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I'm world-building a future where the USA devolves into a dictatorial state ruled by a single man.

The following are true:

  • The dictator in question is a charismatic populist who is highly intelligent, wealthy, and well-connected.

  • The dictator takes power via a non-violent coup and is able to get the military to swear personal loyalty to him.

  • The dictator gains full control of the country through entirely legal means. At no point does he ever exploit legal-loopholes or gain support none-legitimately.

With all that being said, what is the most probable way that the USA can devolve into a dictatorship through stirckly legal means?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have the answer already in mind and seek confirmation? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 26, 2022 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, JFK kind of got close... $\endgroup$
    – IronEagle
    Apr 26, 2022 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings I'm not asking for any specific details or a playbook of events. I'm asking if it would be hypothetically possible for a dictator to rise to power legally without breaking any laws/while not sparking a civil war. Hm. You do make a good point. Should I reword the title to: "Could A Dictator Take Power In The USA Using Strictly Legal Means?"" $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2022 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ Anything could happen, since if you have enough people vote for it you can change any law. This is more of a question of motivation, not world building. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Apr 26, 2022 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond That's not what "dictator" means. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 26, 2022 at 18:56

6 Answers 6

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In the USA, it is simple.

Changing the US Constitution first requires a proposed amendment passed by 2/3 vote in each of the House of Representatives and the Senate. That proposed amendment must then by ratified by 3/4 of the States, within "a reasonable time".

Although the current situation would not allow such a thing, obviously we HAVE amended the Constitution dozens of times, so it is not unimaginable that one party gains control of such majorities, under the sway of some politician (especially in times of war or great hardship), that then sways the House and Senate to amend the Constitution to make them President for Life, make them immune to prosecution, remove all legal impediments from the President, etc.

Isn't that what Putin just did in Russia?

The US Constitution can be amended. Every amendment can be repealed. Don't forget the entire Bill of Rights is amendments to the Constitution, your "First Amendment Rights", your "Second Amendment Rights", etc. Free speech, Freedom of Religion, the Right to bear arms, your right to a trial, your right to vote, all of it can be wiped from the board with 2/3 of each House and 3/4 of the States. Or modified, or suspended.

No unanimous decisions necessary here, just these super-majorities, and we have done it before.

Not to mention, even that mechanism is itself in the Constitution and subject to Amendment to make it easier! A temporary superiority of states, 38 at our current count, could permanently change the Constitution to require fewer states for future Amendments. Or to make it easier for the President to arbitrarily suspend the Rights of citizens.

The changeability of the US Constitution is both a strength, for adapting to changing times, and a weakness, to be exploited by unscrupulous agents in times of crisis.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. Especially in the political climate of the last couple presidential elections, I don't think it's too far-fetched that an extremely charismatic left-leaning centrist could divide the right enough to achieve significant margin of victory (approaching 60%) over their opponent, especially if the opponent is seen as radical or is widely unpopular. More specifically, in the recent election, Biden won in large part because he wasn't Trump. If he'd been younger and more charismatic, I suspect he could've captured a larger part of Republican voters than he did and won by a larger margin $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 26, 2022 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ There is no "within a reasonable time" criteria for ratification. Amendments have been passed after 200 years of wait time, and recently (within my not-that-long lifetime). Only amendments written with an explicit sunset clause have anything like a time limit, and there's some speculation that sunset clauses could be ignored without constitutional peril. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 26, 2022 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnO I thought the supreme court has held otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Apr 26, 2022 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Amadeus The 27th amendment was itself put forth for ratification with the rest of the Bill of Rights in 1789. It was not ratified until 1992ish. The ERA had a sunset clause. It failed to be ratified within the sunset clause period, I believe of 7 years. There was a strong push to ratify it anyway. Since it was not ratified, the issue is moot as far as the Supreme Court was concerned... had it been ratified after the limit, we might have learned if those were valid. Remember, SCOTUS only rules on things that actually happen, they tend to stay out of the speculative stuff. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 26, 2022 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ This is basically how it happened in Venezuela. Read up on how that transpired. It also happened right around 2016. I had a friend from that region ask me in absolute seriousness if what happened in Venezuela could happen here (in the USA). He was actually worried. $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2022 at 18:53
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Her Majesty Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

or

Liz is Back and Angrier than Ever.

enter image description here

Your solution needs to be legal. However you don't say whose laws should be upheld. So I will do the obvious thing and answer in terms of the only laws that matter.

I speak of course of the legal doctrine of the British commonwealth and the Divine Sovereignty of the Royal Crown of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Too long have the Western Colonies escaped our reach with their upstart "War of Independence". These so-called "United" States. They stole the word "united" from our most powerful and magnanimous kingdom which they seek to usurp. Give back our word! And their flag is just our flag with the shapes mixed up. Look!

enter image description here

That's not a new flag. That's our flag with the lines drawn differently. The colours are the same and all.

After many centuries Queen Elizabeth is ready to take back her word and her country, by means of blood and carnage. She is indestructible when wearing her crown don't you know.

This is all legitimate by British Canon law. Furthermore it is legitimate for the queen to reign as absolute monarch in America, whereas it would not be legitimate in England. In England they have changed their constitution to lower the Queen's power. However America never bothered making the necessary changes since they claim to have kicked her out altogether.

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    $\begingroup$ Plus one. Minor nitpick: I'd say that British Cannon Law would be even better than British Canon Law. (And it is Her Most Gracious Majesty Elizabeth Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 26, 2022 at 19:32
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The same way other democracy's devolve into dictatorships usually Civil War.

The Roman Republic is an excellent example of how this works. The Roman Republic was dead set on opposing monarchies and one person rule Even more financial than the US today. But going to a couple generations of nonstop Civil War change the perspective eventually, all the hardcore patriots who weren't killed in the Civil War We're so desperate For some solution that they would accept anything even Imperial rule.

