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The problem with Donald Trump is not that he is a peevish oaf with an ego on steroids. Nor that his thuggish incivility is off the charts. It is not even that his wealth is beyond the dreams of avarice. The problem is that he feels accountable to no one and sees no limits to his personal power. This is megalomania. And it makes him potentially the most dangerous man in America.
It is a failure of democracy that he is taken seriously as a candidate. It could be the end of democracy if he became president; he could become America's first dictator.
A transition to dictatorship would likely be gradual, fueled by fear-mongering, racism, and xenophobia. His supporters would roar their approval until it dawned on them what was happening. By then it would be too late.
The elements are in place. The police have become highly militarized, government surveillance is authorized by a secret court, covert military operations have become routine, and the government presumes the right to kill Americans without judicial process if it deems necessary.
The media, with few exceptions, have forsaken their responsibility to provide objective, comprehensive news reporting. TV news, in particular, combines snippets of world news with extended weather reports and human interest stories about children and animals. Citizens are left facing a bewildering mix of facts, deception, and propaganda, particularly in foreign affairs. This makes simplistic solutions attractive.
We should remember that both Hitler and Mussolini came to power through democratic means.
Trump is not another Hitler. Anti-Communism and anti-Semitism do not drive his obsession with power. But there are similarities between him and Mussolini, the founder of Fascism; he also was a megalomaniac. And just as Trump pledges to make America great again, Mussolini sought to restore Italy to a supposed former glory. For him that was the era of the Roman Empire.
Trump does not identify when he thinks America was great. Gross inequality, 46 million in poverty, and breathtaking wealth of the top 1 percent are not marks of greatness.
Trump pledges to make America great not by progressive social policies, but by strengthening the military, the card played repeatedly by tyrants and those devoid of creative ideas. It is significant how often supporters like Sarah Palin refer to him not as the future president, but as the future commander in chief.
America has the potential for greatness. But it lies in providing global moral leadership, not by increasing our capacity to kill people efficiently.
Trump is not an evil person. He no doubt believes he can do good through personal aggrandizement. Confusing power with leadership, he said recently "I've never had any problem leading people. If I say, 'Do it,' they're going to do it."
But self-importance on stilts cannot by itself transform a proto Fascist into a dictator. The needed additional ingredient is the mindless support of the people, the police, and the military. The coming months will determine whether that is forthcoming.