National Opinions

OPINION: Beware, Donald Trump is letting his inner dictator slip out

Donald Trump’s acting more “African” again.

Back when he was the new host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” South Africa-born comedian Trevor Noah notably disagreed with those who thought then-rising presidential candidate Donald Trump was not “presidential” enough.

“For me, as an African,” said Noah, “there’s just something familiar about Trump that makes me feel at home.”

He then compared Trump sound bites with some African despots on such topics as immigration, health care and his own self-regard.

On immigration, for example, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I presume are good people.”

Similarly, South African President Jacob Zuma linked the influx of illegal migrants to “crime, unfair business practices, drugs,” while assuring us it was “not true that all foreign nationals are involved in criminal activities. There are some who are, but not all of them.”

Gee, thanks. Noah correctly described Zuma’s remarks as “a light xenophobia — with just a dash of diplomacy.”


After reporting in several African countries with varying degrees of friendliness to press freedoms — or not— I was darkly amused to see despots taken to task.

But fast forward: not even a dash of diplomacy softens the bracing sound of Trump’s recent episodes of letting his inner Hitler out.

In a speech on Veterans Day, of all days, in Claremont, New Hampshire, he called his political opponents and critics “vermin” and suggested they pose a greater threat to the United States than such rivals as Russia, China or North Korea.

“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said, repeating his debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”

Trump went on to state: “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within. Because if you have a capable, competent, smart, tough leader, Russia, China, North Korea, they’re not going to want to play with us.”

Continuing his recent turn to messages of vengeance and grievance, he added some fire to his defiance by calling himself a “very proud election denier” and decried his legal entanglements, though of course they’re largely of his own making.

In the past, I have said and written that, no matter how angry we may be, we should refrain from references to Hitler except when referring to one man — Adolf Hitler.

But these days Trump increasingly shows an uncanny facility for attracting the comparison himself, all in the interest of firing up crowds of supporters who see him as being on their side, no matter the repercussions for those who are not.

His gratuitous use of “vermin,” an age-old blast of dehumanizing language used by Hitler, Benito Mussolini and the like, reminded me of how Rwanda’s minority Tutsi population was branded as “cockroaches” during that country’s genocide in the early 1990s.

Two years later, some 800,000 Rwandans — mainly Tutsis — were brutally slaughtered, mostly hacked to death, over 100 days.

Most astonishing to me was how swiftly the majority Hutu turned from peaceful coexistence to barbarism against the Tutsi minority, fired up by ethnic-linked propaganda.

Trump may speak of a need to “make America great again,” a slogan borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, but his rhetoric appears more clearly intended to make us hate each other again.

Recent reports name the people Trump has said he wants to investigate and prosecute, and his associates are drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office. That controversial law would allow him to deploy the military in response to civil demonstrations.

That brings me back to Veterans Day, which has special meaning to me as a Vietnam-era Army draftee. I wonder what Trump, who evaded the draft thanks to a diagnosis of bone spurs, thinks our side was fighting for.

Or does he have too much strongman-envy to care?

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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