Sultanism. It’s a good descriptor for what’s passing for government these days here in in good ol’ uStates.
Alfred Stepan and the late Juan J. Linz of Columbia University argued that sultanism is both a regime type (like democracy and authoritarianism) and an adjective describing a style of personal rule that is possible under all regime types, including democracy. They wrote:
“The essence of sultanism is unrestrained personal rulership … unconstrained by ideology, rational-legal norms, or any balance of power.”
Sultanism, in other words, is most common under authoritarian and autocratic rule, but it can also be present in democracies, when leaders personalize decision-making instead of following established institutional or legal processes.
Most modern American presidents have risen through the institutions of U.S. democracy – state political parties, Capitol Hill, the military. They have been vetted and embedded in institutional rules, attitudes and relationships. Someone like Trump, coming in “from the cold,” in contrast, brings his family and close associates and makes decisions outside of those formal and informal institutions.
Having masterminded his unexpected victory based on an unconventional campaign, Trump has already shown a tendency to trust his instincts on major decisions of governance, creating impulsive, unpredictable decisions. His past record as CEO and his outsider status make Trump self-reliant and assured that most of the world is misguided and only he and his few trusted advisers, including his family, have the answers.
The U.S. presidency has always been prone to sultantistic tendencies, but under a Trump presidency what were once isolated incidents have predictably become a way of governing. When the closest advisers, both institutional (like Ivanka and Kushner) and informal (in the case of his two adult sons), are dominated by family members, the decision-making process will not only be erratic and possibly influenced by private family interests but also tend to ignore legal procedures that have also met the test of time.
Instead of a “team of rivals” under the rule of law, the Trump presidency may be akin to medieval monarchy, with decisions made by court politics, not legal procedures.
Very interesting reading over at The Conversation.