I'll be back could discuss the president who would be a dictator with Brian class right after this. Joining me in the studio, today's Brian class, He's the author of a new book called The despots Apprentice Donald Trump's attack on democracy. He's a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, the LSE And he focuses on authoritarianism and democracy Brian, Thanks for joining me on the show. Thanks for having me. So you studied dictators around the world. So it's natural took compared Donald Trump. And I think you say at the outset of the book will, Donald Trump isn't a despot classic despot like Mao or Stalin or Castro. But he sort of on the desperate spectrum, What is he? How does he compare? What's the difference between Donald Trump and a real desperate, The differences, the system that he lives in, basically, I mean, you know. So you have two characteristics to determine how authoritarian of country becomes one is the person who's in power and the other is how much latitude they're given to sort of embrace their authoritarian and. Pulses of instincts, I think It's undeniable that Donald Trump has authoritarian personality and an authoritarian instinct for power. He hates being criticize, but there is a more robust democratic system in the United States. I think if he if we were in Turkey and Donald Trump were in power for ten years, I think he would become a despot. The reason I say he's not is because I've seen some really terrible things around the world in genuine, the authoritarian countries, and to try to conflate the United States with that is I think Alarmist that being said, it would be foolish of us to not take seriously the warning signs of how Trump's authoritarian impulses will corrode our democracy over the long-term to use this charm authoritarian personality, which I think is exactly right, But what, what is an authoritarian personality and where else do you see this authoritarian personality around the world today? So the authoritarian personality, Miller's few aspects that come up with Trump won is how he has a cult of personality around him, right? So he'll he'll lie in any way to try to make himself seem good, right? He. Distorts and Cherry picks poll numbers says any negative poll numbers are fake news, lied about the inauguration. And these are what I try call in the book. The little man lies the ones where his egos driving him to try to cultivate this cult of personality as dictators around the world. Always do. I've got the biggest button Exactly. This is a perfect example of it, right? So am I think this is something that is integral to him? He he also has an authoritarian personality in a sense that he may not be ideologically committed to a throw turn of some, but he has an absolute disdain and recklessness for anyone to to to attack anyone who criticises him. So anything that stands up to him is wrong and needs to be combated. And I think that's where you have these constant attacks on the press, the constant sort of using Hillary Clinton as a foil against him. This is very common in a place like Turkey, right? So you have president Ergo on constantly talking about his opponents out to get him the deep state out to get him the witch-hunt of the state, right? And and so I think that there's this personality trait that is inherent Donald Trump that's coupled with. The actual authoritarian behaviour, Right? So this isn't just a personality trait. He's also In addition to attacking the press, running the country, like a family business with his ethics violations. He's got divide and rule tactics. He scapegoats minorities constantly blaming Mexicans and Muslims in migrants for all of his administration's failures. We'll most recently and just to take a pause honored. I mean, hit whole countries following on the heels of this comment over the holidays which got a little buried about Nigerians live in huts Then Haitian Thawal have AIDS. I mean, he sounds like you know a drunk idiot drunk racist idiot Then bar. So I think that's the charitable interpretation of it. I think that he is certainly racists and the divide and rule chapter in the book chronicles his decades and decades of racism Mrs a feature of Trump. It's not a bug. It's not like a mistake that he accidentally said this is just who he is. But I think we can't just dismiss it as sort of an idiotic comment. It's a strategy and the strategy is to turn Americans against each other. So they don't turn a. Against the president Now, I think that's a backfiring strategy because a lot of people are unify and against Trump. But among the people who loved Trump, This wasn't something where they think, Oh, that's too bad that he said that all the phantom anyway. They're cheering this comment. And there's a segment of America's population that is what I call the book of authoritarian voters. And these are also often people who are white nationalist And there celebrating Trump I mean, you see this after Charlottesville, you see it after these comments, and they've been brought out of the woodwork. Now The problem is, once that's been mainstream by the Trump administration does it just go away and 2020 Of course, None, right. I mean, this is why I think the people who have the more optimistic interpretation of Trump as the sort of idiotic aberration are downplaying the fact that there are tens of millions of people who are excited about Trump because of these things, not in spite of them. And that's where you know there used to be this pact between Republicans and Democrats They you did not cater to these voters, Right? So when John McCain was Aston or was you know in a rally in two thousand eight and somebody said, Obama's, You know, a Muslim born in Kenya. He took the mic and shut that person you on. It said, no, he's not right Trump revelled in the Lock, her up chance. And so I think the key difference here is he's broken this unwritten rule that we don't embrace these people in our society