The year is 49 AD: Julius Caesar demands absolute loyalty from his generals as he turns the Roman Republic into a dictatorial empire. Nearly two millennia later, George Orwell writes Animal Farm. The novel’s repeated line, “Comrade Napoleon is always right” satirizes the the Soviet political hierarchy of the day. In October 2016 President Xi Jinping of China demands absolute loyalty from the heads of all state security agencies and state-run media companies. Last Wednesday, Rex Tillerson professed his loyalty to the American president on national television. The Roman Empire, USSR, and Communist China hinged (and continue to hinge, as the case may be) on strict codes of loyalty. Historically, these nepotistic governments have produced fractious governance and, at worst, demise. The latest conflict within the Trump administration places our current government dangerously close to this category. Our regime is in crisis.
Disputes amongst top government officials are rare. Abraham Lincoln violated habeas corpus after dissent from the governor of Maryland, but the fact that this dispute is occurring between the president and the fourth highest administration official further reveals the extent to which the Trump Administration has become paranoid with questions of loyalty. Tillerson isn’t the first administration official to face the chopping block over this issue. In February, Buzzfeed a close aide to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was fired for writing an op-ed in opposition to Trump. In July, Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who in a Congressional testimony stated that Trump demanded his loyalty multiple times. Tillerson is simply the next in a line of high-ranking government officials who may be ousted for not offering absolute loyalty to Trump.
Strongmen are infamous for ripening the conditions of their own demise. When Caesar circumvented the senate, rebellion became inevitable. Internal strife between leaders in the USSR was partially responsible for its collapse in 1991. Today, China’s Xi faces unprecedented backlash because of his tightening grip over the Chinese Communist Party and increasing amounts of unilateral action. Trump is tightening his grip on the highest ranking officials in government and making a growing amount of decisions at will. If he continues along this path of in-house fighting and unilateral decisionmaking, he may bring about his own demise.