Has America ever seen a more authoritarian presidential candidate than Donald Trump? Not since FDR—who seized coal mines and department stores, dictated wages and prices, and even weighed whether he should decree when Americans could eat meat.
But at least FDR had a reason: He was fighting a world war. What's Trump's excuse?
The other day Trump said he approved of Obamacare's individual mandate—perhaps the biggest expansion of government authority over individual choice since the suspension of the draft.
Trump also is a big fan of eminent domain—the process by which the government confiscates someone's property because it thinks it has a better use for it. He once tried to use eminent domain to seize the home of an elderly widow so he could build a limousine parking lot. Nice.
Der Donald also wants to build a wall on the southern border—"a great, great wall"—and he will make Mexico pay for it. How will he do that, exactly? As with everything else Trump proposes, details are fuzzy.
But Mexicans aren't the only thing Trump wants to keep out of the country. He promises to enact "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." That would rival FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans not only in scale but also in the degree to which it lacks any legal, constitutional, or even rational justification.
Trump also has proposed slapping a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to America. Put another way, he wants to raise consumer prices here 45 percent. This would be terrible for shoppers at Walmart, whose shelves are stocked with many made-in-China products. But it also would be terrible for people who shop elsewhere, because Walmart's low prices exert downward pressure on prices at other retailers. If prices on Chinese goods go up by almost half, prices on American-made goods will go up, too.
Yet even if that were not the case, Trump's proposal amounts to telling Americans who want to buy products manufactured or assembled in China—which includes everything from cheap plastic toys to iPhones—that they should not be allowed to. Who the heck does Trump think he is, to decide what other people may and may not buy? (Answer, of course: He's Trump!)
Trump also endorses not only waterboarding, but other "much worse" forms of torture, and says that if elected he would use them. "Don't tell me it doesn't work—torture works," he said in South Carolina. How does he know that? Because he says so: "Half these guys (say) 'torture doesn't work.' Believe me, it works."
"Believe me." That is Trump's answer to any skepticism about his notions: It's true because he says so.
- "I will build a great wall - and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me."
- "I would have Mexico pay for it. Believe me, they will pay for it."
- Jews will "like me very much, believe me."
- "If I'm president, you're going to see 'Merry Christmas' in department stores, believe me."
- "Ted Cruz gave us Obamacare, believe me."
He doesn't always say "believe me," but he often invokes its equivalent. For instance, his proposal to deport 11 million unlawfully present foreigners is contingent on being able to find them. Regarding that, he told CNN: "Politicians aren't going to find them because they have no clue. We will find them, we will get them out. It's feasible if you know how to manage."
Which Trump does. Just ask him yourself.
This is more than a verbal tic. It's an argumentum ad verecundiam, an appeal to authority: Something is true because so-and-so says it is true. Most of the time people who employ this logical fallacy appeal to an external authority: a constitutional scholar, Wikipedia, the Bible. Trump's authority is himself.
Indeed, that's probably part of Trump's appeal: He is the Strong Man who will Get Things Done. He is not going to be stopped by inconsequential obstacles like "political correctness" or the separation of powers—or the laws of physics—because he is so strong. As he put it in a recent email: "I am the strongest on the borders and I will build a wall, and it will be a real wall. I am the strongest on illegal immigration, strongest on ISIS, strongest on the military. …."
Hulk strong! Hulk build wall! Hulk smash puny immigrants!
One of the great ironies of Trump's success in the polls is that much of his support comes from people who profess to be angry over Barack Obama's serial offenses against the Constitution and limited government. It turns out that many of them positively relish the idea of someone who will go even further than Obama has.
At bottom, Trump is making the same pitch as the current president did: Give him enough power and he'll take care of everything. Trouble is, that's not what presidents are for.