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Updated: Nov 4, 2020

October 24, 2020

This has happened before.

Throughout history, long before Donald J Trump, there have been other real or imagined charismatic figures who briefly (bizarrely, terrifyingly) captivated a population before flaming out.

Photo: Kal (Baltimore Sun)

Hitler, of course, springs to mind first, but what about Mussolini? People fell madly in love with him, too, were willing to die for him; women longed to be his lover & bear his children. People don’t think about Mussolini much these days, but a lot of historians have noted that the ways DJT has patterned himself after the famous Italian dictator, comrade-in-arms to Hitler, are more than coincidental.

(Did you know it was Mussolini who coined the term “drain the swamp”? Did you know he said that the coming of a dictator would be the only way to “make America great again”?)

Benito Mussolini. Photo:

If you know anything about Renaissance history, you’ll have heard of Fra Savonarola of Florence. He was a religious reformer whose extremist calls to renounce sin briefly swept through the population. At Savonarola’s urging, the Florentines flung their vanities, including priceless works of art, into bonfires.

Bonfire of the vanities. Photo: Domenicana journal

More recently there was Rasputin, a peasant-mystic in Russia whose power ultimately contributed to overthrowing the Romanov dynasty and sparking the Russian revolution.

The very mesmerizing Rasputin, "Russia's Mad Monk". Photo: Wikipedia

In this country, as recently as the 1950’s, people turned on their friends & colleagues, even their family members, after GOP Senator Joe McCarthy whipped everyone into a red frenzy.

A 1950's-era cartoon. Photo: pbs

History is full of such lunatic fevers. Although we’re told in school that modern-day humans have achieved a high level of rationality, apparently we also still have a collective primitive brain that’s alive and well. It’s the part of us that gets roused when a powerful and magnetic figure comes before us, gleaming and full of promises.

When that larger-than-life figure stands on a stage and says he can, for instance, get rid of America’s $19 trillion in debt — and “pretty quickly,” too — a certain kind of person believes him wholeheartedly. And when he claims, “I am your voice. I can restore law and order. I alone can fix it,” a lot of people who have been wanting someone to come along and fix things join the team without a qualm.

Following a strong leader is something many of us want to do. Look at how leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, have changed the world.

Well … I suppose all of them have changed the world, for good or ill.

It's when the devotion of their supporters turns to fanaticism, when it starts blazing like one of Savonarola’s fires, that the astute student of current events has to wonder, “Is this one of those charismatic-leaders-toppling moments?”

In 2020, I think it is.

I feel America is over Donald Trump, by & large, and that the number of people who “would die for him” is dwindling. Yes, those people WILL remain fanatically loyal, and dangerous — but they won’t t comprise 40% of our population anymore. I think that number has been quietly dropping for some time, in fact.

The heavy early voting we’re seeing — 56,567,346 nationwide as I write this — indicates a major shift away from Donald Trump and his policies and, I believe, his party. Nearly 50% of that total early vote is comprised of registered Democrats; Republicans and Independents comprise about 25% each.

Of course, this could change. A lot of Republicans have said they intend to vote in person on November 3rd. Depending on our virus numbers — today the U.S. has hit the grim milestone of more recorded cases since the pandemic began — some may reconsider, whichever party they belong to.

It’s not just the coronavirus that’s dragging down the self-proclaimed “golden lion.” It’s the lion himself.

“Personalized charismatic leaders are typically authoritarian and narcissistic. Their goals reflect their own interests, while the needs of the organization and its members are manipulated in order to achieve the leader’s interests,” wrote Professor Krume Nikoloski in the Journal of Process Management-New Technologies.

Researcher Stephen Fogarty writes that charismatic leaders are viewed as distinct from ordinary people due to characteristics of “superhuman” or “at least specifically exceptional powers.” These individuals are able to articulate a vision for the future that “is highly discrepant to an unsatisfying status quo” and that motivates followers to demonstrations of “extraordinary effort and achievement.” America watched as Donald Trump emerged in 2015, appearing to be exactly that leader.

But the “dark side” that’s such leaders often have can result in their downfall, as history has shown.

“A grandiose sense of self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power, excessive need for admiration and entitlement, lack of empathy, and envy,” Fogarty maintains, are indicators of such a “dark side.”

The President’s niece, Mary Trump, a PhD psychologist, has stated in her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man that her uncle suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, a serious mental illness.

"That's what sociopaths do: they corrupt others and use them toward their own ends," writes Mary Trump of her uncle.

Dr. John Zinner of the National Institute of Mental Health, psychoanalyst and clinical professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine, said the “utter failure in leadership” that America has suffered during the pandemic is due to the fact that “Donald Trump … suffers from extremely severe mental disorders, which render him incapable of attending to any issue beyond his own personal need for adulation.”

I’m not a mental health professional, or a historian (I'd have told you by now!) but from where I stand — as a citizen and voter — it feels like the President is toppling exactly like “dark charismatic leaders” have so often toppled. And it feels like the majority of people are rejoicing.

Whatever his diagnosis, whatever good intentions he may once have had, the fact that we are where we are today in America is due to Trump more than any other person or factor.

Of America's ideological conflict in his era, Trump told reporter Bob Woodward, "I bring rage." Photo: Bob Yee

The American people are flocking to the polls to repudiate his lies — “the virus is a hoax,” among so many others — and the U.S. death toll on this day: 224,710.

We are rejecting his constant drama, his multitudinous lawsuits and criminal associates, his blood-sucking family, his white supremacy and overall bigotry, his xenophobic hatred that has migrant kids living in cages at our Southern border, separated by parents who have gotten lost in the system, kids who cry and sleep on concrete and sometimes die — kids that are, we're told by the President himself, “so well taken care of.”

However mentally disturbed Donald Trump may be, the majority of people in America are not. Surely they've seen enough by now. Surely his habit of echoing other dictators, bullies and strongmen has gotten old by now. I have to believe that Americans will reject him at the polls on November 3rd, and I have to hope we'll never fall so far and hit the ground so hard again.

Darth Vader. Photo::

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