Do Americans Want a Strongman for President?

The US deposed Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, but now many Americans are choosing to back their own strongman. Donald Trump’s bad boy image plays to an irrational immaturity in US voters and exposes a naïve trust in outlandish promises.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” That braggadocios boast may not be true, but it does please his base. Donald Trump knows how to appeal to the United States’ macho, romantic, gun-culture.

Admiration for hard-as-nails fictional US heroes who step in to save the day has crossed over into our real political discourse. Tough guy Trump stirs rancid emotions and pledges to right a ship that conservatives claim is sinking. “We are going to make America so great again.” With that simple slogan, he brings xenophobes and isolationists under his wing.

And he has allies. The Ku Klux Klan loves him. White supremacists finally have a national figure on their side. He talks tough on Muslims, tough on immigrants and insults women and Latinos.

On the debate stages, he bullied everyone. Sen. Marco Rubio was “little Marco,” Sen. Ted Cruz was “lying Ted” and he brands his expected opponent, “crooked Hillary.” When the press asks for policy details or calls him out on contradictions, he labels them “sleazy,” “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “scum.” His followers cheer.

He’s assumed the neocon mantra: if you’re not with him, you’re against him.

Protesters at Trump rallies are treated with contempt. “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.” He later disavowed that promise.

His coarse rhetoric parallels his followers desire to get back at the “terrorists.” He intimates emotionally satisfying revenge that will come when the “bad guys” get their comeuppance. He sounds even more like Dirty Harry than the conservatives’ darling, Ronald Reagan.

Trump wants the electorate to be afraid, and positions himself as the powerful protector. “We are living in a time that’s as evil as any time that there has ever been. You know, when I was a young man, I studied medieval times. That’s what they did, they chopped off heads. That’s what we have,” Trump says.

When he says he “loves waterboarding” and “I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” his admiring crowd cheers him and the press dutifully reports the words with a weak reminder that waterboarding is torture and torture is against the law. He takes full advantage of years of fear-mongering by our leaders who make the US population so panicked that moral standards are brushed aside in return for a false hope of security.

Tough guy Trump assumes he can torture and get away with it. He has reason to believe this. President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have both stated that waterboarding is torture, yet the chief law enforcement arm of the federal government makes no attempt to prosecute confessed torturers, and even shields the perpetrators with claims of protecting national security.

Americans no longer insist on the enforcement of their own laws. They’re afraid to. Our Justice Department is so cowed by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page report on detainee treatment, they refuse to read it. Leaders have made the citizens so afraid of Middle East “terrorists,” they’re ready to accept outlaws running the country. The US has succumbed to terror.

It wasn’t so long ago that we had a wannabe tough guy for president. One who didn’t think the law applied to him, who invaded two countries on false pretense, who ordered torture and put on a flight suit to brag about a victory that still hasn’t happened. A crowd cheered President George W. Bush when he told them he authorized waterboarding. Bush was the warm-up act for Trump. He had a following too.

Will the US public crawl into a corner and give a bully the freedom to do whatever he wants to protect them? Do US citizens feel so frightened and impotent they will throw up their hands and tell Donald Trump, “We don’t care what you do, we’ll support you. Just take care of it!”