Throughout this election season we’ve seen Donald Trump compared to Hitler, Mussolini, Vladimir Putin, Stalin, and Lenin, among others. A lot of the time, political comparisons, especially political comparisons to Nazis, are just intended to mean “I hate your guy, he is awful,” not “your guy is going to engineer the fall of democracy and murder 13 million+ people.” Politics is bloodsport, and nothing is more satisfying than throwing the worst mud you can find at the other side. However, this time is different. I’m not writing this Playbook for semi-recreational mudslinging purposes. I think we all need to understand the real events and strategies leaders have used to end democracy.
I want to be clear that I am not saying Trump is exactly like Hitler, or Mussolini, or Mugabe, or Putin. Nearly all “plays” in the Dictator’s Playbook can be graded on a scale, from bad political acts to genuine threats to democracy. Variations have existed in our own republic in the past – one Richard Milhous Nixon comes to mind – and each successive President since FDR has nudged the balance of power out of whack, tilting it toward the Executive. Still, I think Donald Trump is actually running political “plays” conceived by the dictators to whom we keep comparing him to a far greater degree than any President before him. Or other post-WWII Western democratic leaders, for that matter. At the very least his consiglieri, Steve “Boebbels” Bannon* has been borrowing strategies from their Playbook.
I will be writing about historical and current examples of strategies that effectively contribute to undermining and toppling the core institutions of a democracy. They are not in chronological order, nor has Trump used them all. However, they can serve as a roadmap, giving readers a good idea of when Trump’s actions are concerning, but not critical, and when to panic. I hope you find the Playbook helpful and educational and I welcome questions about individual plays and about other classic dictatorial moves I may not have addressed yet.
*Please read Play #1: The Big Lie, to see why that joke is way more hilarious than it seems right now.
- Play #1: The Big Lie
- Play #2: Marginalize the Political Opposition
- Play #3: Political Violence
- Play #4: Discredit the Press
- Play #5: Find a Scapegoat
- Play #6: Blame the Foreign Bogeyman
- Play #7: Let a Henchman Take the Fall
- Play #8: Silence your Critics