Expert on Autocracy Says There is One Sure Way to Puncture Trump’s Cult of Personality

The threats to democracy by the uprising of authoritarianism cannot be stopped by election defeats alone, says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarian leaders. A criminal conviction is the one sure way to defeat the power of Trump’s “personality cult.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. She is an MSNBC Opinion Columnist and commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and other media outlets about authoritarianism and threats to democracy around the world.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Trump checks all the boxes for history’s authoritarians, noting that they don’t leave office quietly, maintains a hero image, and becomes the victim. Trump accelerated the normalization of extremism and lawlessness in his attempt to demonize and destroy democracy and its freedoms.

One of the “big talking points and strategy of right-wing authoritarianism is to label democratic systems as tyrannical,” Ben-Ghiat explained. “Mussolini was the first to say that democracies are tyrannical, democracies are the problem.”

As an authoritarian, Trump’s focus is to keep rivals in check so that he is not replaced by a younger version of himself — such as Ron DeSantis.

In order to do so Trump has to keep the voters indoctrinated, but also the Republican party, which he has turned into an authoritarian party, trying to control its internal foes as well as the external Democrats.

Ben-Ghiat says, “….the other big story is that his agenda and his methods are being continued at the state level. Some of these things were on the agenda way before he came in, like getting rid of abortion rights and stuff like that. But these states are really laboratories of autocracy now, like Florida, Texas.”

She cites Ron DeSantis turning Florida into a mini-autocracy by absorbing the lessons of success in the GOP today, becoming an aggressive bully who invites those who want to escape the tyranny of the Democrats to Florida.

What would you say to those in this country who say, “No, the Republicans aren’t the autocrats. It’s the Democrats who are the autocrats. It’s Joe Biden. It’s other Democrats with power who are making us wear masks or take vaccines we don’t want to take. They’re the ones who are behaving more in autocratic ways, not the Republicans.”

One of the big talking points and strategy of right-wing authoritarianism, is to label democratic systems as tyrannical. Mussolini was the first to say that democracies are tyrannical, democracies are the problem. And there’s a whole century’s worth of the strategy of calling sitting Democrats, who you want to overthrow, dictators. Biden as a social dictator, [is] a phony talking point. It has so many articulations from “They’re forcing us to wear masks.” And you have people like DeSantis who are doing this very subversive thing of saying, “Florida’s the free state. You can have refuge from the dictatorship of Biden here.” And what this is designed to do is discredit the sitting democratic administration in order to create, a myth of freedom. January 6 was actually marketed as the violence [being] in the service of freedom, and you were overthrowing a dictator.

Further into the interview, Ben-Ghiat speaks about whether America is still a functioning democracy and the likelihood of a true, active civil war among a civilization who is massively armed.

It’s a fascinating interview, and can be found discussed here at Politico.