Great Moments in Government

If the history of civilization has taught us anything — and by “us,” I mean non-progressives, progressives being constitutionally opposed to learning from history — it is that government will never be perfect, will rarely be good, and will usually be dreadful. Tyrannical impulses, fatal compromises of principle, and catastrophic blindness are such intractable facts of the human condition that it is an act of pure folly to hope for anything more from our leaders than some form of lesser evil. Having said that, I cannot help asking, as I survey the current political scene, whether there has ever been a time like ours, when all the world’s leading nations were simultaneously governed by such destructively ignorant, small-mindedly acquisitive, and benightedly incompetent human beings. I cannot know for certain that there has never been a worse moment than ours in this regard. I am quite certain, however, that if there ever has been such a time, I must thank the gods for sparing me any experience of it — just as surely as I must blame them for stranding me in a world with today’s global leadership, whether it be the absolute worst of all time or merely the second-worst.

Does Donald Trump have the instincts or impulses of a dictator? Yes, of course he does. Dictators, by and large, are extremely stupid men. Their will to power usually amounts to little more in practice than a confession that they lack the intellectual and linguistic skills required to lead, and must therefore lash out at their own societies with the irrational hatred and vulgar disrespect of a schoolyard bully who seeks to coerce where he is utterly unable to persuade, to mug or rape where he lacks the power to befriend or seduce. Vladimir Putin, according to recent estimates, has already lost, as one former officer in his army puts it, the equivalent of more than the entire Russian army as casualties in Ukraine, and is now well on his way to sacrificing a second complete army. And yet he continues to call up more men, and to send them knowingly to the slaughter, in the name of nothing but saving his own irredeemably egg-spattered face.

And there is no man on this Earth whom Donald Trump more openly and consistently admires than Putin. Does this mean that Trump, if elected in 2024, would become another Putin? No — but this is not for lack of the necessary instincts or impulses. It is merely a result of two factors which can never be overlooked in Trump’s case. First, he is forced to function within a constitutional system that retains enough of its withered remnants to prevent any individual from assuming absolute power. Second, although he has the mouth of a bully and the sensibility of a tyrant, he lacks both the basic historical sense and the thuggish nerves of steel that are necessary to propel a man from unhinged delusions of grandeur to an actual murderous rampage. In other words, he is constrained by one factor, republican law, that is likely to remain in place at least until well after Trump is gone, and by another factor, essential cowardice, that lives at the very core of his being.

Joe Biden, by contrast, is already a dictator of the most radical sort that the remnants of American constitutionalism will allow — although he doesn’t know it. To be more precise, Biden is the taxidermist’s model of a frontman for a tyranny-by-committee, made up of people no American citizen can identify with clarity, who are actively doing all they can to tear down the skeleton of republican structure that limits them to a degree they obviously find unacceptable. “Where,” they must cry out every day, “do those old white racists of the patriarchal eighteenth century get off telling us what we can and cannot do by way of transforming this country into a Frankfurt School update of the collectivist dreams of Mao and Guevara?”

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