Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century 13: some thoughts concerning how Xi and Trump approach and seek to create lasting legacies to themselves 1

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 24, 2019

This is my 13th installment on Donald Trump’s and Xi Jinping’s approaches to leadership per se and it is my seventh installment in what amounts to a shared subseries belonging to two longer narratives: one on Trump and his rise to power in the United States and the other on Xi and his China as they have both turned to authoritarian approaches and tools to succeed there. I began this thread to that overall discussion with three postings on cults of personality, and I continued from there to more fully address an approach to leadership that holds such cult building approaches as one of its most important tools, that I refer to as the authoritarian playbook. See Social Networking and Business 2, postings 367 and loosely following for Parts 1-6 of this, there identified with tagging text accompanying links to those postings that identifies them for inclusion here for their more Trump-related significance. (I also offer links to these postings with corresponding China and Xi-oriented tagline text in Macroeconomics and Business 2.)

My goal for the first six installments of this narrative was two-fold:

• To offer a brief orienting discussion of the authoritarian playbook as a whole, and of what is probably its single most important tool and certainly for elevating a would-be leader into a position of dominating power through it, and
• To at least briefly outline something of how Trump and Xi came to pursue power and authority in this way, and why.

I turn here to begin to apply some of what I have been developing there, as a conceptual model and a tool for thinking through and understanding these two people. And my goal in this is to raise the issues of legacies in an authoritarian context, and at least briefly analytically discuss legacy building as Donald Trump and Xi Jinping pursue it.

More specifically, I ended my third playbook-outlining installment to this progression of postings with this anticipatory note as to what I would follow it with, starting here:

• I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will turn to consider legacies and the authoritarian’s need to build what amounts to monuments to their glory that they might never be forgotten. In anticipation of that discussion to come I will argue that while the underlying thought and motivation that would enter into this for any particular authoritarian might be complex, much if not most of that is shaped at least as a matter of general principles by two forces: fear, and a desire to build for permanence and with grandiosity driving both sides to that. And for working examples, I will discuss Trump’s southern border wall ambitions, and his more general claims to seek to rebuild the American infrastructure, and Xi’s imperially unlimited infrastructure and related ambitions too.

And then I found myself thinking through that narrative-to-be in fuller detail, and I decided to take a somewhat different approach to it than I more usually would. To start, I decided to begin this posting by sharing the text of a poem that has been running through my mind for its relevance and yes, for its irony to:

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I found myself thinking of the hubris and folly of Ozymandias as he, through a succession of names, has recurringly appeared in history and seemingly throughout it. Adolph Hitler built his Third Reich to last for a full thousand years! And as a core element of this self-proclaimed empire building to be, Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 as its first overtly military incursion into and overrunning of a separate foreign nation (see German-occupied Europe.) The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) and the Germany that it dominated in fact usurped power from Austria before that, but even if you start Hitler’s 1000 year clock with the founding of his political party itself, that would mean judging his success at legacy building longevity with a 1920 starting date as an earliest possible Reich founding date. And the Nazi party died in 1945, and so did Hitler himself, by suicide as enemy forces closed in on him in the burning wreckage of his once proud nation’s capital. 1000 years, 25 years … and “round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I have written on occasion of Josip Broz Tito and his dictatorial ambitions. He sought to become the one essential power broker in his otherwise contentious nation with all of its historically culturally divided peoples. And he succeeded in that, and at least in part by killing off any possible competition to his personal leadership, any possible successors included who might have found a more peaceful way forward after Tito’s demise. Josip Broz Tito sought to build a lasting legacy for himself in the form of massively large scale monuments and building complexes, as a physical manifestation of his attempt to fundamentally reshape his Yugoslavia’s society in his own image. He sought to build what some have come to refer to as a “cement utopia,” for how he turned to reinforced cement as a favored building material that could be assembled and formed with ease and at low cost. For two of many possible references that set the stage for what came of that as Tito’s reign ended, see:

Yugoslav World War II Monuments and Memorials and
The Cement Mixer as Muse.

