Much has been written about the perils of the Donald Trump US Presidency deriving from the populism and illiberal character of the man himself and his movement. It only took Trump’s first week in office to obtain proof of the accuracy of these analyses.
Trump the Terminator has discovered presidential decrees as a good substitute, and extension, of tweets.
Governing by decree is likely to turn out to be Trump’s favourite way of governing. Besides lacking detail, it has the additional advantage of bypassing both the legislative and the judicial branches of government, at least for a certain time, during which the next attack on democratic institutions is carefully prepared.
This is a path of undoing democracy by fits and starts. How far it can go has been amply demonstrated by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. That such a scenario would one day realistically endanger American democracy is a most shocking realization.
To understand why Donald Trump is such a danger we must not only focus on his populism. Democratic politics are to a certain degree always populist, which is why, democracy is not only about electoral politics but also, fundamentally, about the rule of law and about deliberation procedures. The populism of Donald Trump is of the kind that denies the necessity of both the rule of law and deliberation.
Further to this, the politics of Trump are the politics of paranoia.
Let us be clear: Trump did not only win the elections by capitalizing on anxiety and paranoia; he will try to stay in power by nurturing paranoia. This he will do by way of scapegoat politics, anti-immigration and anti-terror rhetoric; but also, by way of provocation, hyperactivity and half-baked policies in general.
His style of governing has three consequences and all are all nasty. First, it shifts attention away from his complete incapacity to govern (and ensures that his own party does not freak out). Second, it creates confusion and division among his opponents. From this perspective, his decision to ride on the anti-globalization movement by way of engaging in trade wars and protectionist politics is genial and extremely dangerous. Third, it shuts off the opposition by way of exhaustion.
When fighting Trump in the next years – and this we shall – we must recall our values and peaceful traditions; but we should also learn to maintain our clear-headedness and sobriety.