There are many theories on what motivates Donald trump. One is that he is, in his heart if not in practice, and authoritarian. There is some evidence to support this theory, specifically his disdain for institutional constraints, his advocacy for violence, and his desire to use the power of his office to persecute his political rivals. Trump’s recent interview with Laura Ingraham gives us more evidence of his authoritarian tendencies. In response to a question from Ingraham about unfilled positions in the State Department Trump tossed out this word salad:
“So we don’t need all the people they want. I’m a businessman, and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there. Lemme tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”
The phrase, “I’m the only one that matters” is the authoritarian tell here. You can see this as evidence that Trump views himself and the federal government as synonymous, a variant of authoritarianism known as “personalist.” This is concerning to say the least but I wonder if his response to the question was more a reflection of his intellectual limitations and his laziness rather than his authoritarianism. The specific question Ingraham asked was:
“Your State Department still has some unfilled positions. Are you worried that the State Department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through?”
What Ingraham was getting at is that if Trump (or any President) wants to put his stamp on U.S. foreign policy he has to have people who agree with his vision implementing that policy, or in other words – “personnel is policy.” It doesn’t seem clear from Trump’s response that he gets that. Ironically, if one was hell-bent on turning the U.S. into an authoritarian regime the most successful way they could do it would be staffing the positions of government from top to bottom with their fellow authoritarians. Trump is vindictive, petty, and authoritarian but he is also just too lazy and dumb to shift the U.S. political system too far down the authoritarian path. This is not too mention the countervailing forces (the press, the judicial branch, some members of Congress, the majority of the population) that have served so far to stymie many of his authoritarian tendencies. Thats the good news, I guess. The bad news is we have a dumb lazy person as our President.