It is obvious to even casual observers that Donald Trump and Matt Bevin have much in common. While we joke about the Twitter addiction, there are other similiarities that are not only troubling, but could pose real threats to our democratic institutions. Read the list and see if you agree.
|Characteristic||Donald Trump||Matt Bevin|
|Refuses to release tax returns||YES – Every president since Nixon has released their tax returns, but Trump refuses to do so. Why is this a big deal? Because it is a symptom of the larger issues of “lack of transparency” and “I have the power to do what I want.”||YES – Every governor since Paul Patton has released their tax returns, but Bevin refuses to do so. Why is this a big deal? Because it is a symptom of the larger issues of “lack of transparency” and “I have the power to do what I want.”|
|Attacks the press||YES – Repeatedly complains about both media channels and individual reporters, talking about “fake news” and challenging their reports; calls our nation’s free press “the enemy.” Shows no understanding of the place of a free press in American democracy.||YES – Calls out media outlets across the state, especially those that disagree with him; attacks individual reporters, calling them “pathetic.” Shows no understanding of the place of a free press in American democracy.|
|Governs through executive order||YES – Uses executive orders to advance policies that would never pass Congress. Since Republicans complained that Obama used the EO too much, it’s worth noting that Obama signed 39 EOs his entire first year; Trump has signed 32 in just his first 100 days.||YES – Uses executive orders to reshape the state as he wants. Especially uses EOs to control boards and agencies. In eight years, Beshear issued 51 EOs related to reorganizations; Bevin is on pace for 95 over eight years, based on data from the Executive Journal.|
|Attacks the judiciary||YES – Trump has railed against judges who rule against him, both in general and by name. He said that one judge could not be impartial because he was “a Mexican.” He said of another judge, “If something happens [meaning a terror attack] blame him and the court system.”||YES – Bevin called one judge a “political hack” and “a joke” for ruling against him. And in a famous quote, he said “we don’t answer to any judge.”|
|Uses insults against opponents||YES – The practice is so common that it has become a part of the culture. (“SAD!”) One news outlet made a list of 329 people, places, and things Trump had insulted … just during his campaign! Recently, he has returned to calling Senator Warren “Pocahontas.”||YES – Besides the examples given above, Bevin has called people and institutions pathetic, asinine, and unmitigated disasters. He has repeatedly insulted Attorney General Andy Beshear, and his family. He accused teachers of being “focused on money instead of teaching”.|
|Administration refuses to answer questions, work with the press, or practice transparency||YES – Some examples: The SOS refused to answer questions, or even speak, for months, and has said he doesn’t see the need to briefing the press. Sean Spicer walked out of a press briefing recently without answering questions. Multiple government web sites have been stripped of information, or taken down.||YES – Refused to answer questions from Al Cross, one of the deans of Kentucky journalism. The governor’s press secretary, Amanda Stamper, repeatedly refuses to respond to requests for information. Bevin refuses to answer questions about the house he may have purchased at below-market, and he also doesn’t answer questions about financial holdings.|
|Threatens opponents, including violence||YES – During the campaign, and continuing into his current rallies, Trump repeatedly told his followers to “get him out of here,” and loved to tell how in the “good old days” such protestors would leave “on a stretcher.” He mentioned that “2nd Amendment people” might be able to “do something” about Hillary Clinton. And, he said of one protestor that he’d like to “punch him in the face.”||MAYBE – Multiple Kentucky legislators came forward to say that Bevin threatened them if they did not switch parties. And, in a speech to conservative Christians, Bevin seemed to say that bloodshed would be necessary if Hillary Clinton won the presidency.|
|Appears to promote a state religion||MAYBE – Trump is about to sign an executive order to allow churches and pastors to speak out on political issues and to endorse candidates, a rule change long sought by the Christian Right. While Trump does not make much of his own beliefs, he has benefitted from the support of so-called “conservative Christians.”||MAYBE – Bevin is himself a strong believer (with which we have no problem). However, his declaration of the “Year of the Bible” and his advice to pastors to “get political,” call into question his commitment to separation of church and state.|
Why Are These Characteristics Important?
For just one reason, but it’s an important one: Because these are some of the characteristics of an autocrat who doesn’t believe in democracy or in democratic institutions.
Are we saying that Trump is about to declare himself dictator? Are we saying that Bevin thinks he is above the law? The answer to both of these questions is “No … or at least, not yet.”
But when you get beyond the use of Twitter, and the intemperate language, and the obvious thin skin, you wind up with leadership styles and characteristics that are, at the very least, troubling to consider. These are the marks of a leader, and an administration, that is willing to attack the foundations of our democracy for political advantage.
Compare the characteristics above to the Ten Hallmarks of American Democracy listed by Rachel Maddow soon after Trump won the election:
- A free and independent press
- An independent judiciary, that have the power to correct the other branches
- An excellent and professional military that is not used as a political force against our own people, and that answers to the civilian leadership
- The freedom and ability to participate as citizens in our civic life, including free and fair elections
- An advanced and mature civil society, with organizations to advocate for change and to protect the weak
- The freedom of assembly to organize and to speak out
- Openness to immigrants
- No official religion
- No official language
- No king, but instead a democratic process and a peaceful transition of power
Trump is already undermining a number of these, as is Bevin. The attacks on the press and judiciary, especially, are consistent with “first steps” used by dictators and autocrats around the world.
It may be that we will look back on the Trump and Bevin administrations and simply say that in spite of their autocratic tendencies, our institutions kept them from doing too much damage.
Or, we may look back and realize that these were signs of impending crises, and we needed to realize the dangers presented by leaders who do not respect a free press, an independent judiciary, or the democratic process.