December 06, 2018
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan have been described as twins in the socio-political tradition of “authoritarian personality”. The two share many personality traits, political rhetoric, and style of leadership.
T here is a dual praxis between the leadership and the social world within which that personality and its style takes shape. Socio-cultural specificity of the formation of personality notwithstanding, there are certain psychological traits and patterns of behavior that can help us study “authoritarian personality” across diverse cultures and social milieu.
Here we are studying two protagonists who have risen to power recently. They represent different political cultures and have even more different social background. They are indicative of new style of leadership, and rhetoric that many analyst view as post-liberal-democratic order. Their populist style and rhetoric is seen as a refutation of “the end of history” thesis that viewed liberal-democratic order as irreversible and believed it to be the ultimate destiny of mankind. Their supporters see them as harbingers a promising future. Their detractors see them as hollow men, devoid of vision, with no long term sustainable policy to realize their objectives. They are angry, and want to cast the system anew. They denounce the very same system that has brought them to power. But from their point of view they are in power not because of the system, but despite it. Hence contempt for the very system under which they take oath of office, but vow to recast it. In short it is “Draining the Swamp” and fighting “the Deep State” in the US, and building a “New Pakistan” in the Islamic Republic.
Some of the important characteristics of these authoritarian personalities include: They have a weak ego, super-imposed by a macho-ego that controls and hides the weak ego. They have deep seated personal insecurities that make their macho-ego aggressive towards the weak, the wounded, and the defeated; but submissive to the superior authority and conformist to the externally imposed but commonly revered social, religious controls (a Conservatism of sort). . Their world revolves around their super-ego and they deem themselves above the institutions, and organizations of which they are, in fact, a part.
They have disdain for democracy, and a veiled contempt for the masses that follow them. They praise strong and over-bearing personalities, and desire to be strong and powerful like them. Despite popularity and victory they continue to believe that the system is conspiring against them. They conjure up an amorphous “enemy” lurking in the shadow to undermine them. Those who have difference of opinion with them, they are “enemies” not fellow travelers who happen to have a different point of view. They have to be tough with the “enemy” and crush them to make “America Great Again” or to create a “Naya Pakistan” from the ashes of the pulverized “enemies”. To hide their weak-ego and to nourish their macho-ego they have to strut the stage as an unrivalled, brave, all powerful deliverer: A messiah; a Superman.
Normally, people grow in emotional maturity and adjust their world view with advancing in age and rank. Authoritarian personalities get stuck at one point of success in the past and never grow beyond that point. Donald Trump is now the president of the United States of America, but he cannot lift himself above the reality-TV of which he was the Star. He continues to behave as if he is commanding a small group of “apprentices” (that, now, include three-hundred million Americans and two hundred countries of the world) who look up to him for guidance, and vie with one another to earn his grace. His most gratifying moment would come when he would say to one of “apprentices” “you are fired.”
Similarly, Imran Khan is stuck in 1992 when Pakistan Cricket Team won the World Cup. In his scheme of things the victory was HIS not that of the Team, of which he was, of course, the Captain, but still one of the eleven players. As prime minister he continues to behave as if he is commanding a small group of players who are going to play for HIM, and win for Him. He sees two-hundred million people (fans) of Pakistan sitting around the “stadium” and clapping for HIM.
Trump and Khan view their political opponents as “enemies”. Hillary Clinton is “crooked Hillary”, and unless Trump can “Lock Her Up” his victory is not complete. The Mueller Investigation is “phony Russia witch hunt”. He calls the mainstream media “enemies of the people” and their professional work “fake news”. And yet he is the most media craving president the US has got in recent times.
Imran Khan is never tired of saying his political opponents are “corrupt” “thieves” and “robbers” who have “ruined” the country. All of them deserve the worst and maximum punishment. And yet, he is not only ready to welcome “the electables” from the same corrupt enemy camp but has awarded them high positions in his government. Media is controlled and heavily censored in Pakistan. But gradually the hidden hands are allowing the media to criticize Imran Khan so long as they don’t transgress onto the turf of “national security”. So his relationship with the mass media is now shaping up. He has started appearing for interviews with domestic and foreign journalists frequently. He has started criticizing the controlled and self-censored media for being “too negative” about him and not paying enough attention to the “corruption mafia” the “enemies” who “ruined” the country. Military spokesman has added his institutional weight to Khan’s criticism by asking journalists to report “positively” for at least the next six months.
Trump is all praise for authoritarian leaders like Putin, Sisi, Xi, and the “Fresh Prince” of Saudi Arabia. And has contempt for democratically leaders like May, Merkel, Trudeau, and calls them “weak”. This “weakness” is on display when these “weak” leaders show respect for their political opponents, and enter into compromise with the opposition to make things work.
Khan in enamored of the authoritarian “China model”. He is all praise for strongman of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad . He recently referred to Napoleon and Hitler in a media interaction. He has shown contempt for the parliament and announced his intentions to run the country through emergency ordinances, by-passing the parliament. The reason? If he goes through the legislature he will have to sit with the “enemy” and seek support from the “thieves”. What the Constitution says about legislative business does not matter. What matters is the superiority of the Khan and the debasement of the “enemy”. No wonder then, the PTI government has not brought a single legislative bill to the House, so far (except amendment to the Budget bill).
Trump believes the world revolves around him, everyone and everything is dependent on his good grace. On Thanksgiving Day when asked what he wanted to give thanks for his response was typical of a self-centered, self-righteous and self-consumed person. He said he was thankful “for having a great family, for having made a tremendous difference in this country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it.” The US should be grateful to him for assuming leadership of the country and making America great again.
Khan has cast Pakistan into a new mould and everything is looking up cheerfully. In just one hundred days the country has made enormous progress. And whatever serious problems still linger, and some of them getting even worse that’s because of those “corrupt enemies” who ruined the country and are still not behind bars. Khan is the only hope Pakistan has; his failure will spell doom, because in that case the “enemy” will be back. This fear psychosis and bravado against the hostile forces is the prop on which the myth of the Khan is perched. How long it can last is not certain, but it cannot lead us to the promised land of naya Pakistan.
Gut over brain is another characteristic that brings the two together. Talking to Washington Post, President Trump said, “My gut tells me more sometime than anybody else’s brain can tell me.”And his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, recently elaborated the same when he said, it was tough working for a man who is “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘Look, this is what I believe.” Khan is not far behind when it comes to aversion to details, reading serious reports, and listening to different opinion and going by the gut feelings than processing information at the cognitive level, and making an informed decision.
Trump and Khan are never wrong and were born to win. Not because they don’t make mistakes, or sometime suffer defeat. That’s because their self-centered and self-righteous macho-ego never allows them to sit back, and look within. Introspection is alien, aggression is normal.