Robert Reich — the former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton — just issued a must-read list of red flags warning us of 4 years of tyranny.
Reich’s warning signs echo the actions of past tyrants, like Benito Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Augosto Pinochet in Chile, and Francisco Franco in Spain. In listing each example of tyrannical actions, Reich cited an action taken by President-elect Donald Trump both during his campaign and after his election. Reich’s list is meant to serve as an ominous warning for Americans to stay vigilant in the face of a terrifying and unpredictable government over the next four years.
1. Exaggerate their mandate to govern
Even though Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots, Reich pointed to Trump’s ludicrous statement that he would have won the popular vote had “millions” of supposedly illegal voters not cast ballots.
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
This electoral map from Germany’s 1933 parliamentary elections demonstrates how despite losing the popular vote, Hitler’s Nazi party still claimed a mandate to do with the government as it wished. The Nazis won just 43.91 percent of the popular vote, making them the largest party in the German Reichstag, though still a minority in the overall parliamentary landscape.
Hitler solidified his parliamentary coalition by building an alliance with the Catholic-led Centre Party and the Black-White-Red struggle front to have control over 2/3rds of parliamentary votes. With this coalition, the Nazis oversaw the passage of the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave Hitler the power to make decisions without parliament as chancellor.
Godwin’s law aside, it’s difficult to not be alarmed by Trump’s obvious lie of having a mandate, when comparing it to past history.
2. Repeatedly claiming massive voter fraud without evidence
Trump’s aforementioned claim of fraudulent voting as the cause for losing the popular vote was entirely unsubstantiated, prompting condemnation from political reporters. There is past historical precedent for dictatorial regimes using unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, as the Burmese military junta did after the 1990 general elections, which saw a massive victory for populist leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. The military government declared the election results invalid due to alleged voter fraud, which led to the 8888 uprising and Aung San Suu Kyi’s subsequent imprisonment. Speaking of imprisoning political opposition…
3. Tyranny by referring to political opposition as “enemies”
Donald Trump tweeted a creepy and petty New Years’ Eve message, wishing the “enemies” who opposed him during his campaign a happy new year.
Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2016
Trump famously quipped during a debate that he would put Hillary Clinton in prison if he won. While this was widely seen as red meat for his supporters and not a credible promise, it still drew criticism from political observers. Given his tweet about political “enemies,” it’s no wonder Robert Reich pointed to this as an example of looming tyranny.
4. Turn the public against the media
During Hitler’s reign, a term he coined to describe journalists was “lugenpresse,” which translates to “lying press.” In the leadup to the election, Trump repeatedly blasted the reporters present at his rallies, calling them “dishonest” and “not good people.” This led to his supporters verbally attacking the media as well, with some of them even using the Nazi pejorative to describe reporters who were covering Trump’s rallies:
Friendly interaction outside the press pen. "Lugenpresse!" pic.twitter.com/MWUZynJ8jx
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) October 23, 2016
5. Limit press conferences and communicate only through mass rallies and unfiltered channels
Since being elected president, Trump has repeatedly tweeted to his 18 million followers on a daily basis, though he’s largely refused to hold press conferences. Up until his recent bizarre press conferences at Mar-a-Logo in Palm Beach, Trump hadn’t held an open-ended conference with reporters for roughly six months. He did, however, embark on a “victory tour” following his election, which involved preaching to mass rallies of screaming supporters with press confined to the back of the room.
Trump argued he was “too busy” with the transition to hold a press conference explaining how he would resolve his multiple conflicts of interest, though he apparently had time to meet with rapper Kanye West.
In the memoirs of Hitler’s press chief during the Third Reich, Otto Dietrich recalled that Hitler hated holding press conferences, and would only make himself open for interviews if they thought his reputation would benefit as a result.
6. Tell the public big lies, causing them to doubt the truth and believe fictions that support a tyrant’s goals
This statement by Robert Reich on his blog is linked to Politifact’s long list of “Pants on Fire” statements made by Donald Trump during his campaign, as well as after November 8. The fact-checking site classifies “the most ridiculous falsehoods” as “Pants on Fire.”
Trump’s documented history of telling whoppers mirrors Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet, who once admitted that he did his best to hide his eyes when making false statements, as he openly lied often and knew that liars could be detected by watching their eye movements.
7. Blame economic distress on immigrants and minorities, incite violence against them
At a rally in July 2015, Trump stated, “[Mexicans are] taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.” He also generalized the entire American Muslim population, promising to ban all Muslim immigration to the United States if elected, citing the mass shooting in San Bernardino as justification. Both during his campaign and after his election, hate crimes committed against minorities in Trump’s name soared.
In his 1927 speech in Nuremberg, Germany, Hitler famously tied economic malaise to immigration:
Even the sorrowful effort to adjust the population to the available territory by encouraging the emigration of new generations requires power, even more today as states hermetically seal themselves from the immigration of uncomfortable elements. The more economic difficulties increase, the more immigration will be seen as a burden.
