Editor’s Note: Brian Klaas is a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics and author of the forthcoming book “The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy.” The opinions in this article belong to the author.
How would the last week of American news be covered if Trump were not the President of the United States but instead the leader of “Nambia,” the fictional African country that he accidentally invented during a recent press conference?
Here is a tongue-in-cheek look …
In Nambia, President Trump is causing a crisis
In Nambia’s unchartered backwaters, a political crisis is brewing. The nation’s erratic, septuagenarian president, who is known for non-sequitur outbursts on his Twitter account, has recently threatened to revoke the licenses of critical media outlets.
While such threats are common in some of the world’s more authoritarian states and have been heard from despotic strongmen in places such as Turkey and Russia, they are unprecedented in the former British colony – which, until recently, considered its free press a key part of its democracy.
The president’s most recent threats come after months of demonizing reporters, going so far as to call journalists the enemy of the people. Previously, the president endorsed a candidate from his party for the legislative branch who pleaded guilty to assaulting a journalist. He was subsequently elected.
The latest call for a crackdown on critical media from the presidential mansion, known locally as the White House, follows reports that the president had explored the possibility of devoting a sizable proportion of the country’s economic output to building a drastically expanded arsenal of nuclear weapons. These reports have provoked further backlash from international nongovernmental organizations, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won a Nobel Peace Prize last week for its efforts.
According to recent reports in local media, the president – who is known to ramble in public speeches and shows a poor grasp of basic facts related to the functioning of his own government – has been lashing out at top aides after one of the senior members of his regime insulted his intelligence.
Another senior member of the president’s party – and previously one of his most loyal allies in the parliament – compared the president’s impulsiveness with the behavior of a child. Members of both the ruling party and the opposition have suggested the president is unfit to rule.
Despite these embarrassing setbacks, members of the president’s own family – including two who are senior advisers in the regime – have stood by their father/father-in-law.
The clan is also dealing with a feud over who is the rightful “first lady,” a ceremonial title currently held by the president’s third wife, an international migrant from Eastern Europe, but claimed by the president’s first wife, who is also a migrant from Eastern Europe.
There are growing concerns about the rise of military generals in the president’s inner circle. Those generals, along with the president’s relatives, form the president’s core team of advisers.
Such concerns are brought into sharper focus against the backdrop of several recent ethics scandals in which senior members of the regime used millions of dollars from government coffers for trips on private jets. The president regularly does the same, primarily for purposes of recreation to one his many sprawling estates.
The president recently revived a divisive campaign that singles out athletes from the country’s largest minority ethnic group. The spat began after one athlete refused to stand for a patriotic ritual, performed at the outset of sporting events, in which citizens place their hands over their hearts and sing the praises of the nation.
The protest was launched to draw attention to the disproportionate number of ethnic minorities who are killed by state security forces. (Similar protests have not yet been seen during the daily “pledge” in which Nambian schoolchildren pledge their loyalty to the state.)
On multiple occasions, the Nambian president has used the megaphone of his regime to call on anyone who refuses to participate in this show of patriotism to be fired. He has even gone so far as to call one particularly outspoken athlete a “son of a bitch.” The president also threatened to change tax laws to punish the cartel of billionaires who own these sports teams; there are signs his threat has prompted them to impose a forced display of patriotism from their athletes.
Several analysts have suggested that this campaign of division may be a cynical distraction tactic to draw attention away from the fact that the president – along with many in his inner circle – is facing the prospect of a criminal investigation concerning whether or not there was collusion with international interference in the election that led to his taking office.
While those inquiries have proven slow to develop, they follow the president’s decision to pardon a political ally, his repeated calls to jail his defeated political opponent and his reported speculation on his power to pardon himself.
The president denies any wrongdoing or knowledge of any wrongdoing by his closest aides.