Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist


Donald Trump, running for president, promises he will be a dictator for a day. Thirty-nine percent of Americans think that would be a good idea; 74% of Republicans said yes or probably in a recent University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll.

Having lived in a soft dictatorship for a couple years and been familiar with harder ones, this puzzled me. What could they be thinking? I remembered my landladies in Belgrade, Serbia, progressive democrats who supported politicians opposed to their strongman president, Slobodan Milosevic. Yet, one day we were talking politics and I was astounded to hear them say, "What we need is a strongman to clean things up." A democratic government wouldn't be enough.

I've considered this often. Why would they give up one dictator for another? They'd seen the soldiers marching in the street. They watched as one independent or semi-independent news source was raided and closed down, the leaders of human rights organizations were imprisoned, law faculty who refused to sign loyalty oaths were demoted or fired, those in Milosevic's inner circle who questioned him disappeared or were assassinated in broad daylight, Albanians in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo lost their schools and were prohibited from using their language on official forms or in official proceedings, Albanian houses were searched and Albanians were jailed without charge.

When Milosevic felt like he was losing control, he escalated attacks against Kosovar Albanians until it reached the stage of ethnic cleansing, where villages were burned, people driven out of the country, others murdered. This couldn't be what Republicans and Trumpers desired, could it? Well, not for themselves, not to limit THEIR freedoms. But for those immigrants? For Blacks, gays, Native Americans, Democrats, those who opposed Trump and his agenda? That might not be bad. Didn't they deserve it?

Trump admires strong men like Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un. He wants to be one. As he believes, the president isn't subject to laws. He can do anything. In fact, he shouldn't even be subject to laws when he is an EX-president. He wants to be president again so he can revenge himself on those he considers his enemies (and they are legion and ever-growing; don't cross this guy). "Off with their heads!" Wouldn't that be satisfying? He also wants to avoid changing a life of Mar-a-Lago luxury for a prison cell (though he wouldn't have to pay utilities). But why would ordinary Americans want to be ruled by a dictator? No guarantee they'd avoid his wrath. He turned on Fox News and some of its commentators. When Neil Cavuto criticized him for promoting hydroxychloroquine as a Covid preventive, he called him "garbage," "an idiot," "gullible," and "an asshole."

A strong man is an American icon. Think of the Camel guy in the cigarette ad (if you're of an age). Any Western lawman with a gun. John Wayne. Superman. (Well, he had a super power from kryptonite, not a gun.) It's an odd reflection of our self-concept. Do we think we're powerless?

There's fear involved in desire for a strongman. He'll make all things right -- like the mythical father who will protect us from bullies and ghosts. Today's strongman leader needs to protect us from climate change, or rather the need to face what our reliance on fossil fuels is causing so we can keep our cars and leaf blowers; the pandemic and new viruses so we can continue to socialize and not stay locked in our homes or be hospitalized or die; homelessness so we needn't run into tents on our sidewalks and people who smell bad; a fentanyl crisis (lock 'em up); immigrants who'll take our jobs and housing (lock 'em up; send 'em back); People of Color taking our places at universities and in high-paying jobs ("Make America Great Again").

A dictator for a day. Well, only a day. (Who gives up power once experienced?) And it's not against US. What's that knock on the door?

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