who do not care at all about democracy, who are racist. And instead he said, You know what? I'm going to be your champion, and I'll do it maybe with some winks and nudges. And now you know, even some more open in a very I think dog whistles have been replaced by horns long ago. But it's it's clear that this is something where it's part of the strategy, not just inadvertent bumbling from a guy at the bar yet had notes, not dog-whistle It's actually feeding meat to the dogs. Yes. But let me ask you first the historical question about America, and then a comparative question about the the rest of the world today. Have we had an authoritarian personality as president before, or is Trump the first in your in your assessment? I think the closest authoritarian populists would have been somebody like Andrew Jackson. But I mean, I often talk about it. Modern American history, because when you know the the should whole comment, for example, I mean, yeah, it's it's it's a terrible and we have to remember that CO slavery was legal in this country. In the 1860s we've had presidents who are far more racists than Trump will you had a system that was far more racist and if you do abusive, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the people running it had that personality in part of the great paradox of the American founding, Yes, is you had these slaveholders who were also great liberal thinkers. I agree it. So I agree this committee, I was talking about the racism aspects, right? So I I think that we've the racism aspects There are parallels and Martin earlier American history because we had a lot of we as as president in terms of authoritarian personalities. And I think Andrew Jackson's the closest I don't. I still think he had an immense amount of respect for the constitution and procedures. And the other person I talk about in the book is sort of McCarthyism an Huey Long people who were in the political system that had this authoritarian personality. But did not end up ascending to the presidency. I think, you know, this is the first test case in modern global hyst. Three of the affective democracy being challenged by genuine, the authoritarian personality there that's never happened before. We've had people who have risen to become despot and closet democratic systems place like Turkey, Russia, etcetera. But those systems did not have long legacies of democratic procedure, democratic norms built into the system, and they didn't have the institutions. So that's why I think the Trump is a really important test case for the world. Because if he if this works, if it's viable, if he gets re-elected, if you know the 2018 midterms are sort of a mild rebuke to the Republicans. It sends a message not just to sort of Trump to point out that are waiting in the wings in America, but also in Western Europe and other places that this is a viable strategy to play on people's fears to be an authoritarian demagogue And to say, the system doesn't matter. The procedure doesn't matter. All the matters is that I am on your team And our political tribalism will do what you want. And that's what the founding fathers explicitly did. Not want to have happen, But they anticipated somebody like Trump. The just didn't anticipate that. Win a demagogue took office. Congress will be complicit with them, And that's why were in such a mess because the institutional checks and balances delivered to Congress on on those piece of Parchman They're just pieces and less people employ them to hold power to account and they're not doing that right now. We know we've seen a moral collapse in the Republican Party, which I used to be a respectable Conservative Party, not that anybody, everybody and it with principal than perfect any more than they were in the Democratic Party. But they certainly I think the party Republican Party of the 80s would've stood up to Donald Trump. And what's so disheartening now is seeing the very few people who were challenging him in some way in Lindsey, Graham him just crumple sort of inexplicably. What do you think? I mean, when you look at these other regimes where and were were obviously most concerned about the places that were democratic and becoming more democratic like Turkey, Russia. India, The list, the list Venezuela, the risk The list goes on and on. What have we seen this pattern? Have we seen people stand up to him a little bit and then cave-in? Yeah. So I think that you know one of the things that happens authoritarian systems is that being a sycophant pays, right? I mean, bean in the orbit of the despot as an extremely effective strategy for getting rich and getting powerful. Now, the problem here, The reason why I think this is happening in the US is because the polarization that has been built into our system from decades of dysfunctional politics has made it. So it is a winning strategy for a lot of Republicans to simply doubled down on Trump. Now, the reason I say this is that in 2016 the average margin of victory in a house race in America was thirty seven point one percent which is as competitive as elections in places like you know, Russia. And so the reason for that is because a lot of these districts of gerrymandered And some of them are also just the product of demographic sorting rights of people moved to roll Texas. And they tend to think like other rural. Texans people moved to San Francisco, They think like other San Franciscans, what that means those that there's a huge number of Republicans in Congress. Who if they stand up to Trump, they might have a primary challenger. If they are sycophant for Trump, they won't. And the win in a. And so as a result, the political incentives for those people is clearly to become just a cheerleader for Trump. Now, The problem is we used to have shame in this country where people would sort of think this is, but hang us. Let me step you there for thing, break If I get that, that that that political logic applies to