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Donald Trump's No Autocrat, Right?

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DONALD TRUMP
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As Donald Trump's presidency progresses, more and more commentators are starting to label him an autocrat. Despite my concerns about the man, I think such criticism is a tad harsh and uncalled for.

After all, we have yet to see American soldiers goose-stepping on parade before a uniformed President Trump. And so far I haven't heard any reports of blatant imperialistic invasions of Canada or Mexico.

My sources tell me that one sure sign of an autocrat is an obsession with the trappings of power, particularly grand and garish military uniforms. To date, I've only seen President Trump wear military garb once when he donned a flight jacket and an admiral's cap while aboard the U. S. S. Gerald R. Ford. And just because he packed his cabinet with former generals and retired military officers doesn't necessarily mean he's a militarist.

Apparently another clue that a leader is an autocrat is that he hands out positions of power and authority to family members. Think of folks like Saddam Hussein whose family members grew rich as part of his government.

Sure, Donald Trump may get some assistance from his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner but they're just selflessly helping out. And then there's Don Jr. and Eric who are doing their part to help the President avoid any financial conflicts of interest. To compare them to Uday and Qusay Hussein is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

You don't have to look any further than Russia and Vladimir Putin to see another characteristic of an autocrat, namely the suppression and control of the media. Just because Donald Trump continually castigates the mainstream press as liars and fake news and favors far-right news outlets doesn't mean that he actually controls the press or at least not yet.

One thing all autocrats appear to have in common is the acquisition of great wealth through their leadership position. It's unfair to directly accuse President Trump of such nefarious dealings. He may receive significant government revenue from staying at his own hotels and retreats and his business may benefit indirectly from his decisions and his position but you can hardly blame a guy for trying to financially better himself whenever he can.

Secrecy is one of the hallmarks of an autocracy. Think of the many nasty regimes over the years which suppressed information and spied on their citizens. The Trump administration cannot be accused of that. Its members might engage in alternative facts and Mr. Trump himself may not have released his tax returns but that doesn't mean they have suppressed information; it simply means they have a different view of things.

Another autocratic hallmark is the marginalization of the judiciary. Courts are either intimidated into ruling in the leader's favor or they are eliminated altogether. President Trump's reference to "so-called judges" and his invitation to "see you in court" are just his quaint ways of engaging those he views as his adversaries.

Militarism is another sure sign one is an autocrat. Think of the military buildups of a Hitler or a Mao or a Stalin. Donald Trump isn't even in their league. His proposed $54 billion addition to a military that already spends more than the next seven nations combined is a mere drop in the bucket and hardly makes him a warmonger.

Nationalism, too, helps identify an autocrat. The glorification of the homeland and its citizens helps to bind them to their leader and to persuade them to follow his orders unquestioningly. Implicit in this approach is the demonization of the "other", particularly foreigners. While Donald Trump's words may appear to qualify, we know from those working with him that that's not what is in his heart.

Loyalty is perhaps the key linchpin in an autocracy. Everyone is expected to pay obeisance to the leader and those who don't are castigated and even eliminated. It's a bit harsh to accuse Mr. Trump of valuing loyalty above all else when he clearly values himself first.

So let's cut the guy some slack. He's not a tyrant or a fascist or a despot. And he's certainly not an autocrat. He's basically just a very good con man. So let's take pride in that and leave the name-calling to others.