What Ultimately Happens to Autocrats and Tyrants?

I like Eliot Cohen’s new piece in the Atlantic, entitled “How This Will End”. Cohen’s premise is simple: sooner or later, tyrants are abandoned by their followers. I’m not quite as sanguine as Cohen; seems to me that Robert Mugabe and the Trump-like buffoon who led Italy for a number of years, Silvio Berlusconi, stuck around for an awfully long time. But here’s the most hopeful passage from the article, where Cohen compares Trump to a tragic figure in Shakespearian literature:

And so it will be for Trump. To be clear, these are very different people. Macbeth is an utterly absorbing, troubling, tragic, and compelling figure. Unlike America’s germaphobic president, who copped five draft deferments and has yet to visit the thousands of American soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan or Iraq, he is physically brave. In fact, the first thing we hear about him is that in the heat of battle with a rebel against King Duncan (whom he later murders) Macbeth “unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops.” He is apparently faithful to his wife, has a conscience (that he overcomes), knows guilt and remorse, and has self-knowledge. He also has a pretty good command of the English language. In all these respects he is as unlike Trump as one can be.

But in the moment of losing power, the two will be alike. A tyrant is unloved, and although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical—that is, utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others, knowing no moral restraint. He expects fealty and gives none. Such people can exert power for a long time, by playing on the fear and cupidity, the gullibility and the hatreds of those around them. Ideological fervor can substitute for personal affection and attachment for a time, and so too can blind terror and sheer stupidity, but in the end, these fall away as well.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/08/the-end-of-trumps-reign/568480/

I hope I live to see Trump’s eventual disgrace and banishment from public life, and to read the articles marveling in sad wonder about how all of this could ever have happened.

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