Many Republicans in many districts. But there are thirty at current count, Republican House members who are not running for reelection in large part because Trump has made them on electable either because they're informing districts district that say, voted for Hillary Wall electing Republican congressmen, or they're in California. They're in there and very blue state. And you know you've studied political science. The rational choice theory says, politicians do what's in their self interest. How is supporting Trump in their self interest? What would seem to be in their self interest to give them a chance of reelection would be denouncing him and distancing themselves while it? So I think that that's the point, those that there are thirty of these people, but there's also hundreds that are in the exact opposite camp Ray, where it actually is politically risky to challenge Trump's over Lindsey, Graham. I get it in South Carolina. His chances of ever getting reelected are good if he supports Trump and bad, if he opposes Trump. But How 'bout these other wire, we're hearing them speak up. It's in their interest. So I think the other the other unfortunate, but true explanation for this is just, you know, political opportunism. You know a lot of a lot of Republicans view Trump as a vehicle. They view as a sort of useful idiots who can help them passed legislation that they've long desired. So ideologically driven Republicans may see Trump is someone Okay, We don't want to damage the president because that damages our ability get things done in negotiations, right? I mean for, for example, right now with the immigration bills, Trump is extremely weak. The republic. We're not going to get what they want out of that Bill. Howard, I'm not convinced by this part of your explanation. I think there's something else going on Because I don't think it's political opportunism. These people political careers are going to end for the time being. I think it's something more along the lines of your authoritarian personality idea, And this sort of either mass delusion or tremendous pure pressure, or somehow amassed psychological phenomenon, where people are caving against their own interests to a would-be despot as you call him, who is going to end their careers, destroy their party and end up putting the Republicans in this Ghuchan of limbo. That's not going to do them any good at all. Yeah. And I think that's I think that's a very good explanation explaining why they're responding to authoritarian voters in the party, right, who are cheering this behavior? I think people like Lindsey Graham, or I don't think he has an authoritarian personality. I think he genuinely believes in checks and balances cetera. But there's been a corrosion of the entire. System by what I call political tribalism and that's I mean it's really, really corrosive in this country where the response to any single individual issue is, was it my guy who said it or was it? The other guys said it, and that is how it's predicated with the shithole comments. For example, everybody's response, male, Fox News. That was surely it's fake news. But if it's are fake news, It's probably totally fine, Right? And then all of a sudden than the Trump administration denies it and they say, Oh, maybe it was bad, but he didn't say it, right? I mean everything They're just been reactive to everything and it's all about, is it my team or the other team? And this is where the reality show presidency that Trump has brought it to the White House, I think is indicative of this complete breakdown of any sort of rational compromise for the the bases of both parties. Nothing's obviously much, much worse on the Republican side, but there is political tribal is on the Democrats to you, and it's something that on the in the long-term, This is not going to be solved easily. We're not just going to simply wake up from this Trumpian nightmare and think. All right, let's. 'promise now we see the world the same way. 'cause Trump is making it increasingly difficult for people to even inhabit the same reality in this country where they look at the same event And they the facts, they believe are different. And that is to the point of what democracy is it's about compromise leaving in a shared society without violence. I mean, that's that's sort of why we have this system. And I'm really worried about our ability for the future to have genuine democratic compromise. So you very much in sync with a number of thinkers about about threat to democracy and rising authoritarianism who've been regular guest on this show. Yashem Timothy Snyder and Appelbaum You're all on the same page on this. And I agree with you. But it important question is what are the danger signs were We're watching for the Republicans in Congress have been that the House broke apart a carcass either shithole. Right? They have done. They've stood up to Trump to a minimum degree. But other parts of the government have stood up to Trump in a really admirable way. The judiciary, The federal courts, elements of the bureaucracy, it independent journalist. In many cases, conservative intellectual who aren't in elected politics, So what should be we be watching right now for scientific getting worse. So I think what's happening in this moment, that's really crucial. The watches, the politicization of rule of law in countries that I've lived in around the world. It's a it's a precursor to authoritarianism is to turn the rule of law into something where it is viewed as a purely political weapon by the regime to punish opponents from award loyal allies. Right now Trump showed glimmers of this in the fact that he's called to jail, his opponent repeatedly and part enjoy our Pyo one of his political allies. But now the attacks on the FBI and the special counsel and all this coming from the Republican party in the Trump administration is seriously dangerous because democracy dies at the point where rule of