People For the American Way

“Trumptastrophe”: Dictator Envy Edition

News and Analysis
“Trumptastrophe”: Dictator Envy Edition

Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series that serves to remind us all of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe brings into focus Trump’s troubling admiration for the ruling style of foreign dictators – often expressing his envy over their ability to quickly silence their political opposition or enforce their agenda by sidestepping other governing bodies; and how his MAGA Republican allies cozy up to – and sometimes partner with – these extreme leaders:

On March 3, 2018, Trump praised China’s dictatorial President Xi Jinping for consolidating his power. “He’s now president for life. President for life,” Trump said. “No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”

Trump was giving a closed-door speech to Republican donors in Florida, but his comments came to light when CNN obtained a recording of his remarks. In the same speech, Trump griped that he hadn’t been able to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch investigations into Hillary Clinton. “It’s a rigged system,” he complained.” And we don’t have the right people in there yet. We have a lot of great people, but certain things, we don’t have the right people.”

A year later, in March 2019, Trump hosted Brazil’s recently inaugurated authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro, who was being called “the Trump of the Tropics.” In spite of his defense of military dictatorship and torture, Bolsonaro was advised by MAGA operative Steve Bannon and supported by U.S. evangelicals and New Apostolic Reformation figures. Once elected, he quickly went after communities he had targeted in his campaign rhetoric, including LGBTQ and indigenous people. Bolsonaro was welcomed at the White House, where he denounced “fake news” and praised Trump for being “God-fearing.”  Bolsonaro made a return visit to the White House in 2020.

Here’s how Trump’s record of praising dictators and authoritarian leaders reminds us that democracy would be threatened by his return to power:

  • Trump’s 2018 praise for the Chinese dictatorship and suggestion that “we’ll have to give that a shot someday” is particularly disturbing in light of Project 2025, a battle plan by the right-wing political infrastructure to give Trump virtually dictatorial control over the federal government if he wins in November. The plan’s authors specifically intend to “identify the pockets of independence and seize them” so that Trump can use the FBI and Justice Department to seek revenge against his opponents and turn the Federal Communications Commission into a weapon against the media.Project 2025 is also designed to address Trump’s complaint in the same 2018 speech that “we don’t have the right people.” It calls for a mass firing of civil servants and their replacement by MAGA loyalists, who are being pre-vetted by the Heritage Foundation so that Trump doesn’t ever again hire anyone who might put loyalty to the law or Constitution above their devotion to Trump himself or the MAGA cause.
  • Trump and his allies have long expressed their admiration for anti-democratic strongmen. A year after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, where the Chinese government killed an unknown number of peaceful protesters, Trump said “they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.” In the same interview he criticized Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for not having “a firm enough hand.”
  • More recently, the right-wing movement in the U.S. has embraced strongmen like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán , whom they adore for aggressively defying the European Union’s democratic norms, suppressing the news media, and coming down hard against civil society organizations that don’t fall in line. As Right Wing Watch noted in 2019:

Trump is not only an admirer of Orbán, but he may also be a bit jealous. Writing in the June 2019 issue of The Atlantic, Franklin Foer reports that David B. Cornstein, the current U.S. ambassador to Hungary and an old friend of Trump’s, said in an interview, “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”

  • During the Trump administration, the United States worked closely with authoritarian governments to oppose international recognition of reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality, making it clear that, like the religious-right groups that put Trump in office, the administration was “more than willing to embrace oppressive governments as long as they promote ‘traditional’ values on issues of sexuality and family.”
  • The 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference, held near Washington, D.C. in late February, was organized around two themes: destroying “globalism” and electing Trump. Reflecting the global ambitions of MAGA operative Steve Bannon, CPAC featured an array of right-wing political leaders from around the world. The Heritage Foundation was also on hand at CPAC promoting Project 2025. They were recruiting MAGA activists to get pre-vetted for the chance to help the movement “take the reins of power” after what they hope will be a Trump victory in November.

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.


Authoritarianism, Donald Trump, fascism