Trump’s Authoritarian Ambitions

US President Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey last Tuesday has received attention from around the world. Critics have questioned the motivations and the legal backing of the action. There appear to be two rationales for Comey’s dismissal: first is the refusal to give Trump a loyalty oath, and second is the ongoing investigation into collusion with Russia. Trump claims that he made the decision long ago: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'” Trump told NBC. “Regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.” If the story is made up, however, the investigation will come up with nothing. Therefore, it is difficult to rationalize why an innocent, democratically-minded president would fire someone over daring to investigate a claim that allegedly has no legs.

As for the loyalty oath, Trump’s actions speak of a President who would indeed prefer to run an authoritarian government. There is a suggestion that, at a private dinner, Trump requested a loyalty oath from Comey. If this is true, Trump seems to fail to understand that demanding a loyalty oath from an intelligence agency is unwise and simply impossible. Those who work for the FBI pledge allegiance to the US Constitution, not to any individual. Intelligence agencies fight against the politicization of intelligence, as they are to provide non-partisan information about matters that may affect the nation. Demanding loyalty is essentially like asking for intelligence to be manipulated so that it suits the purposes of Trump. In recent days, Trump has denied that the request ever happened by stating the following: “No, I didn’t, but I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the US, is important. You know, it depends on how you define loyalty, No. 1; No. 2, I don’t know how it got out there because I didn’t ask that question.” However, whether Trump is telling the truth or not is a matter of debate as he has a history of changing his mind about reality.

Trump’s dismissal letter highlights the oddities in his thought patterns, such as his view of the world and his role as the President of the United States. The letter, dated the May 9 stated: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” With that said, it is against policy to inform people about whether or not they are under investigation in any intelligence or counterintelligence case, and the fact that Comey allegedly informed Trump three times is particularly odd. So too is the suggestion that there are taped recording of conversations – tapes that Trump threatened to release, but has not done so. If these tapes exist and suggest nothing incriminating on Trump’s part, then he should release them, as they will likely be subpoenaed regardless. If the threat is an empty one, it is another indication of the problems of Trump’s attitude toward the Presidency. With that said, he cannot risk the wider public coming to view his statements as lies.

There is a question about whether Trump is more than he seems, a man with ambitions of war and authoritarian power, or whether he is simply an ignorant and foolish man who does not understand his position. Either interpretation of Trump is dangerous. It is essential that the checks and balances on presidential power are maintained and that intelligence agencies have no fear of repercussions due to the intelligence they present. Whether the world likes it or not, the United States holds power. Therefore, it is important to consider that if the nation is corrupted, the consequences will reach far beyond the United States’ borders.