(FT) Jacob Weisberg: Autocratic attitudes emerge in a modern American setting

Mr Trump does not draw on traditions of European totalitarianism or even appear to know anything about them. He is not consumed with historical grievances; he is not an anti-Semite; he has not tried to build a mass party; and he does not demand the restoration of tradition or an old moral order. Indeed, as a reality television star and cyber-bully on his third trophy wife, he is a good illustration of the breakdown of any moral order possibly remaining.

Rather, Mr Trump represents what autocratic attitudes look like in a modern American context. He is unfriendly towards the free market, the free press, and the free exercise of religion while paying lip service to these values. He is xenophobic, conspiratorial in his worldview, admiring of violence and torture, contemptuous of the weak and unwilling to tolerate criticism or peaceful dissent ”” but all in the name of correcting excesses of tolerance. Various global and historical comparisons shed light on his style and thinking: Juan Perón, Charles de Gaulle, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin. But Mr Trump isn’t importing Latin caudillismo or Russian despotism. He bullies those who resist him in the contemporary vernacular of American celebrity culture.

This is why those arguing that Mr Trump’s policies are more moderate than those of his rivals Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio miss the point. Mr Trump’s authoritarianism is an amalgam not of left and right but of wacko left and wacko right: he thinks that George W Bush was to blame for 9/11 and that Muslims should be barred from the US. Believing both of those things does not make Mr Trump a centrist; it makes him an eclectic extremist. When it comes to policies, he has none in the conventional sense.

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