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Sun Jun 21, 2020, 10:58 PM

America's Wannabe Autocrat Is in the Home Stretch. How Worried Should We Be?

Beware a despot when he’s cornered.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that perhaps, at long last, we had reached a tipping point in Trump’s popularity, and I stand by it. On Thursday, a poll conducted by Fox News (Fox!) showed him trailing Biden by 12 percentage points; the Tulsa arena hosting his comeback rally on Saturday was two-thirds empty. The man is ripe for the ultimate “Downfall” video. Especially given his recent sojourn in an actual bunker.

Yet it’s precisely because Trump feels overwhelmed and outmatched that I fear we’ve reached a far scarier juncture: he seems to be attempting, however clumsily, to transition from president to autocrat, using any means necessary to mow down those who threaten his re-election.

Whether he has the competence to pull this off is anyone’s guess. As we know, Trump is surpassingly incapable of governing. But he has also shown authoritarian tendencies from the very beginning. For over three years, he’s been dismembering the body politic, institution by institution, norm by norm. What has largely spared us from total evisceration were honorable civil servants and appointees.

Trump has torn through almost all of them and replaced them with loyalists. He now has a clear runway. What we have left is an army of pliant flunkies and toadies at the agencies, combined with the always-enabling Mitch McConnell and an increasingly emboldened attorney general, William Barr.


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