Trump has finally released his plan for infrastructure spending. He released it along with his budget proposal. In both documents, Trump suggests privatization of some public assets, which increases his similarity to other authoritarian figures.
While I am personally against privatization, I understand why some might believe it is beneficial in specific scenarios. However, I think Trump is using privatization in a more sinister way. He is attempting to use privatization to enhance his political power, and he is not the first leader to do so. After all, Hitler privatized when he got into power. Now usually comparing someone to Hitler is a cheap method to undermine them but in this scenario it has a purpose. Trump is nor merely attempting to privatize the International Space Station (ISS), or Dulles airport, or even air traffic control centres, he is acting more and more like an authoritarian leader.
Now do not misunderstand my point, wanting to privatize industry does not make one an authoritarian, a fascist, or a Nazi. It is the reasoning for the privatization that is important. The Nazi’s did not privatize enterprises for a single motive. According to Germà Bel, in his article Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany, the Nazi government privatized because they believed that it would give them more political power with industrialists and because they thought that it would aid Germany in its economic recovery. Bel states that “the Nazi government used privatization as a tool to improve its relationship with big industrialists and to increase support among this group for its policies.” Bel specifies that the economic context in the 1930s is very different from the one seen today and therefore it cannot provide us with understanding about the current privatizations. However, that is not what is important here. The critical issue is that the Nazis used privatization as a political tool. This tool allowed them to gain more support from the industrialists. And it would have been harder for the Nazis to govern without this support.
Thus, if we were confident that Trump’s reasoning was innocent, this topic would merely be about our economic difference. However, if we observe Trump’s record as president, there is a reason to be worried. Trump has attempted to befriend businesses since before he was inaugurated. It is true that most Presidents attempt to have good relations with business. Yet, most do not go to the extremes that Trump has. He keeps bragging that he has cut the most regulations of any administration at this point in their administration. He also passed a tax bill that gave huge tax cuts to businesses.
Furthermore, Trump has punished those companies that he believes have wronged him. For example, there are reports that the reason that the Trump administration is suing to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner is because Time Warner owns CNN, a media company that Trump has derided as fake news many times. So, Trump is both aiding corporation and hurting those who he believes are against him. Thus, he has shown a history of using other political tools to win the support of corporations and we can assume that he is doing the same with privatization.
However, these actions in a vacuum would not be terribly worrisome. Trump is not the first president to privatize public assets. However, he is the first president with authoritarian tendencies to use privatization to gain political power from the most influential companies in the US.
Thus, in a time when Trump’s administration created scandal after scandal, it is important to remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Privatization was one of the tools that allowed Nazis to consolidate and grow their political power, and we must be vigilant that we do not let that happen again.