Proper packaging: Going back to the Roman Empire again it's a good thing to remember proper packaging whenever transitioning a democracy into a dictatorship it's important that you use the proper terms and formalities to make people feel more comfortable.

Augustus is a good example of this, he avoided words like king or dictator instead call himself 1st citizen. Technically speaking he was elected to legitimate Republican offices and he kept the senate and elections happening. I expect that your dictator will call himself president, or perhaps 1st adviser to the president. There will still be a Congress and a Supreme Court but their role will be severely diminished. As for the role of president, if your dictator wants it for himself he might strengthen it bring it remove the term limit and just arrange for himself to be continually elected, if not he might instead have himself appointed to an advisory role to the president and then rob the president of any real power while all the office former powers are transferred to his adviser make a him a virtual puppet.

To put it simply is it possible for a dictator to come to power in the US, sure. Anything is possible just need a right kind of factors, and the right kind of package. You'd have to make changes to the government of course, but governments change all the time our government a few decades ago is not the same as it was today.

I'm choosing to ignore the word fascist and till you put a proper definition in your question. Fascist is a particular form of extreme nationalists, not all dictatorial governments are fascist. However until you say otherwise I'm gonna assume you just mean bad government as that is how the phrase is usually usually used nowadays unfortunately.

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  • $\begingroup$ I answered this in the questions comments. I mean the literal, "one man controls the entire government," kind of fascism. $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2022 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @SmartBulbInc The fact that one man controls the entire government doesn't mean he's fascist, nor does one man being fascist mean he controls the entire government. In that sense, I don't see how fascism adds info or constraints to the question. $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2022 at 13:03
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State Of Emergency:

Some kind of issue comes to a crisis point. The issue is irrelevant - inflation, energy, war, political gridlock, whatever - and a single election sweeps a slim majority into congress.

  • The rules of congress are changed to prevent filibusters and limit debate.
  • broad emergency powers are granted to the president. It won't matter if they're constitutional or not.
  • The supreme court is expanded to 36 members, placing presidential loyalists in control of the supreme court for life and completely diluting out the current members. Now anything is considered constitutional that the president wants.

At this point, the president can do pretty much whatever he wants. There's no constitutional amendment, and it's all legal. As the dictator, I'd do the following:

  • The justice department investigates treason in the rival political party. Congress ejects rival members. Numerous rivals are declared traitors and permanently banned from public office (if not throw in prison).
  • Congress, now purged of the rival political party, defers decisions on most issues to the president and gives him discretion to extend emergency powers 'as needed.' Membership in the rival party is declared a felony (conspiracy to commit treason).
  • The 'conspiracy' extends to the media. Broad controls on the media are imposed to rid the system of traitors. We need to stop traitors from manipulating the public! Use China's media system as a model for how the censors run things.

Now, to permanently enshrine the changes, you can amend the constitution. That will be harder, but with the supreme court supporting every decision against state legislatures, jerrymandering will allow minorities to take control in state governments.

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Unfortunately, this is all too predicable, and quite possibly probably possible, too.

Our dictator-to-be is aware that the easiest way to legally take control of the country is to win over the populace with lies and rhetoric. The populace are, unfortunately, both stupid and gullible (ref: all of history).

Our dictator-to-be asks a rich, powerful friend of his to buy out a popular messaging service - it's hard work to start a competing messaging service from scratch, after all. This messaging service immediately removes all previous controls and bans, reinstating a certain, popular ex-President, and becomes a hotbed of unfiltered right-wing bile and hatred in less than six months.

This ex-President rides the waves of his return to popularity, while decrying the constant legal pressure on him over tax investigations as more evidence of the left's attempt to silence the voice of the people. Two years later, Biden is removed from office after an underhand campaign of lies and President 45 becomes President 47. He swiftly changes the election laws 'to remove repeated attempts at fraud by the left', backed up by the current Supreme Court majority, cementing a Republican 'majority' for the next fifty years.

Of course, after all this, there will still be a lot of anger and unease, and Trump will never be fully accepted by the establishment, and people need scapegoats to help them move on after periods of unrest, and after all, he's getting on a bit, and some say he may not be quite compos mentis, so the country will need a strong Vice President during all this time, ready to do His Duty when Trump is finally declared unfit to lead, now his usefulness has ended.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The 48th and Final President of the United States of America: Mitch McConnell.

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  • $\begingroup$ Be nice. The OP might be of a different political persuasion. Crazy and conspiratorial can exist in any political party. You may want to edit to make things more neutral. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Apr 26, 2022 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ The first half anonymous like "a certain ex-president" and "a powerful friend of his". But then you jump straight to "Two years later, Biden is removed from office" $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 26, 2022 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway I second the opinion to make this more neutral. After all, a lot of us here prefer Star Trek to Star Wars. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 26, 2022 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Would it change your perception of the tone of this answer, if I pointed out the 48th and final President Mitch McConnell is even OLDER than Donald? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 26, 2022 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Hey, OP asked for Most Probable Way, OP got Most Probable Way. $\endgroup$ Apr 26, 2022 at 16:53
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As far as I see it the main problem for this person is the 22nd Amendment which specifies that a US president cannot serve for more than two consecutive four year terms. As other have pointed out this can be repealed by 2/3 majority. I'm not an expert in the US constitution, someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

After that, this person doesn't have to declare him (/her?) self a president for life or anything like that. Once they've amassed enough political power they can simply continue winning elections by rigging the vote to whatever they want it to be. This is exactly how many real world dictators operate today.

If the OP considers it non-legitimate means, this person can win all their elections completely legitimately, due to their populist appeal and charisma and due to having reduced the main opposition party to being completely irrelevant and unable to compete seriously.

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