If there is one mistake I have seen my country make consistently, it’s not letting go of dictators when it should. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case for failed democracies around the world.
You see, when nations hold on to the men and women who deliberately tried to bury democracy for their own personal gain, what they’re also doing is normalising authoritarian politics. And that sets off a chain reaction. Because with time, that’s all a political landscape becomes — a battleground pitting dictator against dictator, all eyeing for their chance to rule.
America’s not there yet. As far as it’s concerned, it’s just had its first round. The coming months, and how America handles Donald Trump during them, will undoubtedly dictate the future of American politics.
Because if the networks simply can’t let go, if social media algorithms keep pushing his words, if people keep tuning in to his rants — America’s going to have a problem. Why? Because being able to occupy America’s attention is what’s going to keep Donald Trump relevant. And the longer he stays relevant, the longer he has to preach his martyrdom. And the way he’s going to do it, as he already is, is by telling the people that they were ripped off by the powers that be. That they were conspired against. Why is that problematic? Because over time, and with enough repetition, his lies, as they tend to do in today’s world, will be seen by more and more as the truth.
And even if they aren’t, with time, that’ll just become something that Trump is known for — “standing up for the people.” You see, if there’s one thing we know about Donald Trump, it’s his ability to change what his brand is. It was the business magnate first. Political outsider second. And it’ll be “America’s liberator” or “the defender of democracy” third.
This isn’t to say that this tactic is going to be winning over new voters — he’s shown he can already do that — what this does is keep him relevant.
And I know what you’re thinking, “Why is he even bothering in the first place? Doesn’t he know how old he is? Or that he might go to prison?”
Let’s take the age first. Dictators, by nature, are hungry for power. Common sense doesn’t factor into the mix — only their lust for power does. You see, it’s hard to convince dictators to step down when they feel they’re entitled to the office they hold. Let me give you an example. I’ve seen dictators who are also corrupt. And I’m talking directly stealing your tax money corrupt. They plundered their own nation to the point where, if you actually counted their money, you’d find them to be richer than most billionaires. But unlike them, they can’t really spend that money — otherwise they’d get caught. And yet, they do it anyway.
And when it comes to the possibility of going to prison, the first thing to know is Trump doesn’t think that’s going to happen. He’s already told allies he’s going to run in 2024. And here’s the thing — even if he doesn’t, staying relevant is going to pay dividends for him in other ways.
Chief among which are his children. The thing with this kind of attention is it tends to have a trickle effect; one where it passes down from Trump to his kids. They are then able to leverage the attention their father got for their own political gain. This is where they “pick up the mantle” and use the brand he created to stand for office. And this happening is far likelier than you’d believe. Because Ivanka already has political aspirations. And even if she doesn’t run, Donald Trump Jr. has become a sort of poster boy for the Trump campaign. He already wields significant influence over the Trump base and he led the charge, along with Rudy Giuliani, to overturn the result in the courts. What has all that achieved? Trump Jr. has now managed to associate himself with politics in the eyes of millions.
This is where you see political dynasties come to life. I’ve seen it happen twice. Once they normalise their presence in the political arena, to the average voter’s subconscious, it seems like the natural progression when they eventually announce their candidacy. And because their father or mother had held the highest offices in the land, that’s exactly what they’ll be gunning for too. Why? Because, like their dictatorial parents, they too have a sense of entitlement to rule. Why else would they willingly go ahead with agendas to subvert democracy?
And if you’re thinking whether them leveraging the attention Trump is getting is even a possibility, know that they’ve already done it. I mean, they became famous before their father became president because they were able to feed off the attention he was getting.
And entertaining the possibility of a political dynasty isn’t all America will be doing if they don’t let go of Donald Trump. Why? Because if America, despite Trump’s attempted coups, keeps giving him the attention he needs, they’ll be normalising Trump politics. And this is going to be a green light for the Trumps of the future. How? Because they’ll have seen that Trump, after everything he’d done to bend democracy in half, was not shunned from society; that rather he was tolerated — and in some instances, revered. Couple that with the fact that Trump is leaving behind a blueprint for how to win 73 million votes and you realise that this can become serious — fast.
But despite the urgency, I highly doubt America will let Trump fade away. Why? Novelty. Trump is the first dictator it’s ever had. It sounds contradictory, but is America going to hang on to him feeling that he’s some sort of national treasure? “Our first really bad egg?” Perhaps. If not, it might be out of curiosity instead. You see, America’s in uncharted waters. It never really foresaw Trump’s rise in the first place. And now it doesn’t know where it’s going. In these times of uncertainty, Trump provides certainty. It’s a case of “how best to know what a dictator’s going to do next than by watching what the dictator does next.”
And here’s where Trump has the advantage — he knows what he’s going to do next. Why? Because the moves he’s been making of late have been textbook Third World politics. It’s only inevitable that he carries down the tried and tested path that he set out on. Because — newsflash — dictators don’t try to steal power and then run away. It’s exactly why you see authoritarians in the developing world consistently sweep elections.
Having said that, there’s one glaring difference between America and the Third World — a difference that could help keep Donald Trump relevant for years to come. What is it?
You see, when dictators run riot in poor countries, you see the effects immediately. Poverty begins to go through the roof, energy crises start and inflation numbers reach sky high. But America? It has skyscrapers and billionaires to paper over the cracks. Not to mention the fact that your Netflix subscription will keep working, the trains will keep running and your electricity won’t go out at random. And you know why that helps people like Donald Trump?
Because it takes something truly horrible for the people to wake up.
I won’t be surprised if there are many in America who believe that fixating on Trump’s evils is a waste of time. After all, like I said, “everything’s still working.” But normalising authoritarianism is only going to push America closer and closer to the point where, suddenly, everything stops working.
Is America going to notice? Is it going to see reality for what it is? I doubt it. It sounds ironic, but dictators in the Third World are what stand between their people and wealth. In America, it’s wealth that’s keeping the prospects of a dictatorship alive.
Whether America can force itself to resist Trump remains to be seen. But make no mistake — this is one of America’s greatest tests going forward. Because it’s going to have to be okay with not knowing what comes next, with sending their first dictator to the realm of political obscurity, and it’s going to have to deal with the “fear of missing out” on all the drama Trump sends their way.
If it doesn’t, it may indeed be sowing the seeds for a democracy destined to crumble — just like the ones in the East. But — and here’s the crucial bit — American democracy isn’t there yet. And that means Americans still have a choice. Are they going to learn from the democracies that fell in the face of authoritarianism or are they going to cling on to their dictator and set course for the same destination?