Asheville Daily Planet, July 1, 2020

Why was the White House paralyzed when Covid-19 hit and still now, isn’t responding?

Why has President Trump withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, Intermediate Range Nuclear Treaty, Trans-Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, Iran Nuclear Deal and snorted at NATO, WHO and the G-7?

Why?  Our answer begins in the Cold War.  Back then, we had a First World (us), a Second World (the Communists) and an unstructured Third World for everybody else.  Those Third-World countries were mostly poor.  And most of them were ruled by a dictator.    

The Cold War is over, but the Third World remains, now written as lower-case “third world.”  Some, like Brazil, have moved up and out, but most remain poor – and most have a strongman leader. 

An old friend of mine, now retired from the Foreign Service, has written on third-world dictatorships.  Turns out, around the world, third-world dictators have a lot in common.  Here is my friend’s six-point analysis:

“One, everything revolves around the leader.  Planning and systems and job titles and division of labor and separation of powers are meaningless. It’s whatever the leader wants at that moment, that is, whatever maximizes his personal interests. Nothing else matters. I mean nothing else.  And no endeavor is important if he did not originate it or can claim credit for it.

“Two, all state institutions exist to comfort and protect him and his family and close associates.  The flip-side is also true, that all state institutions exist to punish his enemies.

“Three, media exist to praise him and should never criticize.  He should be ‘respected’ at all times for everything he says and does. Most countries I have lived in literally featured pictures and/or selected quotes from the leader on the masthead or elsewhere on the front page of every newspaper every day. All TV and radio news programs began with a review of what the leader said or did that day. 

“Four, all decisions are deferred to him.  He can’t, of course, make all decisions, but he certainly will reverse decisions someone else made that he doesn’t like.  And that person will likely be fired.  The result is, people are afraid to make decisions.  Nobody takes the chance.

“Five, the leader will spend the budget and, probably, use government-controlled institutions to finance whatever he feels like doing. State-run banks lend to him and his cronies and don’t expect to be paid back. Banks won’t loan to people he doesn’t want to see funded.

“Six, there is no such thing as conflict of interest for him and those he cares about.  Many ministers of transportation around the world own bus companies, for example.”

Now back to President Trump.

I asked two questions about him above, two why questions.  My friend’s analysis of third-world dictators answers both.

Why the chaotic response to Covid-19?  See Point Four.  In the article, he also speaks of “drive-by tasking,” an informal State Department phrase for the third-world tendency to delegate jobs willy-nilly to just anybody, knowing they have no power to do anything.  Remember how Vice-President Pence was put in charge of virus response?  Then later, Deborah Brix was named “White House coronavirus response coordinator,” with no power, of course.

And the spectacle of Republican congresspeople around a table, each one lavishing praise on the Leader, several of them gushing about how their state had needed ventilators or masks and got them right away after calling the president or Jared.

And why Trump’s low opinion of treaties and international agreements?  See Point One.  This is also why he disparages anything Barack Obama did, or anytime he wants to say no other president has ever done something before him.  He’s the sun, and no planets are allowed that he didn’t create.     

Is he a wannabe third-world dictator?  In a sense, yes.  He certainly feels entitled to the same effusive gratitude that Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin receive.  But on the other hand, he’s just being himself.  And that self-centered self expects to be all and end all.  That self is also stunningly ignorant.  He knows nothing of our Constitution or of world dynamics.

America is a First-World country with a third-world president.  In November, we can get our worlds back in balance.  Vote, everybody, vote!