Political repression is commonplace across the developing world. To maintain power, authoritarian rulers intimidate and imprison their competitors. Comparing Donald Trump to someone like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is inaccurate and unwarranted.
On Tuesday, in a gruff, monotonous tone characteristic of the congressman, John Conyers cautioned the House Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Jeff Sessions against appointing a second special counsel to investigate the recent claims surrounding Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One deal. Quoting former Justice Department head Michael Mukasey, Mr. Conyers maintained that the criminal pursuit of political competitors mimics a “banana republic.”
The president’s repeated calls to have his 2016 rival be put in jail do, to some extent, resemble the actions of an authoritarian leader. Whether before, during, or after an election, the repression of political opponents is a hallmark of tyrannical governance.
However, this is a strawman argument. Trump is not Idi Amin; nor is he Benito Mussolini. Drawing erroneous comparisons and calling the president a murderous dictator is irresponsible. Moreover, it downplays the horrors committed in places like Uganda and Fascist Italy. President Trump, at times, may resemble an authoritarian ruler, but he is most certainly not an authoritarian ruler.
True authoritarians do not wait for the gavel to meet the striking block. President Trump would never, under any circumstance, attempt to incarcerate Hillary Clinton without a lawfully attained judgement succeeding a thorough investigation and trial.
Furthermore, genuine authoritarians fabricate baseless allegations against their competitors. The president does not customarily pluck accusations against his chief political opponent out of thin air.
The United States, even under Donald Trump, is not a banana republic. To suggest as much is to trivialize the suffering of those living under legitimately oppressive regimes. For example, Zimbabwe, a country currently making headlines around the world, has been under true dictatorial rule for decades. Using political repression to preserve his presidency, Robert Mugabe has terrorized the African nation for the better part of 37 years.
Donald Trump’s petty efforts to punish Hillary Clinton pale in comparison to the illicit deeds of the Zimbabwean leader. Mr. Mugabe has been effectively subduing critics and competitors for years. Between 2000 and 2008, the president jailed his main political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, no fewer than four times. During one particularly horrific arrest that gained international attention, the opposition leader was brutally beaten.
In March 2007, only hours after Mr. Tsvangirai celebrated his 55th birthday, he and dozens of his supporters went to attend a prayer meeting in Harare when they were stopped by local police. Within moments of the encounter, an orgy of violence ensued. Boots and batons crashed down on Mr. Tsvangirai and his companions. One person was shot and killed. Many others, including the party leader, were indiscriminately rounded up, thrown in jail, and tortured.
When Mr. Tsvangirai emerged a few days later, it became clear that he was only a few more strikes away from death. The MDC leader donned a deep gash on the side of his head, walked with a limp, and was virtually blind from the swelling around his eyes. In the end, Mr. Tsvangirai suffered a fractured skull, lost one litre of blood, and had to receive blood transfusions due to internal bleeding.
Following his release from the hospital, though bruised and beaten, Mr. Tsvangirai did not retreat into the shadows. The opposition leader challenged Mr. Mugabe for the presidency in an election held exactly one year after the vicious attack. Amazingly, the challenger bested the incumbent with 47.9% of the vote. Zimbabwe, however, has a two-round electoral system requiring a majority victory. A runoff election to decide the winner was, thus, necessary.
In June 2008, while only weeks away from the second vote, the leader of the MDC was once again thrown in jail by the Mugabe government. Fearing an increase in violence and reasoning that the election results were bound to be fixed, Mr. Tsvangirai had simply had enough and withdrew from the race. At the end of the day, the authoritarian tactics of the president proved effective.
President Mugabe has remained in power ever since.
Though, the despot’s reign of terror may well be coming to end. With the military taking charge of the government and pleas to step down pouring in from across the political spectrum, it is difficult to imagine how the Zimbabwean leader could ever take back control. In all likelihood, the country will have a new president within days.
Donald Trump, for all his faults and failings, is not Robert Mugabe. Any resemblance he shares with the African leader is purely superficial. Looking into credible leads is not, as Hillary Clinton claims, an “abuse of power.” What Morgan Tsvangirai had to endure is an abuse of power. What millions more throughout the developing world continue to endure is an abuse of power.
The very fact that people like Mr. Conyers and Mrs. Clinton are afforded a platform to express their disapproval, without fear of reprisal, is proof positive that the United States is, even under President Trump, anything but a banana republic.