Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century 11: some thoughts concerning how Xi and Trump approach and seek to follow an authoritarian playbook 2

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 8, 2019

I have been discussing Donald Trump and Xi Jinping as authoritarians in this blog over the course of four topically connected postings now, and continue that ongoing narrative here. More specifically, I have offered a thought piece on Donald Trump’s cult of personality and his efforts to build one about himself, and this follow-up posting to that on Xi Jinping’s efforts in that direction. And I have followed those postings with a more general discussion of cults of personality per se. And I have followed that three part progression with an initial orienting discussion of the authoritarian playbook per se, which I will continue addressing here in this installment. See Some Thoughts Concerning How Xi and Trump Approach and Seek to Follow an Authoritarian Playbook 1.

My goal for this posting is to at least initially step back from the specifics and the particularities of Trump and Xi as case in point examples, to at least briefly flesh out the basic operational approach that defines the authoritarian playbook itself, and how its constituent parts fit together as a tool kit for would-be authoritarians and dictators. Then after addressing that I will step back to reconsider my two case in point example leaders for how they actively seek to follow and to use this approach in fulfilling their own personal goals and ambitions.

I begin all of this with the fundamentals and by briefly reiterating and expanding upon a few key points that I have already been discussing here, in order to more clearly fit them into what is in fact a single overall, carefully constructed game plan and vision:

• A would-be authoritarian builds their leadership authority on a cult of personality foundation, in which they present themselves as realizing in the flesh, a somehow larger than life stereotypical vision. Authoritarians live and function from within these, their masks of exceptionalism and superiority.
• And as a key part of that, they set up systems of enemies – and not just of themselves, but of the people who they would lead as a whole. And they actively present themselves as the only ones who can safeguard their people: their followers from those enemies.
• These enemies: external to their nations and internal to them and drawn from their own citizenry, serve two closely aligned purposes. First of all, they serve as rallying cry points of focus that a would-be authoritarian can organize their followers against as commonly shared targets and as a collective unifying purpose to be faced and addressed. And secondly, if things do not go as planned according to the authoritarian agenda put in place by the “great leader”, that is always the fault of those evil, wicked enemies. Any initiatives that have not succeeded: any delays in achieving paradise by whatever name is used … exist entirely because of those enemies, and only because of them. (I will pick up on this point again when considering Trump and Xi in particular, but note here in anticipation of doing so, that I will at least briefly discuss Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Xi’s own redux update to it as a source of examples for how this point and its issues play out.)
• And when I referred to those enemies of the people in the immediately preceding bullet point as evil and wicked, I raised a crucially defining point for how they are identified and labeled and dealt with. Those who would be branded as enemies here are not just mistaken on matters of reasoned judgment or for how they might have reached their opinions on the basis of faulty or incomplete information. No, they are by definition evil, wicked, morally flawed, depraved and willfully so. Enemies as I use that term here and as authoritarians use it when branding their own enemies, are wrong and deeply, fundamentally so and entirely by choice. And they must be treated accordingly. (I will cite how the self-proclaimed ultra-conservatives backing Trump identify and talk and write about their enemies, and how Trump himself has done this and still does this too, as a source of examples for this point.)

With this orienting set of details offered as to underlying rationale and approach, I would flesh out some of the tool set details in play here as follows:

• Authoritarians only follow legally framed and culturally supported more normative systems in place insofar as they can use them for their own purposes. When they find their needs and agendas conflict with that: any of that, they break away from it, declaring it ineffectual, wrongheaded, and contrary to the will of or the needs of the people.
• As such, they seek to undercut and discredit any and all possible political, governmental, religious or other competition to leadership or to authority.
• They do this by garnering support from their base through repeated ongoing use of their particular versions of the big lie.
• When and as they start gaining real power, tilting the balance of authority in their favor and against what is left of any real competition to their leadership, they can and do take more direct and forceful action. This can range from discreditment and disenfranchisement to dismissal from jobs, loss of home and community and even complete marginalization and vilification. Authoritarian leaders when so empowered set up gulags and imprison their enemies, and use “reeducation” to at the very least neutralize them, and in ways that would warn others against seeking to follow their examples.
• And this leads directly to their actively pursuing complete, unchallengeable control over their nation’s military and police, and with establishment of a secret police that only answers to them personally where possible. For the emperors of the Roman Empire, that meant their Praetorian Guard: their Cohortes Praetorianae. For Hitler it was his Schutzstaffel (his “Protection Squadron” or SS). There have been others, and in time there will all but certainly be more.

I have to add here that I am not writing about these matters as an entirely abstract, academic exercise. I lived and worked for a year in Guatemala at a time that it was ruled as a military dictatorship so I have seen how this works, and I have seen the impact of this approach to governance and to leadership on societies and on the people who comprise them. As a personal aside, this is one of the reasons why I have written in so much detail about Trump and his ambitions, and about Xi’s and his as well, even as I have pursued their stories for more strictly business systems and economics related reasons too.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next installment, as promised above, with a more explicit focus on Trump and Xi and their stories. And I will turn to more fully consider Xi next, at least to start, adding one more key term to this outline discussion of the authoritarian playbook as a whole: trust, or rather the abnegation of even a possibility of holding trust in anyone or anything outside of self for a would-be authoritarian. Meanwhile, you can find my Trump-related postings at Social Networking and Business 2. And you can find my China writings as appear in this blog at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, and at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and Social Networking and Business 2.

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