Donald Trump is often compared to Adolph Hitler, but the comparison doesn’t ring quite true. It’s easy to make hay of the nationalistic slogan, the race-baiting dog whistles, the wild-eyed devotees. But Trump as Hitler gives the orange-faced menace too much credit. Hitler was bigger. He had a master plan, an evil and horrific master plan, and he did what it took to turn his visions of murder into reality.
Trump is something smaller, and something we’ve seen in America before. He’s Marion Barry. You remember Barry. He was the DC “Mayor for Life” who was caught smoking crack in a hotel room with a prostitute, went to prison, and nevertheless came back to be re-elected mayor. Barry remained a political force in DC and a colorful figure until his death in 2014.
Barry ruled by pitting one group of people against another, in this case African-Americans against what he saw as the white ruling class. He could do no wrong in their eyes because he was one of them. He could always be counted on to stick it to the man. Sound familiar?
Lemme Do Ya a Favor
But there was more method to his madness. The other way Barry wielded power was by granting favors. He could make a building permit go through, ease a restaurant’s alcohol sales license into being, find your son a job. In big snowstorms, he famously ordered the African-American part of town to be plowed first, letting the seat of federal government and the streets of the wealthy northwest area wallow in drifts. We all know the story of how DC has languished under this kind of government: dismal education, abject poverty, high crime, poor services. No one is served by this cronyism, least of all the people who put Barry and his ilk in office.
The kings of England were the same. I’ve been reading historical fiction recently, specifically “The Taming of the Queen” by Philippa Gregory. A bit trashy, I know, but welcome relief after my second year of law school. The book, like many of her others, takes place in the court of King Henry VIII, the guy who kept chopping off his wives’ heads.
The striking thing about the British monarchy is how similar it was to a Barry administration. Henry VIII was constantly surrounded by people who wanted something. Nobles helped him dress, nobles helped him walk when he aged. He literally had people holding his hand while he went to the bathroom, ready to help wipe. Crowds of people milled around his rooms, waiting to catch him as he walked from one room to another. They wanted favors, grants of land or law, even permission to marry. All power flowed through him. And he liked it that way.
The Administrative State Is Tyranny
This brings us to Trump and Barry. Trump recently said he’d make an exception for the newly elected mayor of London, who is Muslim, to come to America despite Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Let’s forget for a moment this proposal has anything to do with Muslims. Let’s examine it as a way to wield power.
Trump has said he would institute a policy (banning all Muslims) but that he, himself, would grant an exception (for this mayor). We can see exactly what this proposal does. It moves the decision whether to allow a person into the United States from a matter of law to a matter of Trump granting license. On what basis would exceptions be granted? The answer is all too clear: On the basis of what Trump thinks about the person. He likes you or thinks he can benefit from you? You’re in. He doesn’t? Banned.
It’s Barry all over again. Trump wants power to flow not through the laws of the land but through his own hand.
Arbitrary rules and granting exceptions to them are the stuff of tyrants. Rule of law protects free peoples from tyrants. One Marion Barry was enough.