It would be useful for people to recognize the political playbook moves that have been very successful to many questionable leaders in the past and present. It would be useful because they are all being used today to varying degrees.
First, I want to be clear that I am not comparing Mr. Trump to these leaders, just pointing out the similarities of his methods. I do not think that Mr. Trump means to be an evil man. I believe that he is trying to do good but is often blinded by his childish ego. Many leaders have risen to power spurred by ego and then had it become even more inflated once there.
One of the simplest and most powerful tools a leader can use for a rise to power is scapegoating. US versus THEM. WE are all good. All the problems in the world are caused by THEM. For this strategy to be successful, it requires people to be able to be identified in easily definable US and THEM groups. Blaming everything on THEM, gives people the quick answers and the easy fixes that they yearn for. For examples to this, think of virtually every atrocity in the history books.
The degree is vastly, toned down, but Donald Trump has gotten a tremendous amount of support by playing on people’s fears and proposing that a large portion of this country’s problems are caused by Muslims and Mexicans. Since 9-11, when citizens of Saudi Arabia (a country in our president’s favor) attacked us, the attacks since have been a few radicalised U.S. Citizens. The rest of the approximately 3 million U.S. Muslims are fine citizens. None of these attacks have been by foreign muslims traveling here. Despite Mexicans being charged as “murderers and rapist”, their actual crime rate is actually less than the rest of society as an average.
A second tool in the playbook is to attack and destroy anyone who does not support you or criticizes you. When I think back at all the recent presidents, some I supported, some I did not, none of them attacked every person and organization that ever disagreed with them.
Monday, I saw a tool brought out of the toolbox that reminded me of Kim Jong Un. Monday was a meeting of the president and the cabinet. Top level cabinet members lined up one by one to heap glowing praise on their leader. The vice president said “The greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people.” This was followed by the secretary of labor saying “I am privileged to be here – deeply honored – and I want to thank you for your commitment to the American workers”. The agriculture secretary just returning from Mississippi said “They love you there”. The chief of staff then took his turn to say “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda”. Donald Trump then called out each one thanking them. Was this a spontaneous outpouring of love? Is it true that Donald Trump does not demand “loyalty”?
Anti-intellectualism is a third tool out of the toolbox that Mr. Trump has not used as much as some questionable leaders. He has glanced at it a bit by implying that the scientific community’s consensus about climate change is an intellectual conspicuously.
An almost universal tool used by people hungry for power is the cult of personality.
Something new to Trump, might be his use of “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is a term given to the practice of making you question your beliefs by constantly misstating the truth.
Whether or not you like or agree with a politician, it is important to recognize the standard tools used throughout history. Our society and institutions have generally done a pretty good job of slapping down the worst and most unfair tricks, but occasionally, they creep in. I am happy to say that our present time is not nearly as bad as when McCarthyism was in full swing in the 1950’s. I believe that our institutions and rule of law is stronger now than it was then. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to teach the despots standard playbook in high school?