Personal loyalty

Greg Sargent at the Post points out the Trump’s rages at people in his own branch of government have a strong whiff of authoritarianism.

Trump appears worryingly unable to contemplate his own role in bringing about the special counsel. The firing of FBI Director James B. Comey led to reports that Trump allegedly demanded Comey’s loyalty and to Trump’s admission that he fired Comey over the Russia probe. This revealed that the Justice Department’s memo providing Trump his initial rationale for the firing (Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton probe) was bogus. Which led to the special counsel.

No no, it was a Stab in the Back.

Both Comey and Sessions enraged Trump because in some manner or other, they failed to show a level of loyalty to Trump that would have trumped (as it were) legitimate processes. Comey kept publicly validating the Russia investigation (which Trump dismisses as nothing but “Fake News”) and would not make it disappear by stopping leaks about it. Sessions recused himself to display (nominal) independence, which Trump somehow interpreted as a lapse into weakness that led to the special counsel, further affirming the probe’s weightiness.

Students of authoritarianism see a pattern taking shape

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University who writes extensively on authoritarianism and Italian fascism, told me that a discernible trait of authoritarian and autocratic rulers is ongoing “frustration” with the “inability to make others do their bidding” and with “institutional and bureaucratic procedures and checks and balances.”

That’s been visible in Trump from the very first days, when he was raging about crowd sizes and yelling at CIA agents about his…crowd sizes.

Trump expects independent officials “to behave according to personal loyalty, as opposed to following the rules,” added Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who wrote “On Tyranny,” a book of lessons from the 20th century. “For Trump, that is how the world is supposed to work. Trump doesn’t understand that in the world there might truly be laws and rules that constrain a leader.”

That’s one of the most hateful things about him – that thinking everything is about him and that he always comes first no matter what. He has no interest in or loyalty to anything that’s not about him. It’s a hideous quality. It’s also of course dangerous in a head of state, but it’s worth underlining the character problem.

Snyder noted that authoritarian tendencies often go hand in hand with impatience at such constraints. “You have to have morality and a set of institutions that escape the normal balance of administrative practice,” Snyder said. “You have to be able to lie all the time. You have to have people around you who tell you how wonderful you are all the time. You have to have institutions which don’t follow the law and instead follow some kind of law of loyalty.”

In short you have to have a hell on earth.

No one human being merits all that. We can be amazing collectively, but no one person is fit for worship. Shakespeare was an amazing guy but a big part of that is because he built on the work of other amazing people. He was part of human collective amazingness. Whoever painted the Lascaux caves? Probably inspired by predecessors.

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