There is no other way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth. . . .
— Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Herewith a few suggestions for Donald Trump that may be of help to him when he becomes president. That he needs them is suggested, among other things, by recent comparisons of him to Adolf Hitler. The most recent comparison was made by Anne Frank’s stepsister, Eva Schloss, who, in an essay to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, said that Mr. Trump was “acting like another Hitler by inciting racism.” In early March some commentators said that when those attending Trump rallies raise their right hands in what appears to be a salute, they seem to be performing a current version of the “Heil Hitler” salute seen at Nazi rallies. Mr. Trump has said that suggestions that it is a form of “Heil Hitler” are “ridiculous”. His fans are simply pretending to be taking the oath of office he will be taking when he is sworn in. The gesture is frequently accompanied by the shout of “Do the swear in, do the swear in.”
Because of many of the things that have been said during the past few weeks, it is none too soon to suggest that Mr. Trump should begin considering steps he can take to control the sorts of disrespectful things that will certainly increase when he enters the White House. He has already said that “[O]ne of the things I am going to do if I win . . . .I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” Although that is a great idea, he should consider additional steps that have been taken by some of our close allies to make sure their elected officials receive the kind of respect to which the offices they hold entitle them.
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As soon as he is elected Mr. Trump should persuade Congress to pass a law similar to one in Turkey that makes insulting the president a crime. Such a law has proved highly effective in that country where 1,845 cases have been brought against Turkish citizens for insulting their president, Recep Tayyan Erdogan. People have been charged for such things as media posts that are critical of the president or newspaper stories that are critical of him. On March 4, 2016, President Erdogan’s riot police took over the largest opposition newspaper in Turkey, throwing out its editors and journalists. Over the weekend Erdogan supporters were installed and on March 7, when the next edition of the paper appeared, instead of criticism of the administration it was filled with praise for its activities.
It is not only to Turkey that Mr. Trump can look for guidance. In Thailand, a 15-year sentence awaits anyone insulting the king, queen, heir, or regent. A former stock broker was recently sentenced to six years in prison for Facebook postings that were deemed offensive to the king and, thus, a violation of royal defamation laws.
Our long time friend and ally, South Korea, has a somewhat different, bur equally useful approach to insure the president receives the respect she deserves. Although the South Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, that guarantee is weakened by defamation laws that provide that comments that are deemed not to be in the public interest, can result in a 3-year prison sentence, if they are true, and a seven-year prison sentence, if they are not true. That is a valuable tool to make sure that a president can act in the country’s best interests without fear of criticism from people who don’t have a clear understanding of what the president is doing. According to Park Kyung-sin, a professor of law at Korea University, “the government is especially sensitive about defending the personal reputation of the president.” Although bills have been proposed in Parliament that would weaken the laws making it a crime to make comments not deemed to be in the public interest even if true, they have all failed. Instead, the government has pushed through Parliament even tighter restrictions on what can be said. One anti-government law maker said of the newly enacted legislation, during a 10-hour filibuster, that he could never “support this attempt to place a dog collar on the people.” An activist who had spread a rumor that the reason the President of South Korea did not respond in a timely fashion to the sinking of the ferry that killed 304 people, was because she was in the midst of a romantic encounter with a former aide. The house of the protestor who spread that rumor was searched and the protestor arrested and interrogated. Following his release, he called the arresting officers “running dogs for the government” and he and colleagues threw dog food in front of the prosecutor’s office shouting “bow-wow.” When confronted by the police following the demonstrations the protestor said: They kept asking me what was the political meaning of ‘bow wow.” When Mr. Trump becomes president he will not ask for an explanation of “bow wow.” He knows that his bite will be much worse than his bark and an explanation of the meaning of “bow wow” will not be necessary.