Trump is not a natural dictator. Yes, he admires, from afar, the trappings of authoritarianism. Parades, rallies, press censorship, secret police, concentration camps, things like that. These are all deeply seductive to him. But he doesn’t have the management chops to pull them off.
If you really want to be a dictator, it’s like anything else. You have to work at it. You have to put in the hours.
Grabbing and holding on to corruptly-acquired power is a full-time job. It’s not just about subverting judges and torturing the odd dissident. Just ask Vlad or Xi or Jair. There’s always an official to purge, an oligarch to blackmail, a reporter to arrest, an unlawful assembly to forcibly disperse. Not to mention the occasional uppity country that needs invading.
You can’t just mail it in. You can’t get by on cruelty alone. It’s hell on your golf game.
Not everyone is cut out for the dictator lifestyle. Your privacy is shot. People watch your every move and they probe for weakness. They're looking to take you down. You can’t trust anyone.
It’s exhausting, but you need to stay vigilant, day and night, for about twenty years. If you’re lucky. Because each morning you wake up wondering if this is the day your car blows up or there’s plutonium in your coffee. Quitting isn’t an option. It’s a death sentence.
Does this sound like Trump’s sort of thing? Twenty years of watching his own back? A guy with no discernible work ethic?
You’d think he would delegate better, but he can’t even get that right. Jared Kushner? Mark Esper? Mark Meadows? The real dictators know how to spot the real talent, and they recruit that special blend of smart, corrupt, and loyal. Trump only gets two out of three.
At this point, he can only recruit the worst and the dimmest. Yes, they do his bidding, which never quite rises to the dictator level. But they’re not very good at it. Discipline is not strict, mostly because Trump doesn’t do the iron-fist thing well at all. You never get the sense that any of his henchmen fear for their lives. Isn’t that Fascism 101? Don’t the real dictators work on these things?
Instead, Trump surrounds himself with cookie-cutter incompetents. People totally unprepared for the real work of fascist oppression. People like, say, Chad Wolf, the latest in a long line of oleaginous stooges.
Rugged good looks aside, Chad is not prime-time material. Now installed as the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security — the fifth in that position (remember Kirstjen Nielsen?) — Chad got his current job through a technicality both too corrupt and too boring to discuss. He’s keeping it through sheer sycophancy, sucking up to a boss who thinks presidential flattery is constitutionally protected.
Just as with all of Trump’s ‘actings,’ Chad is acting out the part of a real cabinet secretary. And like most of the actings, he’s out of his depth and quick to just wing it, much like his boss. A former lobbyist for the travel industry, he has no experience at all in either law enforcement or the military. Yet he cuts a dashing figure in his aviator sunglasses, deftly deploying his troops to war-torn Portland, facing down vicious leaf blowers and soccer moms. We just know he’ll never surrender to graffiti on federal buildings.
His resume includes a central role in the family separation policy at the border — the same policy that continues to store children in cages, presumably for later sale. But thanks to a job well done, he now heads up all of DHS, a position from which his incompetence can truly flourish. Saying yes to Trump is a great career move, if somewhat short-sighted.
Since DHS includes FEMA, you’d think Chad would be a bit more focused on emergency relief, what with a global pandemic and all. But the virus is only killing a few hundred people a day, and Chad’s time is valuable. He’s needed on the front lines, defending the nation from indignant mothers, and laying siege to an entire city block. Patton would be proud.
The Battle of Portland was always a made-for-television event. In Trump’s imagination, Antifa leftists, financed by George Soros, were burning down cities all over Fox News, but apparently nowhere else. Some of the riot footage was shot six years ago in Ukraine, because the Portland footage wasn’t nearly violent enough for the message Trump wants Fox to send. So now Kiev is acting out the part of Portland, and they assume no Fox viewer will know the difference.
Chad is all over these optics, and Fox is all over Chad’s new tough-guy persona. And now that Chad has saved Portland from rogue graffiti, he’s ready to move on to Chicago, New York, Detroit, and other cities known to have hurt Trump’s feelings.
The problem is that nobody believes a word of it. The optics have all backfired. A female governor scolded Chad and he skulked off. The brown stains on his nose will eventually fade.
But underneath the optics, the Portland operation was also meant to be a training exercise. A chance to take those DHS troops out for a spin, fresh from their war on children. The idea was to turn them into a real Gestapo, with unmarked uniforms and everything. So far, they’ve just looked silly.
Not that there’s any comfort in that. Trump has already moved on to things like undermining the Postal Service and warning us about the rigged election that he’s busy rigging. And there’s still a pandemic to botch.
But Chad's on it, ready to serve.