Defining Donald Trump as a Despot
The first thirty-days of Donald Trump’s administration has witnessed unprecedented and troubling aspects of governance that forces the question: is Donald Trump a tyrant, a despot, a dictator or some other form of tyrannical government usurping the democracy of the United States. These are important questions that we shouldn’t have to be asking ourselves today, but nonetheless they are questions that have been forced upon us by Donald Trump’s own actions.
First, it is important that we understand how a democracy can move away from the ideals of a democracy to a totalitarian tyranny. On the surface, a tyranny in the United States seems impossible as the country is founded on the principal of the three branches of government – the federal, the congress and the judiciary – each holding the other two in check.
Tyranny, like democracy comes in different flavors, from one extreme to the other. From tyrant to dictator there are many flavors in between each with their own characteristics.
History has shown that tyranny is imposed in two primary ways.
The overthrow of the government by force generally imposes a tyranny whose ideals represent the opposite of the disposed government. Clearly, there has been no coup d’état in the United States so we can dispense with this version of tyranny.
The second, and more insidious way is by free elections putting the tyrant into office. Within the constitutional framework, the tyrant is legitimately elected by the electorate. The rise of the Nazi state is an example of the imposition of a tyrant through the ballot box.
In 1932, Germany held federal elections. There was a turnout of over 80% of the electorate that cast a vote. Germany was divided resulting in loose governance ideological coalitions realigning until the National Socialists German Workers’ Party took control of the government.
The Nazi’s took control of Germany by relying upon nationalism (America First) by singling out unpopular minorities (Muslims, immigrants) and rallying popular support against them. They took control of Germany by demonizing those that were different as the causes of the failures of the German state.
Tyrants offer solutions to the problems only if they are allowed to govern as they see fit irrespective of the needs of the few. Tyrants demand unyielding loyalty in return for the illusion of prosperity.
It is time to call Donald Trump for what he truly is – a despot.
des·pot /ˈdespət/ noun a ruler or other person who holds absolute power, typically one who exercises it in a cruel or oppressive way.
There are numerous explorations on the topic of public policy and governance that gives us the opportunity to explore Trump’s actions in his first thirty-days in office and compare them to the characteristics that great philosophers have postured over the centuries about despots.
Let us examine selected examples and compare them to Trump’s actions over the last 30, or so days that he has been in office.
The Definition of a Despot
“Despotisim, therefore, has two distinguishing characteristics: sovereign power is wielded by usurpers, and it is not exercised for the public good.” 
Clearly Donald Trump usurped the traditional Democrats and Republican parties to win the election. Donald Trump has been a member of three political parties over time – the Democrats, the Republicans and the Reform Party. Each time, Trump embraced the ideology of that party for political purposes only to discard that ideology when another party better suited his political ambitions.
Any honest assessment of Trump’s rise through the Republican Party clearly shows that Donald Trump does not embrace the ideology of the Republican Party, but rather used the dysfunctional Republican Party is the mechanism for his election. This is best exemplified by the lingering animosity within the Republican establishment over the Trump presidency.
As Congress becomes more involved in the Trump presidency by legislation, the animosity of ideology will likely manifest itself with the debates over proposed legislation.
The Treatment of Minorities
“There is also another aspect of despotisim which illustrates even more clearly the fundamental contrast with the republic. The state becomes despotic the moment that certain of its members are unfairly treated in comparison with others, or when the government sacrifices one person for the benefit of the majority.” 
Clearly the animosity by Donald Trump against immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants and his travel ban executive order targeting certain Muslim countries demonstrates Trump’s use of demonizing minorities for popularity for himself.
Ignoring the Tradition of the Separation of Powers
“In order that I may give different things names, I call him who usurps the royal authority a tyrant, and him who usurps the sovereign power a despot. The tyrant is he who thrusts himself in contrary to the laws to govern in accordance with the laws the despot is he who sets himself above the laws themselves. Thus the tyrant cannot be a despot, but the despot is always a tyrant.” – Jean Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract
The lingering issue of Donald Trump’s business dealings as well as continued assaults upon the judiciary can be interpreted as Trump believing that he is above the law. Not to mention the Russian connection. Trump has demonstrated a disdain for the legal branch of the government many times before and since being elected. Trump has no respect for the judiciary.
Ruling Through Fear
“The despot gathered all power to himself; would not tolerate rivals; eliminated political life; rules by personal whim; lived extravagantly while demoralizing economic life; and as Montesquieu emphasized, used cruelty to create a climate of fear that paralyzed opposition and stifled cultural creativity.” 
Despotism is characterized by “fear, violence [and] isolation.” – Montesquieu 
“Fear, ignorance and chaos are the traits” characterize a despotic society. – Montesquieu 
There are numerous examples of Donald Trump’s unwillingness to tolerate dissention within his government. He has fired those who oppose his dictums. He threatens consequences for those that challenge his administration. And, he has imposed a muzzle on information emanating from the White House. Trump wants to control all information so that he can control the message.
Attacking the Media Outlets
“Despotism creates conditions where ignorance becomes a prevalent feature” of the society. – Montesquieu 
“A free press and freedom of opinion provide the public with access to information independent of what the authorities say, so that it knows what is being done and for what reasons.” Carl Schmitt 
Last week, Donald Trump, for the first time in U.S. history declared the news media the “enemies of the American people.” The Trump administration went so far as to exclude selected members of the news media; BBC, CNN and the Guardian, among others.
Trump has rallied support for his attacks on the news media around the notion that the news outlets are purveyors of fake news. Trump has isolated the news outlets that do not support his version of events and shut down the people’s right to access opposing viewpoints.
Trump silences critics through intimidation by firing those in his administration that oppose his agenda and, so far, is consolidating power through executive action bypassing the congress, although his party holds the majority.
When the third branch of government imposes a check on Trump’s unilateral policy, (travel ban) he first demonizes them by calling them corrupt and he then threatened to bypass them by tweaking the travel ban through a new executive order.
These are all historically defined examples of a despot, and as you can clearly see, Donald Trump is the despot that the forefathers warned you about.
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu is generally referred to simply as Montesquieu
1. Viroli, Maurizio; “Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the ‘Well-Ordered Society’”; Cambridge University Press, February 13, 2003
2. Wolin, Sheldon S.; “Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life”; Princeton University Press, January 26, 2003
3. Zimeri, Hazel, Lian; “Knowledge in the Era of Despotism, a Reading of Abd ar-Rahman al-Kawakibi’s Tabai al-Istibdad wa Masari al-Isti bad”; Master Thesis in Arabic Studies, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo; November 2007
4. Schmitt, Carl; “The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy”; MIT Press, 1988