Hitler, Chavez, Putin and Trump… The Constitutional Road to Tyranny

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Many people make the mistake of thinking that dictators or tyrants always came to power illegally, through some coup or some other extra constitutional manner. Of course that is sometimes true. Both Mao and Fidel Castro fomented and then won revolutions which put them in power. But more often tyrants and dictators come to power perfectly legally.

Take Adolf Hitler as example. While Hitler was a miscreant and led a group of violent thugs in Weimar Germany, he is not guilty of a palace coup. In 1930 his Nazi party won 18% of the seats in the Reichstag and became the 2nd largest party in Germany. Two years later, building on the violence in the streets – much of which they incited – the Nazis became the largest party in government. On 30 January 1933 President Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor and not long thereafter the Nazis began twisting the Constitution, suspending civil liberties and eliminating opposition. By August of 1934 Adolf Hitler was the dictator of Germany.

Hugo Chavez took a similar path. A lifelong military man, in the early 1990s he was a participant in several attempted coups d’etat. Each failed, with Chavez ending up in prison once and forcibly retired from the Army after another. In 1998 Chavez ran for and won the presidency and immediately set about rewriting of the constitution. Empowered by a constitution that eliminated the senate and strengthened the presidency, Chavez would eliminate almost all political opposition, put a stranglehold on the press and purge opponents from the military and courts. He died in 2013 having spent a decade and a half in almost complete control of every aspect of Venezuela, having nationalized most of the once productive economy and leaving in his wake a failed state.

And then there is Chavez’s contemporary, Vladimir Putin. In 1999 Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin Prime Minister. Later he would make Putin acting President. In 2000, on a backdrop of terrorism, crime and economic malaise, Putin would win the presidency with 53% of the vote. Thus began a period oppression of the opposition, intimidation of the media and constitutional gymnastics that would keep Putin with a steel grip on Russia that he maintains today. Along the way he has accumulated $200 billion in personal wealth and turned the Russian economy into an ATM for favored businessmen while leaving the average Russian living near poverty.

All three of these men used populist movements against state dysfunction to legally step into power. Once in power they all moved to eliminate virtually all opposition and take total control. Political opponents were often intimidated by supporters and sometimes simply thrown in jail. Opposition or objective newspapers and television stations were either closed or taken over. Economic rivals had their property taken and or found themselves in jail. Citizens voicing opposition often found themselves in the same place or worse.

Under the veneer of official authority a would-be tyrant’s power is almost absolute. Whether that power is backed up by partisans terrorizing citizens in the street, badged stormtroopers kicking down doors or bureaucrats using regulations to outlaw everything and everyone who might pose a threat, legislatures and courts are rarely a match for a determined would-be dictator. Such men rarely seize absolute power by overtly eliminating competing power centers, but rather usually couch the takeover in trumped up charges that lead to arrests or calls for equality of one sort or another. Under the cover of such populist movements properties are seized, businesses are closed and opponents are arrested. With the façade of legitimacy intact dictators then portray themselves as the heroes just doing what is necessary to defend the nation and the people.

So why does any of this matter here? Because in January we may well find ourselves inaugurating a man who could very much move down that road of tyrants. Barack Obama has already mainstreamed the idea of an extra constitutional presidency. From appointing members of the NLRB outside of the Constitution’s framework to rewriting his own Obamacare via executive fiat to nationalizing auto companies, he’s already laid the groundwork for a banana republic like strongman president, and that is exactly what Donald Trump would be. As a citizen Trump sought to use bankruptcy laws and the government’s eminent domain powers to threaten, intimidate and coerce opponents. He has threatened to use the courts to punish journalists who dare to write unflattering pieces on him. Prior to Ted Cruz exiting the race, Trump threatened violence if he was not handed the nomination, even if he hadn’t won. He has threatened corporations with bills of attainder for escaping the US’s confiscatory tax rates and suffocating regulations. Add to that the fact that he has made a career out of demonizing and making viscous personal attacks against real and perceived opponents, and it becomes clear that things might not look good for those who choose not to get on board the Trump Train.

The office of President of the United States is the single most powerful position in the world. That power would be intoxicating to the most level headed of people. Put it in the hands of the man with perhaps the biggest ego since Napoleon Bonaparte, and it could make for a toxic and tragic combination. We’ve heard Donald Trump tell us for a year that he will get things done, that he will make America great again, and that he will revive the American economy. As he pursues those things and figures out that it takes more than bluster and intimidation to “get things done” in Washington and on the world stage, it’s difficult to imagine he won’t pick up on Barack Obama’s success in implementing extra constitutional actions and decide that he can do the same, only bigger and better. No doubt it will be a HUUUUUUUUUGE success.

The product of a military family, growing up in Naples, Italy and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and being stationed in Germany for two years while in the Army, Vince spent half of his first quarter century seeing the US from outside of its own borders. That perspective, along with a French wife and two decades as a struggling entrepreneur have only fueled an appreciation for freedom and the fundamental greatness of the gifts our forefathers left us.

14 Responses to “Hitler, Chavez, Putin and Trump… The Constitutional Road to Tyranny”

  1. 1

    MOS 8541

    vince,
    you remind me of Ben Rhodes – “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.” communism is spread by propaganda and blood- you really, really need to read the writing of Joseph Goebbels.
    you need to read the moat recent article in Small Wars Journal -A Stunning Profile of Ben Rhodes, the Asshole Who is the President’s Foreign Policy Guru. the similarities are amazing.

