“Authoritarianism is usually associated with a punitive spirit — a leader who prosecutes and incarcerates his enemies. But there is another side to this leadership style,” Toobin wrote in a comment piece for The New Yorker, where he is also a staff writer.
“Authoritarians also dispense largesse, but they do it by their own whims, rather than pursuant to any system or legal rule,” Toobin continued. “The point of authoritarianism is to concentrate power in the ruler, so the world knows that all actions, good and bad, harsh and generous, come from a single source.”
Toobin noted how the people that Trump granted clemency to — including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik — all had “some personal connection” to him.
Therefore, Toobin wrote, it was “exclusively an exercise of Trump’s own power.”
He concluded with an ominous warning:
In this era of mass incarceration, many people deserve pardons and commutations, but this is not the way to go about it. All Trump has done is to prove that he can reward his friends and his friends’ friends. The chilling corollary is that he knows he can punish his enemies, too.