Trump the autocrat

A fractious republic

Some accuse Trump of being an autocrat. I don’t agree.

My favorite pithy summary of Trump’s nature comes from Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist: “a bad man and half-crazy”. Add to that badness and craziness a healthy dash of PT Barnum and Huey Long. I think Trump is ALL OVER THE MAP, and pretty hard to pin down in a conventional left versus right framework.

I offer three points as evidence that Trump is at least not consistently autocratic: first, he turned over management of the covid virus response to the state governors; second, he opposed renewal of FISA surveillance authority; and third he sparked a wave of deregulation, with the administration ‘ focused on reducing regulations for the purpose of “furthering individual liberty and property rights” ‘.

No one needs to fear Trump exerting control like a Mao or Maduro. He couldn’t if he wanted to. Too many Americans are born with a streak of independence. They won’t accept much central control from Washington DC, or even their state capitol. A couple of examples might make my point that rebelliousness is normal here:

One: city mayors are notably independent from Federal control. Various cities across the US, like Seattle and San Francisco, declared themselves sanctuary cities, defying Federal immigration rules

Two: city mayors can bolster their independence with access to military support from their own state governors, who in turn are pretty independent from Federal control. After protests in downtown Seattle where stores were looted and police vehicles torched, the mayor called for help from the governor. National Guard personnel were sent. The press reported they would be operating under the direction of Seattle’s mayor. The National Guard is not a Federal force, they’re controlled by State governors. So, a mayor facing civil unrest got military backup from the governor, and the force was placed under command of the mayor. A case of civil unrest, dealt with entirely by local leaders using local resources.

Three: in the state of Virginia, a newly elected Democrat majority in the legislature moved to “require universal background checks for any gun sales or transfers”. In response, five counties passed resolutions declaring themselves a “Second Amendment Sanctuary”.

‘ ”Counties are saying, ‘Look, we are not going to enforce any unconstitutional gun laws in our jurisdiction,'” Phil Van Cleave, with the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said. “A sheriff is a constitutional officer … he can take the lead of the county if he wishes and say, ‘We’re not enforcing any of this stuff.’ And some sheriffs are going to do that”.

Finally: I experienced some of this independent spirit myself recently in Chelan County, here in Washington state. The story begins with the US Forest Service closing a road, to support Gov Jay Inslee’s declaration of COVID 19 stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions. A neighbor’s truck was ticketed while parked on the road near his cabin. The neighbor believed he had permission to be there, since the Forest Service had specified that property owners may use the road to access their property. My wife agreed to investigate. She called the county sheriff’s office, and was transferred to a deputy who had knowledge of the situation. After Betsy’s explanation, the sheriff’s first response was off-topic but enlightening. The deputy said the governor was overreaching his authority with his stay-at-home restrictions, and citizens properly should be in the state capitol, protesting.

Yes, we did resolve the questions about the ticket, but the point is that we heard directly and clearly from a deputy that in Chelan County they were not eager to do Olympia’s bidding, and thought the governor was getting too big for his britches. County Sheriffs in Washington state are elected, so they are sensitive to interests and opinions in their counties. If there was second-guessing in Chelan County, what about other counties even further away from Olympia; like Douglas, Grant, or Adams counties?

Then, we can compare our response to what happened in Canada. I talk regularly with an aunt from Nova Scotia, now living in the US near Detroit. While discussing Gov. Whitmer’s problems with gun-toting protestors, my aunt was very clear that there were no such protests in Canada against shutdown protocols even more severe than those in Michigan. As a Canadian she thought it was incredible that gun-carrying protestors invaded a state capitol.

I refer you also to a recent and lovable Danny Westneat column in the Seattle Times titled “Is America too rebellious to beat the Coronavirus?”. Westneat cites crazy behavior in Spokane, and described “the American essential nature…It’s as if we have a primal need to rebel.” (Westneat closes by noting British Columbia’s compliance with restrictions, and that the case rate in BC is running at 20% per capita of that in Washington state.)

The Bottom Line
Even our beloved and god-like first president was forced to put down a revolt, the Whiskey Rebellion.
The title of this article is a pun. ‘Trump’ refers both to our president, and to the fate of any attempt at autocracy here in America. No need to fear Trump, or anyone else. Any autocrat will have a tough with us. We’re not Canada.