Trump’s dictatorial proclamations point in a much darker direction. Every time the president asserts absolute powers, every time he claims to possess the ability to do things the Constitution doesn’t permit him to do, every time he stirs up and actively encourages populist animosity against duly elected public officials, every time he calls journalists enemies of the people who peddle fake news, he normalizes the idea, moving public opinion among a portion of Republican voters a little bit further in the direction of accepting and approving of authoritarianism. Words matter in politics — especially the words of the president, and never more so than in an age when he has the ability to speak to his most rabid supporters instantly and directly.
In many respects, Donald Trump is a weak president. But he talks like an authoritarian strongman, and with each autocratic word he primes a portion of the country for tyranny. Trump himself may not possess the inclination or capacity to act on what his rhetoric is preparing — to test just how many Americans, and how many members of the government, would go along with an explicitly anti-democratic act by the president and his advisers. But that doesn’t mean that a successor in the White House will be so constrained.
Trump isn’t a dictator. But he’s paving the way for a tyrannical tomorrow.