Here Are 4 of President Trump’s Favorite Authoritarians

The Right Wing

When Donald Trump was campaigning for president in 2015, his comments belittling Republican Sen. John McCain for his experiences as a POW during the Vietnam War spoke volumes about his mentality. Trump insisted that McCain—who suffered five years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison—was “not a war hero” because a real war hero wouldn’t have let himself be captured. The comment was so offensive and wrong-headed that Trump’s detractors assumed his campaign would implode, but instead, The Donald went on to win the GOP presidential primary in 2016 and defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general. And as president, Trump has continued to equate power and authoritarianism with character, courage and valor.

The neocons of the George W. Bush era caused tremendous damage when they overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq, helping pave the way for the creation of ISIS (in the case of Iraq, Bush and Vice President Cheney’s “cure” proved to be much worse than the illness itself). But at least the Bush administration—as dysfunctional and horribly flawed as it was in so many respects—pretended to care about democracy and human rights. President Trump, on the other hand, has a pattern of expressing admiration for authoritarians whether he is discussing Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.   

Here are four authoritarians Trump has expressed admiration for.

1. Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Since being elected president of Turkey in 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been doing everything possible to undermine the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk—who in 1923, founded the modern Turkish Republic, rejected Turkey’s Ottoman Empire heritage and set the country on a path of modernization and secular government. Thanks to Atatürk, Turkey became one of the more liberal countries in the Islamic world and adopted a strong separation of church and state. Atatürk respected Islam, but he had no interest whatsoever in imposing Sharia law or an Islamist government. Erdogan, however, believes that Islam should play a much stronger role in government, has no use for feminism and insists that Turkish wives belong in the home—not the boardroom. Erdogan, who was reelected on June 24, has restricted freedom of speech, locked up dozens of journalists, built new prisons to incarcerate dissenters on sedition charges and altered the Turkish constitution in a way that has given him broader powers. But none of that bothers Trump.

During the recent NATO summit in Brussels on July 11, Trump was critical of long-time allies like Germany, France and the U.K. but did praise one NATO member: Turkey. After asserting that Erdogan—unlike everyone else in NATO—“does things the right way,” Trump gave Turkey’s authoritarian-in-chief a friendly fist bump.

2. Rodrigo Duterte

Elected president of the Philippines in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte is someone who—much like Erdogan in Turkey—technically isn’t a dictator but clearly has the mentality of one. Duterte launched a brutal, militarized anti-drug campaign after taking office, and thanks to its “shoot first, ask questions later” policy, the Philippine War on Drugs has claimed at least 12,000 lives (a great many of them innocent people who were neither drug traffickers nor drug users). Duterte once bragged that he would be happy to slaughter millions of drug addicts just as Adolf Hitler slaughtered millions of Jews. But despite all the blood that Duterte has on his hands, Trump has applauded him for trying to rid the Philippines of drugs. While Duterte had no use for President Barack Obama (who he called a “son of a whore” after Obama spoke out on human rights abuses in the Philippines), he has had a consistently friendly relationship with Trump. 

3. Vladimir Putin

Whatever they might be saying behind closed doors, many establishment Republicans have been afraid or unwilling to publicly criticize Trump no matter how much he embarrasses their party. McCain, on the other hand, gave Trump a serious tongue-lashing in response to Trump’s July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Asserting that Trump was boosting a “tyrant” and an “autocrat” at the expense of the U.S.’ long-time NATO allies, McCain declared, “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Obama, as president, had a tense, uneasy relationship with Putin; Trump, however, clearly admires Putin’s authoritarian style. 

4. Marine Le Pen

In France, the word lepéniste is used to describe people who are part of—or at least sympathetic to—the movement led by white nationalist Marine Le Pen, who heads the far-right National Front party and received over 10 million votes in France’s 2017 presidential election. Le Pen won 33.9% of the French vote compared to 66.1% for neoliberal President Emmanuel Macron, and the fact that a white nationalist won one-third of the French vote in a presidential race is downright disturbing. But Trump has no problem with Le Pen, who he applauded for being “strong on borders.” And the National Front leader has also been endorsed by Putin as well as Trump ally Steve Bannon, former chairman of Breitbart News and an avowed lepéniste. Speaking at a National Front event in France in March, Bannon declared that if members are called racists or xenophobes, they should “wear it as a badge of honor.”

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