Between the morning of 9 November 2016, when Donald Trump declared victory, and the evening of 20 January 2017, when he made his inaugural speech, politics was at its most entertaining in my lifetime. Watching the bien pensant establishment melt down into a political temper tantrum over Trump's victory was a long overdue balm for the long-suffering rational mind. After years of watching the authoritarian behaviour of professional cry bullies whose affected victimhood had suddenly and violently morphed into the real thing, we finally saw those who had abused their positions of power and authority for so long get what they had earned, good and hard. However, not long after watching Trump's inaugural speech, I stopped laughing. This week, I have started to feel something else: fear. No, not based on anything Trump has done. Not his long overdue declaration of war on business regulation; not his executive order to build the border wall; not his immigration order that isn't and doesn't even border on a "Muslim ban"; and certainly not his appointment of perhaps the most civil liberties friendly Supreme Court judge since before the New Deal era, in the form of Neil Gorsuch. No. There is nothing (as yet) to confound my prediction that Mr. Trump is not a revolutionary (whether of the good (Ron Paul) variety or bad (Bernie Sanders) one) but, rather, a purveyor of the most sensible set of policy positions for which the establishment consensus will currently allow.
No. My fear relates to Mr. Trump's great political asset, which now shows disturbing signs of turning into a liability, namely his ability to induce derangement in his opponents. During his successful campaign, he succeeded in making his enemies expose themselves as politically correct, inverted-racist, open borders zealots. This helped to deflect attention from Trump's greatest political weakness: the fact that his authoritarian streak is real, even if exaggerated and decontextualised. Like George H.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, he has made public statements in support of criminalising flag burning. Like George W. Bush, he has intimated that he would like to tighten libel laws to reduce the freedom of the press. Like Bill Clinton, he seems discomfitingly comfortable with mass incarceration. Like Barack Obama, he seems to have little respect for States' rights and executive accountability and has intimated that he'd like to regulate the media to make its coverage of him less "unfair" (although, unlike his spoiled brat predecessor, he can at least claim to have a genuine grievance in this regard). This week, Dilbert creator Scott Adams asked whether Trump's opponents actually want to bring out the worst in him. Adams may have a point. I can't think of a better way in which to bring out Trump's inner authoritarian than the manner in which his opponents have been behaving since 20 January.
Observing the Women's March held on that day was akin to watching a hitherto entertainingly and somewhat endearingly mad person cross the line into seriously deranged and destructive behaviour. First, the arch-solipsist Ashley Judd stood, pie eyed, screaming to a frenzied crowd: making fun of Trump's physical appearance; suggesting that he harboured incestuous lust for his elder daughter; and going on a bizarre loghorreous rant about her menstrual cycle. Then there was Madonna, an "entertainer" who became super-rich by making semi-pornographic music videos and has since used her wealth to indulge the wildest and most exhibitionistic components of her personality. Her contribution was to fantasise about blowing up the White House. Finally, there was Linda Sarsour, a "feminist" who wears a Hijab, acts as an apologist for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and recently expressed the desire to subject the genuine women's rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali to an "a$$ whippin". After watching this bizarre freak show and seeing the glowing coverage it received on mainstream media, I could no longer feel amused. These people were clearly a danger to themselves and others.
But this week, the behaviour has crossed a dangerous Rubicon. Two days ago, Trump supporting Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak to the College Republicans at the University of California at Berkeley. Left wing demonstrators organised a "protest" against him being entitled to speak on campus (yes, that's right, a protest against free speech, go figure), which quickly turned into a melee when a masked thug element started a riot which culminated in the vandalism of a Starbuck's and a bank. This orgy of "anti-Fascist" violence (terrorism, really) caused more than US$100,000 worth of damage. Berkeley's mayor Jesse Arreguin summed up "progressive" attitudes in saying the following: "Using speech to silence marginalized communities and promote bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn't welcome in our community." Enough said. The following day saw another "protest", this time against Takimag journalist Gavin McInnes being invited to speak at New York University. A woman identifying herself as an NYU professor (admittedly, a status which is, as yet, unverified) screamed at members of the NYPD that they should be beating McInnes up rather than protecting him (McInnes was reportedly pepper-sprayed by an "Antifa" rioter). Even if this woman turns out to be an actress (which seems more than possible), it is impossible to explain away the clear cheers and applause that her deranged and incoherent rant elicited from protesters.
Yesterday, however, Village Magazine crossed the most disturbing line of all, publishing a cover with a picture of Donald Trump with crosshairs superimposed on it with the chilling caption: "Why Not". As editor Michael Smith pointed out, the lack of a question mark after the phrase, together with an inside editorial suggesting that assassination would be a bad idea, meant that the lurid cover stopped millimetres short of constituting a direct incitement to murder. However, those of us with long memories remember the climate of hysteria in relation to immigration restrictionists in 2002, which culminated in a left wing lawyer by the name of Volkert van der Graaf shooting dead Dutch nationalist politician Pim Fortuyn. There will always be enough people of questionable mental health who will be happy to take the provocations of attention seekers like Smith at face value and indulge their "Saving the world from Hitler" complexes with homicidal results.
This is where Trump's more authoritarian instincts become relevant.
If Trump supporters wearing "Make America Great Again" hats are attacked and beaten in the streets; if people cannot see a speech by Yiannopoulos or McInnes with being maced or attacked; if Trump's voters become fearful that powerful establishment elements are tacitly encouraging violence and crime as a weapon against the Trump administration, will this make them more or less likely to demand that Congress pass draconian laws against protest or declare groups like ANTIFA or Black Lives Matter to be terrorist organisations and use the RICO Act to prosecute them?
If elements of the deep state or city governments begin using illegal or legally dubious mechanisms to frustrate policies with wide public support, will this increase or reduce support for Trump engaging in legally dubious strongman behaviour of his own?
If Trump fears that he or his family will be killed or injured by people hostile to his worldview, will this increase or decrease his respect for civil liberties?
If Trump looks at the deep state, the courts, the State governors, the City mayors and their media supporters and concludes that they are engaging in a de facto coup against him, will this make him more or less likely to perpetrate his own coup against America's constitutional order?
Let me repeat to the anti-Trumpsters: Trump's authoritarian tendencies are not welcome but they are not unique. They have been shared to a greater or lesser extent with every president at least since Reagan. Thankfully, from Bush I to Obama, none crossed the line into fully fledged tyranny. However, none of these faced so many elements of the deep state, the political establishment, the media, academia and civic society believing, not only that they were wrong but that they were illegitimate and had no right to govern. If Trump's authoritarian tendencies are provoked like none of his recent predecessors', then it is precisely this provocation, and not any of Trump's unique characteristics, that will be to blame for any tyranny that ensues.