  2. 2

    Nanny G

    Hitler was 41 when his party got its 1st power in 1930.
    Hugo Chavez was 45 when he took the reins in 1999.
    Putin was 47 when he officially took power in Russia.

    IF Donald Trump becomes President of the USA he will be 71 years old.
    Do you REALLY think your ”guilt-by-association” fallacy fits?

    If you really want to worry about something, look into Obama’s new transitional team that might be busy shredding stuff.

  3. 3

    Nanny G

    [Trump] has threatened corporations with bills of attainder for escaping the US’s confiscatory tax rates and suffocating regulations.

    This, Vince, is pure BS.

    What Donald Trump has said is:
    We’re lowering taxes very substantially and we’re going to be getting rid of a tremendous amount of regulations.”
    Donald Trump said that, if elected, he would scrap a slew of federal regulations that he said are a burden on American business owners.

    IF businesses want to leave even after these changes are made, THEN, yes, he will impose tariffs or taxes upon their importation of products they used to make inside the USA.

  4. 5

    Nanny G

    @vince: It was, as you, yourself, note Vince, an HYPOTHETICAL.
    Now, once he is in office and can lower taxes as well as dump so many unnecessary regulations, companies will have a real choice: they can come back and manufacture inside the USA or they can stay in another country and face an import tax/tariff.

  5. 6

    James Felix

    This column seems to be predicated on the idea that Hilary would be less likely to act as an autocrat. I find that assumption to be highly, highly dubious.

  6. 7

    retire05

    @Nanny G:

    @vince: It was, as you, yourself, note Vince, an HYPOTHETICAL.

    Actually, no, it was a policy statement that left on ambiguity.

    Now, once he is in office and can lower taxes as well as dump so many unnecessary regulations, companies will have a real choice: they can come back and manufacture inside the USA or they can stay in another country and face an import tax/tariff.

    So, are we to have President Phone and Pen Deux? Or have you forgotten that the very things you support Trump doing is under the purview of the Congress, not the President. Presidents cannot levy tariffs.

    How ironic that the very people who complained about the things Obama did in thwarting Congress now support those things with a President Trump doing them.

  7. 8

    James Felix

    @retire05:

    “How ironic that the very people who complained about the things Obama did in thwarting Congress now support those things with a President Trump doing them. “

    Indeed, the conversation has shifted away from “constitutional order or authoritarian strongman” to “my authoritarian strongman or yours”. There’s no one left in either major party making a principled case for the limited government that’s actually spelled out in what’s supposed to be our governing document.

    That’s why I keep saying that, in the mid to long term, America is doomed.

  8. 9

    Nanny G

    Federal agencies can be curtailed or grown by the president.
    Obama grew federal regulations out from already existing federal agencies.
    And, yes, a president with a mind to it, like Trump, can revisit those regulations, ending them.
    *Since 2008, 25,155 new regulations have been issued under the Obama administration. The economic impact, according to American Action Forum, was $727 billion with 460 million new hours of paperwork required.*
    What will Hillary do about that? Not one thing. She loves her some government control.

  9. 10

    James Felix

    @Nanny G:

    And, yes, a president with a mind to it, like Trump, can revisit those regulations, ending them.

    Assumes facts not in evidence. There is nothing in Trump’s long, public history to suggest he’s got a yearning for smaller government. If you want to judge his intentions based on one year of ambiguous comments instead of four decades of concrete action you’re free to do so, of course, I just don’t think it’s wise.

  10. 11

    Ditto

    @vince:

    And that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.”

    Perhaps this is how Mexico will pay for that wall. Hate to burst your bubble Vince, but quite a few of our “trading partners” require tariffs on US goods sold in their nations.

    @James Felix:

    Assumes facts not in evidence. There is nothing in Trump’s long, public history to suggest he’s got a yearning for smaller bigger government.

    Fixed that for you.

    Trump is a businessman and you can bet he is well aware of Obama’s regulatory excesses that are (along with Obamacare,) forcing this jobless recession on the economy. You’ve have to be some kind of naive to think a businessman as president will not examine Obama’s (almost too numerous to count,) oppressive counterproductive deluge of regulations, and not do something to fix it.

  11. 12

    Naomi Stan

    @Nanny G:
    Do you really think that a man who changes his opinion on the spare of the moment can be trusted to carry out his promises? What examples can you give me. Has he distributed the money he raised for the soldiers? Has he in any way shown that he has the slightest idea what goes on outside his imaginary world? Sadly your mistaken beliefs will cause us all a great deal of suffering. Thank you.

  12. 13

    Greg

    @Ditto, #11:

    Trump is a businessman and you can bet he is well aware of Obama’s regulatory excesses that are (along with Obamacare,) forcing this jobless recession on the economy.

    Want another chance to compare the current state of the economy with what we saw in 2007-2008? Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. might consider renegotiating payment of it’s debt obligations might be just what you’re looking for.

    What that suggestion tells me is that the man may be largely clueless about macroeconomics. He’s living in a billionaire’s gilded fantasy castle. He may have a gift when it comes to successfully exploiting the economic system to amass personal wealth, but that doesn’t mean he knows beans about how to keep the economic system healthy. You don’t call in a highly successful jockey if you have concerns about the health of a race horse, or worries about the financial complexities of operating the race track.

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