Trump and Khan


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.


Pakistan and its Democracy: An Open Letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan

By Shakil A Rai

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

The truth is known, but must not be spoken in order to avoid the inevitable conflagration. Your ascension to the high office has been made possible through a controversial election. The four-year long campaign, preceding this election is also well known and well documented. But we have little time to settle scores and do to your government what you and your faceless sponsors did to the previous one.

Stability and respect for the vote is paramount. So, we pledge full support to your government and hope you deliver on your promises and successfully face the serious economic, social, and political challenges ahead. Here are a few suggestions to tackle the challenges lying ahead.

  • From now on you will be surrounded by sharks more than friends. Your sponsors, even your friends, are not coming to your rescue. Instead they will come with more and more demands to advance their institutional and personal priorities. Up to the election time your world view dovetailed with theirs; now under pressure from the challenges of governance it will start to diverge, leading to strain and stress. Be prepared for that.
  • Parliament, the institution on which you heaped much insult in the past, is the only place where you may try to find sustainable support to weather the storms ahead. It will not be easy to cultivate enough goodwill to turn it into support against the non-parliamentary forces, but you have no other option, if you want to succeed.
  • The Opposition has cried foul in unison right from the day one of the election. It is important to listen to their grievances, real or imaginary. This will establish your legitimacy and cement your authority.
  • The judiciary and the military have been the traditional neutral brokers (or umpire, as you prefer to call them) among feuding politicians. This election has made both of them complicit in the alleged manipulation and rigging of the electoral process. Ironically this lends strength to the parliament. Please endorse the demand of the opposition that the Senate, and not bureaucrats, hold open and full inquiry into the election.
  • The so-called Bajwa Doctrine primarily aims at undoing, or at least scuttling the implementation of the provisions of the 18th Constitutional amendment. This amendment secured the prime minister against summary dismissal through a single presidential notification. It empowered the provinces more than the advocates of strong Central government would countenance. It was a consensus driven amendment; undoing it through legal means is virtually impossible. Scuttling its implementation will generate resentment against the Center among the provinces, especially the smaller ones. For the sake of the Federation and your own survival stay away from it. Instead make sure to implement it fully.
  • This calls for the Eighth National Finance Commission Award, which is now overdue. The advocates of strong Central government are there among the non-democratic forces and do not like the idea. The PMLN government failed to deliver the Award, and PTI cannot afford to dither and delay. Instead the new government needs to work on capacity building among the federating units to help them fully utilize the Award. NFC Award necessitates consensus among the Center and the provinces. To achieve this consensus the ruling party has to negotiate with the Opposition, and the provinces.
  • Therefore, no more solo flights, and please rid yourself of the notion that you are the only one who can solve all the problems. Reach across the aisle and demonstrate to the opposition and public that you are ready to take all democratic forces on board. If the opposition comes aboard it will establish your leadership beyond doubt. If they balk you still win in the eyes of the general public. The old ways of humiliating and insulting your political opponents will harm you more than anyone else.
  • Pakistan’s economic woes are perennial, and woven into the structure of the economy. Without meaningful structural reforms there is no end to repeated requests for bailouts. Saudi Arabia, China, and IMF have been our traditional lenders of choice. We have been to the IMF for twenty-one times since 1958, and are now ready one more time to request yet another bailout. The Fund like any other moneylender is not known for its generosity and kindness. They offer the lowest interest rate but put tough conditions to disburse the loan. Most likely the Fund would demand privatization of loss making state enterprises like PIA and PSM. They would demand substantial reduction in subsidies. Increase in tax collection can be another demand. The US, the biggest contributor to the IMF wants to make sure you do not use their money to pay off Chinese debt. All together they are tough demands on a political government, but you have little room to maneuver.
  • It’s unrealistic to think of a Welfare State, Islamic or otherwise, when you are living on borrowed money. Unless you undertake structural reforms these bailouts will always be temporary relief measures. Before you can have your promised Welfare State you have to have enough surplus cash in the kitty to disburse to the needy. You have to enact a sufficiently tough tax regime and close the loop holes in the tax code to increase tax revenue. In a country where only 1% people pay taxes solvency, let alone prosperity, will remain a distant dream. Conversely you have to offer tax breaks and other incentives to foreign and local investors. That’s catch twenty-two; certainly not an easy situation for anyone.
  • You are a tough athlete, and a team leader, both these qualities have to come in full display to ensure success for you and the country.

Good luck Mr. Prime Minister we stand united behind your leadership for the sake of democracy and the Republic. I am waiting for an opportunity to clap for you.

Yours Sincerely

Shakil A Rai