The tweet below seems to exemplify or encapsulate the situation today regarding the so-called ‘vacuum of leadership’ as discussed in How the Vacuum of Leadership in Washington led to Rage Online:
Weak nations require strong leaders; strong nations require weak leaders, or, better, no leader.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) June 5, 2022
I remember lefties in the early 2000s likening Bush to a fascist, and then Conservatives likening Obama to a fascist a decade later, and then the same regarding Trump. (Notice a recurring pattern.) I think the lefties from the early 2000s probably had a better case that the Bush administration was closer to being fascist, compared to the Trump administration. Otherwise, the label didn’t really make sense, because it’s not like Obama, Trump, or Biden were able to do that much. The Vietnam war and the Cold War era saw a huge expansion government power, such as the the rise of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, etc. Presidents, from Kennedy to Eisenhower, acted in secrecy and with impunity that nowadays would be impossible given how closely everything is scrutinized and how transparent things have become relative to in the past. Nixon, Reagan both had much worse scandals than anything Trump did , and were able to clear themselves and their buddies from culpability.
FDR, Lincoln, Truman, Wilson, and even LBJ embodied much more of the ethos of fascism than probably any recent president, if fascism is defined as a drastic overreach and imposition of federal power and suspension of Constitutional rights, which FDR is much more guilty of than Trump was. It’s been so long since fascism was a genuine threat that people have lost perspective as to what it actually entails. Leadership has become so weak over the past quarter century that the bar for what constitutes perceived fascism has been set very low.
Trump and Biden have among the lowest approval ratings of recent presidents, at around 40% each. Neither of them are that popular except for their most diehard supporters. Neither of them were/are able to do much legislatively: Trump got nowhere regarding immigration and ‘returning jobs to America’, and Biden has failed to do much regarding student loan forgiveness or other issues the left cares about. Their only legislative successes involved not some sort of sweeping and permanent social change, but rather just giving money away, whether it was the Trump tax cuts, the PPP loans (which produced considerable waste and fraud), or the Biden $1,400 Covid stimulus checks.
Regarding Bush again, within a year of 911 saw the following: two wars in the Middle East which combined lasted almost 40 years (although the war in Iraq was in 2003, public opinion was certainly shaped by 911 even if Saddam and Bin Laden had nothing to do with each other; if not for 911, there would likely be no war in Iraq), the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (which unlike Trump’s ‘Space Force,’ actually does stuff), the establishment of Guantanamo, and the ratification of the Patriot Act. All of these were at the federal level. Moreover, much of all of the post-911 restrictions, two decades later, are still fully intact, whether it’s increased screening of money transfers or having to take off shoes at the airport (although some parts of the Patriot Act has been suspended, much of it is still extant).
By comparison, there was no national response to Covid, but rather it was left up the states to decide how few or how many restrictions to impose. Such indecisiveness is probably evidence of some weakening of power at the federal level. Although the disbursement of the vaccines could be considered a national response, unlike 911, it didn’t involve any new laws or agencies.
Same for the decline of antitrust, the last major case being the DOJ vs. Microsoft, 24 years ago, even though many of todays top tech companies are much bigger and dominant than Microsoft ever was. The government has stopped being a force of social or legislative change, and has either abdicated such roles to the states and has taken a hands-off approach overall. The only exception to this has been the rise of federal agencies, particularly the FBI and the IRS-CI in response probably to the perceived growing threat of civil unrest and disorder.