Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century 14: some thoughts concerning how Xi and Trump approach and seek to create lasting legacies to themselves 2

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 2, 2019

This is my 14th installment in a comparative progression of postings on Donald Trump’s and Xi Jinping’s approaches to leadership per se. And it is my 8th installment in that on Trump and his rise to power in the United States, and on Xi and his in China, as they have both turned to authoritarian approaches and tools in their efforts to succeed there. I began that line of 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, in what I refer to as the authoritarian playbook. Then I began to put all of this into a larger and longer-term historical context by turning to consider legacies in this type of authoritarian system and its use. See Social Networking and Business 2, postings 367 and loosely following (there identified with accompanying tagging text that identifies these postings for their more Trump-related significance. I also offer links to them with corresponding China and Xi-oriented tagline text attached at Macroeconomics and Business 2.)

I concluded Part 6 of the authoritarian-oriented thread of this narrative, stating that I would turn from there to consider Trump and Xi and their specific legacy building stories. Then upon further reflection, I added Part 7 as a more general, orienting discussion of authoritarian legacies per se, that I would use as a starting point for discussing Trump and Xi and their more individual efforts in this.

My goal for this posting is in fact to explicitly discuss Donald Trump and his legacy building efforts, with a corresponding discussion of Xi Jinping and his to follow. But before doing so, I will offer a few more thoughts concerning authoritarian legacies in general, in order to put my more case study-specific discussions to come into clearer perspective:

• I wrote in Part 7 of this progression, of how the dynamics of authoritarianism itself can make lasting legacies ephemeral, and particularly where a would-be authoritarian succeeds in following the playbook by actually making themselves truly indispensible as a stabilizing force in their nation’s society and in its governance. Success there might ensure their holding onto power and on an ongoing basis, while they live. But their very success there is all but certain to lead to power vacuums and societal instability when they do finally leave office, and whether that is at a ripe old age and through natural causes, or earlier and as a consequence of violence. And this type of instability and the conflict that it can lead to, is not conducive to developing or even just preserving lasting legacies per se.

But what of authoritarian systems that are set up so as to create more peaceful succession in power, with next in line supreme leaders chosen from among inner circles of authoritarian insiders? I cited Hitler and Tito as my working examples in Part 7, for their ambitions and efforts at creating lasting legacies for themselves as more “stand alone” authoritarians. And I turn to consider Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili) here as a third case in point authoritarian example, and as an example of an authoritarian who rose to power through a more succession-oriented system of the type that I discuss here.

Stalin rose through the ranks of the Communist Party that Vladimir Lenin (born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) led in its creation. And he succeeded at that, partly from his cunning and tenacity and partly from his ruthlessness and his willingness to employ any level of violence needed in order to achieve his goals, and the goals of his Party while he was still rising through its ranks. Then Lenin died and Stalin navigated his way to taking essentially absolute power in both the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, and through that of the Soviet state itself. And at least superficially, Stalin and his fellow leaders of their Communist Party, built Lenin’s legacy, expanding and glorifying it and him until Lenin was revered as if a god: a true Communist god. Lenin’s body was preserved when he died on January 21, 1924, for public display. And his body remains on public display in a special mausoleum build for that purpose in Moscow to this day, carefully re-embalmed on a regularly scheduled basis to keep him looking as lifelike as possible as he lays in perpetual state.

There is at least some evidence that would suggest that Lenin did not die of natural causes that day in 1924 at the age of 53. And an ambitious Stalin might have played a hand in that. Regardless of that sort of detail, Lenin’s god-like legacy was build and maintained from then on and by all of his successors in power and it still is in the post-Communist, post-Soviet Union Russia that exists today.

Lenin the man was very quickly replaced with Lenin the stereotyped symbol and with Lenin the administratively supportive tool that his successors could and did use. And that transformation began even more quickly than was needed to drain the blood out of his now lifeless body and replace it with his first course of embalming fluid. And when Stalin – a veritable self-anointed Soviet Communist god in his own life died, he was similarly embalmed and displayed too … at least until his successors decided to reexamine his legacy and (selectively) publicize “all” of his flaws and errors. Then he was buried and so was much of his legacy, and certainly as he himself had sought to create and direct it.

