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Demagogues vs. Dictators

Notwithstanding the mob assault on the US Capitol and the start of his second impeachment trial, the fact that Donald Trump has left the White House is proof that he was never a fascist dictator but rather an American-style populist demagogue. Such figures often appear in democracies where large cohorts of society are no longer adequately represented.

AUSTIN – Throughout Donald Trump’s single term as president of the United States, his opponents in both the Democratic and Republican parties frequently portrayed him as a would-be fascist dictator. But with Trump ousted from the White House, this analogy has become untenable. The Italian leader Trump resembles most is not the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini but rather Silvio Berlusconi, the scandal-prone former prime minister.

Figures like Trump and Berlusconi – tycoons or media celebrities who ran for office as anti-establishment populist demagogues – are not uncommon in contemporary Western democracies. In Europe, the list includes elected leaders like Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, one of the country’s wealthiest men; former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, previously his country’s “Chocolate King”; and his successor, Volodymyr Zelensky, a comic actor who had previously played a Ukrainian president on television.

Although Trump is the first true demagogue to be elected to the American presidency, the entertainer or plutocrat who wins office by posing as a champion of the common people has been a staple of mayoral and gubernatorial races for generations. Media celebrity, in particular, has become an increasingly common basis for electoral success in America.

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