoritarianism, the ineffectuality will triumph over the menace, and the president will emerge as a figure of contempt and ridicule, rather than of fear and consolidated power.