Samuel Moyn and David Priestland argue today in The New York Times that something they dub “Tryannophobia”, rather than Donald Trump, is a threat to our Democracy. I think they’re being a bit too quick and cute here and, without getting too fancy, I think they miss the point.
First, to suggest that resistance and concern over the rise of Trump, Trumpism, and all this represents and exposes in our social and political culture is merely an expression of tyrannophobia suggests that there isn’t something unique — and dangerous — in the current state of things.
“Tyrannophia” — the fear of tyrants — sounds general and even dismissive, like generally being afraid of heights is a condition of acrophobia. But sometimes you are standing on the edge of a thousand-foot cliff and other times just at the edge of a curb. There is a difference.
Second, the authors tell us that tyrannophobia distracts us from real issues, like our dysfunctional economy, and we shouldn’t be so concerned with less-real issues like Trump trying to seize power unconstitutionally.
Well, I agree that Trump isn’t likely to seize power unconstitutionally — he can barely manage the power he has — and so we shouldn’t be overly concerned about that. However, that isn’t the real threat and there are things we should responsibly worry about. That real threat is the politics, rhetoric, and actions of the man democracy elected, not the risk that he might devolve further and bring us into a state tyranny.
Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily take a tyrant to create tyrannical obstacles to protecting rights, equality, and justice, not to mention peace and security, all of which are to some lesser or greater extent at risk under Trump and his GOP enablers.
Trump expresses the methods and apparatus of tyranny and that is bad enough. Opinions — even lies — trump facts, fear eclipses reason, and shrugs replace critical discourse. This is the method of Trump’s power. And as long as Trump can say he is the greatest president in history doing more good than any other president before him when he is none of that and gets away with it…
Well, in that case, you don’t need a tyrant. You need an impressionable, malleable public to accept it. Tyranny by the masses. That’s what serious critics of Trumpism and mainstream conservativism recognize. And that is what we are dealing with today.