Yes, there are still many in today’s post-Communist Russia who still hew to the communism of their youth as if to a religion. And many if not most of them still honor Stalin as one of the brightest stars in their Communist firmament. But even there, questions can be asked. How much of that veneration represents a genuine effort to maintain and preserve the legacies of Stalin or of Lenin for that matter, or of any of their increasingly stolid apparatchik successors as leaders of the Soviet era Russian Communist Party? (As for that question and its second half, how many people remember Leonid Brezhnev for his gravitas or as a new and emergent legacy builder?) And perhaps more importantly here for purposes of this narrative, how much of that continued reverence is an expression of a desire simply to preserve a piece of the past, even if just a cartoon representation of it with all rough edges smoothed off? And focusing on Stalin in all of this again, how much of that reverence (and how much of the denigration that followed it) actually represents a preservation of and a continuation of the legacy that he wanted to leave in his people’s collective memory of himself, and how much of it is an invention that would be oriented towards benefiting his still living successors in power, and their legacies as such?

I offer this in terms of a specific example, but would argue that I am in fact discussing more general principles here. Even when an authoritarian lives and functions as such in a context that would create a directly dynastic continuity of power, next generation leaders tend to reframe and revision their predecessors and their legacies to promote and advance their own agendas and their own legacies. For a genuinely familial dynasty example of this, consider the current de facto royal family of North Korea with its founder, Kim Il-sung succeeded by his son: Kim Jong-il and with him now succeeded by his son: Kim Jong-un too. And the grandfather Il-sung was turned into a cartoon figurehead and an instrument of power for his son as he advanced his own agenda. And a still more refined stereotyped cartoon image tool of him, as well as a cartoon reimaging of Jong-il himself, now serve as tools of power that Jong-un uses today as he wields control over what is now his nation.

Donald Trump rose to his current position of power and authority as president of the United States through what is ostensibly such a succession of power-enabling system, advancing to his current position in government through a political party system that is legacy and power perpetuation-based. It is an unwritten but nevertheless potent plank in the Republican Party platform, and one of long-standing, that the long term goal of the party is to gain and hold onto power, and in perpetuity if possible and in all possible elected and appointed offices attainable.

And as an authoritarian of the type that I have been discussing here, Trump has been directing his energies to prevent anyone else in his sphere of influence from developing a power base within “his” Republican Party that might make it possible for them to in any way challenge him (or de facto to succeed him either.) In that he is following the authoritarian playbook in a pure form with no pretext of doing otherwise.

In this context, I cite how even Trump’s strongest supporters defensively argue his case by proclaiming that he thrives on chaos, as an explanation as to why his inner circle of high level appointees is in such turmoil with such a high turnover rate among them, and why he so actively undercuts anyone on his team who fails to praise him sufficiently – and certainly if they in any way publically disagree with him. And a similar line of argument is used to explain and justify why Trump attacks fellow Republicans in Congress and in state level office if they do not fully, automatically follow his lead and on all matters. Congressional pushback, including Republican resistance there regarding the funding of Trump’s signature piece Southern Border Wall is one of the most pressingly visible examples of that, and it is also one that is particularly appropriate in the context of this posting as that is the largest and most impactful piece to the Trump legacy that he is attempting to actually build. For three examples of how this set of issues have been discussed and analyzed by others, at least in general terms, see:

Trump’s Chaos Theory for the Oval Office Is Taking Its Toll,
Trump’s Chaos Engine Finds a New, Higher Gear and
The White House is in Meltdown.

And with all of that noted as background, let’s consider president Trump’s specific legacy building ambitions and efforts, at least up to now as I write this posting in early April, 2019. And I begin that by noting a categorical distinction between two fundamentally different areas of intention if not action, that would fall under an overall legacy rubric here:

• Proclaimed legacy building as a tool for garnering continued support from a politically supportive base: legacy-oriented advocacy if you will as a marketing tool there, and
• Actively intended and pursued legacy building (which can also be used as a marketing tool but where actual building is also a key goal.)