8. Attribute acts of violence to domestic “enemies” and use that as justification to limit civil liberties
While Trump hasn’t yet assumed the presidency, the policies he promised to implement while on the campaign trail — like banning Muslim immigration and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants — could lead to widespread civil unrest. As Vaud E. Massarsky wrote in The Hill, martial law could be imposed by Trump thanks to past actions by previous presidents and acts of Congress authorizing the executive branch to deputize the military for domestic situations. Massarsky also recalled a July interview with Trump, in which he told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd that religious freedom protections outlined by the First Amendment shouldn’t supersede efforts to stop radical Islamic extremism.
Past dictators have historically used domestic terror attacks as justification to grant themselves emergency powers, like imposing martial law and limiting press freedom. Hitler did just as much after the Reichstag Fire of 1933, which the Nazi leader declared was a Communist attempt to overthrow his regime, using the national emergency to give himself dictatorial powers.
9. Threaten mass deportations, registrations of religious minorities, banning of refugees
In addition to his promise to detain and deport 11 million people, Trump hasn’t held his tongue about banning Syrian refugees from immigrating to the U.S. He also unabashedly declared his intent to start a national registry of Muslims as president, and even requiring American Muslims to carry special ID badges in public. This is eerily similar to Hitler’s requirement that all German Jews wear Stars of David on their clothing that loudly identified them as Jews.
10. Eliminate or reduce centers of oppositional power, like labor unions and opposing parties
Shortly after his election, Trump sicced his Twitter followers on Indiana labor leader Chuck Jones, who represented Carrier workers.
If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2016
Jones was targeted by the President-elect merely for pointing out that Trump’s deal with Carrier would only save a fraction of the jobs he celebrated saving. Trump’s incoming Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, is a fast-food executive who favors automation over American jobs, and who opposes raising the minimum wage. It stands to reason that labor unions would be significantly weakened under Trump.
Trump’s attitude toward labor leaders reflects that of Benito Mussolini — the dictator who ruled over Italy during World War II. Under Mussolini’s regime, labor unions and strikes were declared illegal. He also declared all parties illegal other than his own Fascist Party.
11. Appoint family members to high positions of authority
After his election, Trump created headlines with the news that several members of his family were members of his presidential transition team, directly advising him on cabinet appointees and other executive appointments the President-elect will be making over the next few months. Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law who runs the New York Observer — was seen as Trump’s top deputy during his campaign, and is expected to take a high-profile job in the West Wing after January 20. Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, who is married to Kushner, is also moving into the office reserved for the First Lady.
The Trump family’s closeness to the executive branch is reminiscent of Haitian dictator François Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc,” who appointed his son, Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) to the position of “President for Life” at the young age of 19. Both Duvaliers ruled Haiti with an iron fist, killing and jailing dissidents.
12. Surround themselves with a private security force, rather than state-sponsored security
Dictators throughout history have maintained an additional “palace guard” for personal protection in addition to standard police and military protection. Donald Trump appears to be breaking precedent by maintaining his own private security detail in addition to the Secret Service protection he’s enjoyed since the early stages of the Republican presidential primary.
13. Appoint military generals to top cabinet posts
With the appointments of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to be the top national security adviser, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis for Secretary of Defense, and Gen. John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, Trump’s administration is closely resembling a military junta. As Democracy Now pointed out, Trump has appointed more generals to his cabinet than any president since World War II.
While Trump argues that their military experience qualifies the generals for their positions, “strongman” governments around the world have made the same argument, but with devastating results for democracy. Egypt was ruled by Air Force officer Hosni Mubarak before the Arab Spring revolt ousted him in 2011. Egypt’s democratically elected leader was soon ousted by the military yet again, when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi oversaw a military coup in 2013. Sisi has since celebrated Trump’s ascension to the presidency. Speaking of befriending dictators…
14. Make personal alliances with foreign dictators
The bromance between Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin (who has been referred to as a dictator for his brutal treatment of critical journalists) has been well-documented. Putin personally called Trump to congratulate him on his electoral victory, while at the same time U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Putin’s government of deliberately interfering in the November 8 election to ensure Trump would emerge as the winner. Trump openly showed his love for Putin on Twitter, praising him as “very smart” for not reciprocating President Barack Obama’s recent sanctions:
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
In addition to Trump, Paul Manafort, one of his top aides and former campaign chair, has a long history of working with foreign dictators, warlords, and arms dealers. As Alternet reported:
Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko retained Manafort’s firm in 1989 for $1 million annually to help address his PR issues: at the time, he was one of Africa’s most corrupt leaders, he had one of the worst human rights records, and his regime regularly engaged in torture, detainment, and rape.
15. Eliminate distinctions between private and public property, using government to enrich oneself
Reich alludes to Trump’s multiple conflicts of interest as another example of tyrannical behavior. While the real estate mogul maintains ongoing projects in dozens of foreign jurisdictions by which his business and family stand to gain financially, he has promised to resolve all conflicts of interest prior to his inauguration. However, the only sure way to do that — selling off all of his assets and distributing the proceeds evenly — appears to be out of the question for the President-elect.
Should Trump stick to his promise of putting his adult children in charge of business empire while president, he would still be in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits any employee of the government to use his or her authority to make decisions that would benefit themselves or their families. Trump, for his part, simply argues that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at [email protected], or friend him on Facebook.