Is Donald Trump a dictator? Experts explain his similarities to history’s most evil leaders
When Kanye West stops defending you and deletes any evidence from Twitter to the contrary, you know you’ve got a credibility issue. And after a slew of controversies unlike any president before him (see: weekly international protests), it looks as if Donald Trump’s gloss is starting to wear. The incredible public outcry is largely the result of a tumultuous first fortnight in office that saw a prolific number of executive orders signed and Tweets tweeted that spat in the face of human rights and Republican party politics, thus earning him the ire of all but his base and paid staffers—including Fox News.
The immigrant “ban” (sorry, not sorry), praise of Russian president Putin (see: dictator), countless Tweets deriding the CIA, FBI and federal judges, and effusive attacks on independent media and anyone who speaks out against him has seen Trump labelled a dictator on more than one occasion. But what does that mean exactly? We hit study hall and pulled an all-nighter to figure out why—complete with references.
The personality traits of a dictator
According to behavioural science and psychology experts Seth Norrholm (PhD) and Samuel Hunley (M.A) of Atlanta’s Emory University: “[Dictators] see themselves as very special people, deserving of admiration and, consequently, have difficulty empathizing with the feelings and needs of others … Not only do dictators commonly show a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, they also tend to behave with a vindictiveness often observed in narcissistic personality disorder,” they wrote at Anxiety.com.
The Washington Post’s Peter Ross Range called out Trump’s saviour complex mid-2016 after witnessing his victory speech for the Republican Nomination, and likened his campaign to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power during the depression of 1929. “Hitler famously conjured the model of ‘the genius, the great man’ who alone held the key to a country’s destiny,” Range wrote in The Washington Post. “[Hitler insisted] progress and civilization could be achieved only through ‘the genius and energy of a great personality’… [Trump] accused [countries] of playing the United States ‘for suckers’ on defense spending and asserted: ‘They should pay us… and they will if I ask them. If somebody else asks them, they won’t.’ “Deflecting calls for specifics with assertions of superior ability is a technique that Hitler used, too. He increasingly monopolized the Nazi movement during the 1920s until “the idea,” as his followers called National Socialism (Nazi), was identical with the man. Likewise, Trump likes to call his juggernaut a movement, but it is really a one-man show.”
Testing the limits of power and revelling in disruption
History and Italian studies professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote of Trump’s similarities to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in The Atlantic last year: “Mussolini’s rise to power also exemplifies another authoritarian trait America has seen during this campaign: The charismatic leader who tests the limits of what the public, press, and political class will tolerate. This exploration begins early and is accomplished through controversial actions and threatening or humiliating remarks toward groups or individuals. It’s designed to gauge the collective appetite and permission for verbal and physical violence and the use of extralegal methods in policing and other realms. The way elites and the press respond to each example of boundary-pushing sets the tone for the leader’s future behavior and that of his followers”. Of course, Mussolini’s followers eventually took his words to the extreme, attacking and killing those in opposition to him en masse.
Delegitimizing the media
It’s a vital move to any leader looking for absolute power, one executed by Joseph Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Putin, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Pol Pot and every Kim Jong-something—publicly attacking the media to limit/end freedom of the press. Not only has Trump praised some of the former, but his daily attacks on CNN, ABC, NBC and the like are becoming more savage by the day. Political scientist Allen Clifton said it best: “All a dictator wants the media to do is serve as their own personal propaganda tool for whatever lies they want people to believe,” he wrote at forwardprogressives.com. “Dictators usually set up some sort of state-run media where information is completely regulated and controlled by the government. Since [Trump] can’t technically order the government to seize control of the major networks, he’s trying to delegitimize any network that calls him out as “fake,” while promoting “news sources” that are really nothing more than cheerleaders for his propaganda and lies (see our friends at Fox News). He’s basically trying to create an environment where those who support him only believe his hand-picked “media sources,” while trying to discredit any network or journalist who dares to oppose him.”
Yes Men (and women)
Dictators don’t exist in a vacuum. They have an intimate circle of loyal followers to do their bidding, unquestionably. They surround themselves with the anointed and share a common belief in the morality, superiority and rightness of their cause. Hitler had Goering, Goebbels and Himmler. Trump has Bannon, Conway and Spicer.
So, is Trump a dictator? No. But he’s certainly displaying dangerous traits synonymous with the world’s most notorious dictators.
Fun Fact: The ghostwriter of Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal, where Trump boasted “everyone underneath the top guy in a company is just an employee”, last year revealed the book was largely fiction and made up.