Yugoslavia hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics in and around its city of Sarajevo, four years after Tito’s death. And the promise of this event, and of their nation taking so visible a role in the world as a whole from hosting it, probably helped stave off the chaos.

It is important to remember in this regard that winning bids to host the Olympics are selected many years in advance, so that nations so honored can have the time they would need to prepare for what is to come. And because of that, all Yugoslavians knew what was coming from well before Tito’s death. But the Olympics came and went and the world looked away. And the beautiful sports venues and other monuments to unity and constructive effort that the people of this once single nation build, fell into the flames of chaos as long-held grudges and scores to settle between Yugoslavia’s diverse people turned to strident accusations and as that in turn led to civil war: genocidal civil war and the fragmentation of Tito’s dreams.

The vision of Yugoslavia as a nation as contained in its Olympic village and its Olympic sports venues and supportive facilities was destroyed in all of this carnage (see Sad Legacy of Sarajevo’s 1984 Winter Olympics as Games Venues-Turned-Civil War Battlegrounds Left in Ruin.) And in fact much of Tito’s grandiose monumentally scaled construction efforts were destroyed outright, or left to decay as is, during the wars that his failures in leadership led to, from his inability and unwillingness to build for anything like a post-Tito stability in government or in society as a whole, among “his peoples.” … And “near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies.”

I could cite other examples from history here in preface to what is to follow as I more specifically focus on Trump’s and Xi’s legacy building ambitions, visions, and efforts. And I will in fact touch upon a few more such examples as I continue this narrative. But with this two-example cautionary note as to the limitations of power in any one pair of hands, I will turn to consider Donald Trump and his build-while-breaking paradoxes and then Xi Jinping’s and his.

My goal moving forward here in this posting progression is to offer a set of thoughts and observations regarding Trump first, with that beginning in my next installment to this. Then I will turn to and similarly consider Xi and his legacy story. But before doing so I would end this posting with a few more general, organizing thoughts that address challenges for would-be authoritarians that cut to the heart of the playbook that they all variously seem to follow.

Authoritarians seek to create contexts around themselves where they become the indispensible core for all that they would do and build. But what happens if they succeed in this? What happens then to any legacy building effort that they might have invested in and strived to build? If they are truly indispensible: if they really succeed at that, then it becomes inevitable that their passing and by whatever means and under whatever circumstances, would leave a power vacuum in which continuity of anything they built would become problematical at best.

The Western Allies of World War II, coming in from the West and Russia coming in from the East swept aside all that Hitler and his Nazi party and government had built, leaving fragments more than just passingly similar to the legacy that Ozymandias built for himself. And Tito’s legacy was the destruction of his architectural legacy, but more importantly of his nation, of Yugoslavia itself too. And in that, ironically enough: a stable unified Yugoslavia could have been his single greatest and most honored legacy of all.

• Can anyone genuinely, fully follow this authoritarian playbook and still build a lasting legacy that future generations will see as and acknowledge as theirs, besides whatever discord and even chaos that follows the “falling off of the edge of a cliff” ending to their rule, that following that playbook is so likely to lead to?

I offer this as a thought piece question, simply adding here that for Trump this means my raising questions as to what will happen to the Republican Party that he claims to lead, as well as my raising questions as to his lasting impact on the United States as a whole. I will raise equally freighted questions as to how this can and will play out longer-term for Xi and his legacy ambitions too. What, among other possibilities there, will happen to China’s, and his Communist Party when he finally leaves office, and certainly if he does in fact succeed in vacating the two term limit to Party leadership that was put in place to prevent the rise of another Mao, with his excesses. And what will happen to China from all of this? I will just add here that it is certain that no simple answer could possibly suffice in addressing that question.

I will at least begin addressing these and related issues in my next installment to this. 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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