Authoritarianism and fear at the Trumpian GOP convention

Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida, in March. Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida, in March. Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Has there ever been a scarier, more authoritarian vision of politics than the one shown at the Republican convention in Cleveland? If so, I can’t remember it.

The convention’s first night, dedicated to the theme of Make America Safe Again, promoted the ideas that crime has risen, immigrants are criminals and Clinton and Obama were part of dark deeds associated with American deaths.

In reality, crime is down in the U.S., immigrants are overwhelmingly law-abiding and the Benghazi attack has been investigated eight times and the fevered conspiracies have all been debunked.

On the second night, which was purportedly focused on the economy, there was almost no talk of jobs or anything that most American families grapple with around their kitchen tables.

Authoritarianism reared its head with the criminalization of political opposition.

Gov. Chris Christie, worst of all, led the audience in a faux prosecution of Hillary Clinton.

He listed a series of events that he claimed she bore personal responsibility for which were nearly all policy decisions, and asked the crowd if she was innocent or guilty. The audience shouted “guilty” and broke into chants about sending her to jail.

As a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard who compared this to a “show trial,” noted:

[O]ne of the worries about Trump is that he’s an aspiring strongman with authoritarian impulses who’s leading a bizarre cult of personality led by unpleasant, angry people.

I suspect that anyone with those concerns about Trump probably had them fed by Christie’s performance.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said it sounded, “a little banana republican,” adding that “in this country” “we don’t lock up our political opponents.”

Trump has said he would ask his Attorney General consider whether Clinton should be indicted and prosecuted and Christie is widely believed to be a potential Trump administration Attorney General.

That, along with Christie’s comments, the crowd response and the touting of Trump as a strong leader who can save the nation, had distinctly authoritarian overtones.

Authoritarianism also grew out of the fear that America is not respected.

To the speakers and those who cheered them, the world doesn’t respect the U.S.

in reality, surveys show that, under President Obama, other countries’ respect for America has gone up.


As Pew found:

In Europe, majorities in nine of 10 countries surveyed express confidence in Obama’s ability to handle international issues, including fully 93% in Sweden and 91% in the Netherlands. Only the Greeks have a negative opinion of the U.S. leader (58% little or no confidence). . . 

Obama also enjoys high ratings from Canadians (83%) and Australians (84%). Elsewhere in Asia, the U.S. president is viewed positively by majorities in Japan (78%) and India (58%). Even in China, 52% have confidence in his abilities to handle international affairs. [source]

Moreover, people around the world lack confidence in Donald Trump, not Obama or Clinton.

U.S.-leader-confidence-WEB-versionJust look at those numbers. While Europeans have very high levels of confidence in Obama and, to a lesser extent in Clinton, only 9% of them have confidence in Trump.

In fact, 85% have no confidence in Trump, compared to just 22% saying that about Obama and just 27% saying that about Clinton.

But such facts mean nothing to convention speakers who seem more like right wing talk show hosts than responsible leaders.

Authoritarianism grows out of fear, fear of the other and fear of opponents who disagree on policy but somehow might be hiding their criminality, treason and malice.

The fear and authoritarianism at the convention played to the most far-right base, rather than reaching out to moderates, whether in the party or not.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.