A sr US official told me he's worried if there's a major event, like terrorist attack, trump/allies will take more power, point of no return— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) March 20, 2017
A lot of us have worried about that. But I'm starting to suspect that Trump doesn't really crave absolute power, and he might not pursue it if given such an opening. He prefers to regard himself as always on defense -- over and over again he refers to himself as a "counterpuncher."
When he says that, he's only lying up to a point: He claimed throughout the campaign that he went on the attack only when someone attacked him first. But we know how he attacked: In response to a standard campaign critique by an opponent, he'd hit below the belt, using a schoolyard insult ("Little Marco") or a wild conspiracy theory (Ted Cruz's father helped kill JFK).
That was thuggish, but it also left Trump under attack from others -- mainstream politicians who weren't in the race (including some in his own party), as well as Democrats and (especially) the media. He's a nasty fighter, but he's not Putin nasty -- he doesn't leave every opponent dead or marginalized or terrified. Just the opposite: He's always under siege. Look at what's going on right now. Look at yesterday.
Yes, Trump is dangerous. The Muslim ban and stepped-up immigration raids show what he's capable of. But he could have gone further even in these early days. He could have responded to courts blocking the Muslim bans by defying the rulings and ordering enforcement of the executive orders. How would we have stopped him? Who would have stepped up? But that didn't happen.
Brutishness appeals to Trump. But picking fights and finding himself embroiled in controversy also appeals to him. A true thug would be much more interested in the former, and would use the ability to stir up trouble in a much more sinister and calculating way than Trump does.
I'm not recommending that we let our guard down. I'm just wondering whether Trump could bear living in a world in which no enemy of his could seriously fight back.