law is seen simply as a political tool. And I think that is that it's a clear strategy, right? I mean, I think the clear strategy here is to try to discredit the Muller investigation before the report is produced, right? So it seems like this, this guy is some. Political hack out to get Trump Now things to watch for is he going to pardon anyone is going to pardon Michael Flynn? If he does that, the serious breakdown of democratic norms and it will accelerate political or the politicization of rule of law. And he attempts to sort of curb or shut down the more investigation. And I think the aside from this aspect of rule of law, The other one that I really think we need to watches. Is there going to be a genuine national security crisis or a terror attack may major terror attack train Trump's time in office because those moments was crisis inflection points in places where there is a would-be despot in power are the moments that are most dangerous. They open up the the realm of possibilities and take out all of the political normals throw them out the window and all of a sudden somebody can get away with a whole host of new thing. So in the book I have four scenarios of what 2020 might look like. And one of them envisions that, you know, say there is a mass-casualty attack in the US and Trump is president something like a dirty bomb going off in an American city. It's really scary. I mean it, If you have somebody who. The genuinely authoritarian figure in power who has said that he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States and floated the idea of creating a registry for Muslim Americans. It I mean that person in power dream one of those moments is wind. Democracy could actually get slashed in unthinkable ways in the chromosome, while he's chipping away at it are sort of daily basis. The security stuff really changes how people accept stuff that has clearly clearly not acceptable in our politics. So here's another possible distinction. Question real death threats like Vladimir Putin are serious Like a heart attack there. They have to preserve hang onto power at all costs. They don't have much life expectancy beyond their tenure in office Trump. The Dillah Todd, He's an accidental President if you believe Michael Wolff book and I believe some of it not other parts of it, but I think he's right about this. Trump didn't really expect to be president with kinda you know, with like a celebrity gambit Heath, he finds himself in this position. But that whole scenario that were used to of the deathbed who cakes power roads, democracy, and eventually turn fit into authoritarianism Donald Trump doesn't have the discipline. He doesn't have the interest, he doesn't have the ability. He kinda just doesn't care. He wants to be back on reality TV that Israel life. Well, I mean, I think that I agree to you and the extent that he is not a strategic thinker, but I think people, when they think of despot surround the world, they think of the savvy once the overwhelming majority of authoritarian leaders in the rest of the world, and there are dozens of them. Are bumbling idiots There. There are people who are political opportunist driven by ego and narcissism, and you know, they tend to cling onto power simply because they believe that that's where the spotlight will be. I mean, that's a clear characteristic of many of her experience at, So I think you know, Trump's ego driving him is still dangerous. It doesn't mean that he has to be a strategic thinker in terms of all I want to tear down. You know these institutions, I don't think he's thinking about the institutions. He's thinking about tearing down the things that attack him. He's more like a banana or. Public dictator, with a ten hat in the military costume, and while a lotta people saluting him as he as he shouts from the balcony. Yeah. And I think that that you know, you don't have a lot of people think of Trump is not a scary authoritarian figure because he's not effective, but you don't have to be effective to be destructive. And that's what I think this first year in office has shown is that you can be a bumbling idiot at a narcissist with no strategic thinking and still do immense damage to democratic norms. And I just shudder to think about what's seven more years of this would look like now, does he want to stay in power? It's hard to say. I mean, maybe once he gets a taste of this, he will not want to leave. He certainly will not want to get destroyed an election. I mean, I think the VAT chip on his shoulder from losing the popular vote is so clearly bothering him. That you know the the specter of getting just destroyed in a landslide in 2020 will make them think twice about running. But it also make him think twice about how he tries to find ways to ensure that doesn't happen. And I think that's why I also have a chapter in the book talking about changing. Voting procedures and trying to do voter suppression, which Trump has very clearly tried to poison the minds of the public into thinking that our elections are infiltrated by millions of illegal voters, which is a complete lie, is trying to discredit the electoral process itself. So I I think it's always one of these things where you have this tension, you have, Okay, the idiotic bumbling Trump. Let's just sort of laugh it off and think this is an aberration. I'm not there. I really think that even though he is an idiotic bumbling figure, I think the not taking seriously the amount of damage he can do while he's in the highest office in the country is naive and I think it ends up risky and the fact that we don't have a strong enough response to him because I think that the response to Trump in 2018 and certainly in 2020 will dictate the future of our democracy. Bumbling fool yet incredibly dangerous. Had been thicky to brand class. His new book is The death printed with Donald Trump had on lock brand. Thanks for joining me on the show. Thanks for having me. Uh.