President Trump has in fact actively pursued both of these approaches, and particularly visibly in the first of those two categories. In that, he has for example actively championed the cause of coal miners in West Virginia and other marginalized communities, whose basic historically supportive industries have ceased to be viable in a modern world. And he has done this despite the objectively very real fact that most if not all of those particular industries are heavily polluting, increasingly uneconomical and financially failing or both. Turning back to reconsider those coal miners and their communities in the rural Appalachia of West Virginia, their marginalization has arisen for both economic reasons and environmental reasons, with fossil fuel’s impact on the global warming debate and with mountain top removal strip mining (as is now used in coal mining) viewed as a poster child example of how to do it wrong and on all counts.

These are communities that have traditionally been centered around what have become marginalized, and technologically obsolete industries with some of that coming from the disappearance of anything like viable markets for what they used to produce, and more coming from the development of less labor-intensive technologies that have taken away jobs, and from outsourcing out of the country, and even from outright automation and on a massively large scale. And people caught up in all of this feel isolated and left out, with all of the anger and anomie that that would bring. This has made them and their communities, targets for Donald Trump’s form of populism and ready joiners of his personally supportive base.

Looking at his overall reach and his overall message nationally in developing and maintaining his base, Trump has in fact actively reached out to stoke the resentment and anger of the marginalized, and certainly in communities that see themselves as being left out, in order to gain their support. And he has succeeded there, and in ways that have ratcheted up the tension and the rage and the risk of violent action on the part of these supporters against those he identifies as their enemies. For a reference in support of that, see:

Trump ‘Fear-Mongering’ Fuels Rise of U.S. Hate Groups to Record.

But Donald Trump has done nothing to actually help any of these people or their communities, even as he claims that he will bring coal mining back in the United States, to continue with that example, and fully bring it back to the fullness of its now former glory. And on a larger and at least potentially more pervasive and far-reaching scale, he has proclaimed that he will expend over one trillion dollars of US Federal support to rebuild and update and strengthen the critical infrastructure of the United States as a whole. Then after running as a presidential candidate on that promise and after winning office, he began making references to private sector participation in this with federal matching funds possible. And now this is an issue that he has stopped talking about, though it is likely to reappear from him as he ramps up his 2020 reelection campaigning.

The most visible legacy building effort that president Trump has in fact pushed for, and even against the wishes and interests of his own political party’s members of Congress, has been his wall: his effort to keep out Mexicans and other Hispanics where he specifically targets them as “enemy other,” as he follows the authoritarian playbook with its us versus them approach.

But more importantly, even if less publically visibly, Trump has also made wide-ranging and all too effective efforts to roll back federal governmental regulatory oversight and on all fronts: environmental protection, banking and financial institution oversight that seeks to protect the interests of investors and more. And his and his administration, empowered by a Republican led US Senate have made real inroads in shifting federal courts to the right politically, and to the far right with that including both Appellate and Supreme Court appointments.

I essentially began my more general discussion of authoritarian legacies in Part 13 of this, by quoting one of Shelly’s poems: Ozymandias. What of Donald Trump’s intended or at least proclaimed legacy can and will he actually build, besides the monumental offerings of his Trump-branded buildings and golf clubs? And what of that will last beyond him, and actually serve as the stuff of his historical image and his historical legacy? It is too early to answer that now and certainly in anything like specific realized detail, but to cite one likely piece of it that he does not particularly speak of or acknowledge, remember what The Donald has done to the Party of Lincoln and the Party of Teddy Roosevelt, and even to the Party of Ronald Reagan. I have written in this posting progression of how successfully following the authoritarian playbook in one’s life, can only increase the chances of subsequent power vacuums and the turmoil that they create. Time will tell how this plays out in a post-Trump world, and as political sea changes take hold under the guidance of a new leadership.

I will have more to add to this narrative in subsequent postings to this series on Donald Trump and his story here, but will turn to more fully consider Xi Jinping next and his legacy building story. 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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