I’m the victim. They’re persecuting me. They’re coming for you next… Sound familiar?
Victimization is straight from the authoritarian leader’s playbook. “Ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of resources and corroding or destroying democracy.“
I’m the most persecuted man in all of history,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed in 2009, just after Italy’s constitutional court stripped him of immunity from prosecution, leaving him vulnerable as he faced yet another corruption trial.“
A friend of mine once said that I was the most persecuted person in the history of our country,” said Trump.
The Cult of Victimhood
Victimhood cults allow setbacks the leader experiences due to his own incompetence or corruption to be explained away to his faithful supporters. That’s the core intuition of Trump’s Big Lie, which claims his victimization on an unprecedented scale –a whole presidential election stolen from him!– while allowing Trump’s followers to avoid reckoning with his many failures as president. The other major purpose of victimhood ideologies is to present state violence as defensive in nature. We can monitor their ebb and flow to anticipate domestic crackdowns or international aggressions in authoritarian states.
In Trump’s case, being the coup leader has not stopped him from escalating his victimhood status. As the multiple investigations he faces continue, he will likely step up his attempts to return to power so he can continue to play the role of the persecuted while acting as the persecutor. That’s the strongman way. – Lucid
Trump and his authoritarian role models
The parallels between Trump and his role models are endless. Ben-Ghiat writes of “watching Trump retweet neo-Nazi propaganda, call for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton and lead his followers in loyalty oaths at rallies seemed all too familiar”– and how it filled her “with dread”. Before the Putin-Trump bromance there was Putin and Berlusconi, grinning at each other. The way Trump talked about Mexicans was hardly different from Hitler’s words about the Jews or Berlusconi’s about Africans. – The Guardian
Billionaires back authoritarians
Every authoritarian regime has seen a crucial alliance between big business and the dictator, from Putin and his oligarchs to Hitler and German industrialists and Trump and the Wall Street elite. The German businessman Ernst von Hanfstaengl, Ben-Ghiat writes, introduced a “cleaned-up Hitler to the moneyed social circles that mattered” – just as Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman helped legitimize Trump with tens of millions in campaign contributions to him and his Republican allies. – The Guardian
Like all his role models, Ben-Ghiat sees in Trump a “drive to control and exploit everyone and everything for personal gain. The men, women and children he governs have value in his eyes only insofar as they … fight his enemies and adulate him publicly. Propaganda lets him monopolize the nation’s attention, and virility comes into play as he poses as the ideal take-charge man.” – The Guardian
Ruth Ben-Ghiat covers a century of authoritarianism to explain why strongman rulers in Africa, Europe, and Latin America, drawing from a common playbook of machismo, propaganda, violence, and corruption, have found popular support even as they bring ruin to their countries. The fruit of decades of research, Strongmen gives readers insight into how such rulers think, who and what they depend on, and how they can be opposed.
TakeAway: Don’t be conned. Understand the Strongman playbook and read STRONGMEN by Ruth Ben-Ghiat.
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Title image credit:The Dictator
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