By Ray Cunneff
August 1, 2019
Noun – a person who takes a position of power or importance illegally or by force.
“a usurper of the throne”
Synonyms of usurpation: appropriation, arrogation, commandeering, expropriation, preemption, seizure, coup d’etat, takeover, power grab.
Famous usurpers in history, also labeled “imposters”, have included Russia’s Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great, England’s Henry IV and Richard III, Pope Leo IX, Portugal’s Miguel I, Russia’s three False Dmitry’s, and France’s Napoleon Bonaparte to name just a few.
Most usurpers have been tyrants who wrested power through popular uprising, coup d’etat, and/or murder. However, not all usurpers have proved outright villains, such as Catherine the Great, who despite having organized the coup that ousted her husband Peter III, she nonetheless revitalized and expanded the Russian state into one of the great powers of Europe.
But today we are challenged by a new manifestation of the usurper, one who has manipulated and weaponized 21st Century social media technology – a white-collar criminal with imperial ambitions who employs test marketing and research, who cynically exploits fear and division, who lies outrageously, who takes draconian measures to undermine democracy, and writes his own historical narrative through a propaganda utterly indifferent to truth or fact, as means to seize power with the aid of a foreign adversary.
Is Donald Trump a Tyrant?
The technical definition of a tyrant comes from the ancient Greeks for whom the tyrannos was a figure who, through great personal wealth, circumvents the law and established political processes, flouts conventions and traditions of public dialogue, undermines democratic processes and institutions, as well as opposing individuals, that impede the tyrant’s rise to power, leaving the new ruler unaccountable to both the system and to those who are ruled.
One characteristic common to virtually all tyrants is the insatiable pursuit of wealth. The lust for riches negates all institutional obligations of public service. In Aristotle’s Politics, he warned that the tyrant will proclaim his actions for the public good while plundering the treasury for personal gain.
Tyrants are often ostentatious and grandiose. They are big spenders and conspicuous consumers. Every action is calculated to increase their wealth and reputation. They tend to build massive public works projects and monuments to themselves. Even their critics had to concede, as Thucydides of Athens said of tyrants: “They do adorn the city beautifully”.
As tyrants go, Donald Trump checks all the boxes.
The Trump Brand
Trump fancies himself an expert on ‘branding’, plastering his name on buildings most of which he doesn’t actually own. He has promoted the Trump brand through shameless exaggeration and a head-spinning series of Trump-branded products and services, some of them fraudulent, all spectacular failures.
The perfect metaphor for Donald Trump’s deceit, delusion, and grandiosity is Trump Tower, a building whose elevators go to the 68th Floor of a 58-story building.
He has somehow defied the law while parlaying the Trump brand into a “transactional” philosophy, an understanding between those of wealth and power designed to increase both, cynically disguised as a populist political movement.
Trump also ‘brands’ people, using a combination of brutish schoolyard bullying and a kind of bonehead reptilian cunning to label opponents with perceptual negatives, brands that stick – “crooked Hillary” Clinton, “lying Ted” Cruz, “crazy Bernie” Sanders, “low energy Jeb” Bush and now “sleepy Joe” Biden.
The Associated Press is reporting that aides and other Trumpista loyalists of the president have been working with Trump on potentially damaging labels for several specific 2020 candidates including possible Republican challengers. Two sources told the AP that the president has begun trying out nasty monikers on aides and advisers as he prepares to test them publicly.
But while Trump has used negative branding as an effective weapon against his opponents, ‘branding’ also reveals his Achilles Heel, Trump’s explosive, almost hysterical reaction to any suggestion that his presidency is illegitimate.
He almost immediately declared “voter fraud” over Hillary Clinton’s three million-vote popular vote plurality, he proclaimed his narrow Electoral College win an “historic victory”, he insisted that his crowds must always be bigger than Barack Obama’s.
This is frequently offered as explanation for Trump’s absolute refusal to allow any attempts at strengthening election security for the 2020 elections and his unwillingness to even acknowledge Russian meddling in the 2016 elections that brought him to power.
Aides have been instructed not to mention anything related to Russian intervention or risk the president’s wrath. Classified intelligence reports, including the President’s Daily Brief, have to be carefully summarized and sensitive topics avoided or underplayed, delivered in short paragraphs or verbally synopsized.
And that could prove a fatal vulnerability for Donald Trump should the brand “usurper president” gain widespread currency.
Trump’s fragile, largely delusional, emotional stability and ego-driven grandiosity, criminality and vindictiveness could well go full-tilt ballistic should the label “Trump the Usurper” begin to stick.
Make it stick.