Trump has morphed from anti-hero to wannabe dictator

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at  

A segment of America has always been intrigued by anti-hero characters, fictional and real. Think Tony Soprano, Dirty Harry, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, Billy the Kid. We might not want them as neighbors, but there’s a secret fascination with their antics. They give a wink, a smirk, and a middle finger to society while being outrageous and often breaking the law.

Enter Donald J. Trump.

As this country’s first 21st-century political anti-hero, Trump struck a chord with Americans who felt forgotten. At first, his detractors refused to take him seriously. Soon, it was too late.

He was different. He sucked up the oxygen in every primary debate by calling his opponents names and refusing to follow normal rules. He didn’t talk like a careful politician. He talked like your loud friend who stays at the bar for one too many drinks and is always surrounded by adoring fans waiting for another outrageous statement.

This anti-hero shocked American politics.

But in 2016, Trump became the proverbial dog who caught the car.  He won the White House and had to govern. But the anti-hero shtick is about rebelling, not leading.

To many, Trump’s White House had a chaotic frat house vibe.

He managed to remake the Supreme Court by appointing three hard-right justices. He cut taxes primarily for the wealthy and for corporations. Even though he thought COVID-19 would just disappear, he issued checks emblazoned with his name to assist Americans locked out of work by pandemic. He separated immigrant families and put kids in cages. But many of his shouted promises didn’t pan out.

The border wall wasn’t finished. Mexico didn’t pay for it. America never got “tired of winning.” Obamacare survived and became more popular then when Barack Obama was president. He didn’t drain the swamp, and the deficit ballooned by $7.8 trillion.

He lost the 2020 election but refused to concede.

His efforts to overturn the election result led to January 6, 2021, when he incited his followers to stage a violent insurrection while he watched on TV. It didn’t work. Joe Biden became the 46th president.

As with all anti-heroes, the day of reckoning comes eventually. Trump now faces dozens of criminal indictments in four separate cases. He already has lost a huge civil judgement.

But now, the anti-hero is morphing into a wannabe dictator. 

During his current presidential campaign, his pitch to supporters has changed. He now shouts, “I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.”

In two recent TIME magazine interviews with Eric Cortellessa, Trump outlined his goals for a second term. Here are a few examples.

He promised to deport more than 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country, using the U.S. military to round them up and placing them in detention camps until they’re deported.

He said if states chose to monitor pregnant women to keep them from having an abortion, that would be up to the individual state.

He said he may not come to the aid of a NATO ally if they’re attacked if he feels the ally hasn’t paid its fair share to NATO.

He’d fire any U.S. attorney who refused to prosecute those he ordered to be charged.

Why should we worry? After all, he didn’t follow through on his first term promises. But next time, he would be surrounded by true believers. In the first term, a handful of assistants checked his power. There would be few guard rails in a second term.

We lived through an anti-hero president. A wannabe dictator is more dangerous. Maya Angelou was correct: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”    

Top photo of Donald Trump speaking to Republican National Committee members on May 4, 2024 was distributed by the Trump campaign to the media.

About the Author(s)

Bruce Lear

  • GOTV

    The sad truth of 2016 is that candidates with the most votes didn’t win. As we recall, HRC lost the outmoded Electoral College. The same factoid could apply in 2024. Experts say 40% are Never Trumpers, possibly Biden voters. 40% are sure-fire MAGA voters, leaving 20% in the middle and persuadable one way or other. Biden has a harder row to hoe in 2024 with voter apathy, insurance, hostility, and worried about inflation. Which means that every Biden voter will have to bust her/his buns to help Joe win the swing states. We here in Iowa can pony up $s and communicate with friends and relatives in MI, AZ, PA, etc. to urge the danger of a 2nd Trump presidency. I remember how shocked and sad I was in 2016 watching HRC lose. Don’t let it happen in 2024. Please.