khrushcheva126_BRENDAN SMIALOWSKIAFP via Getty Images_putintrump Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Trump and Putin by the Book

Although life is complicated under the authoritarian misrule of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the same cannot be said of either man's character. Both figures were long prefigured in classic works of political satire in both countries.

MOSCOW – We are increasingly ruled not by people but by characters. Donald Trump’s reality-show presidency or Vladimir Putin’s cartoon authoritarianism recalls Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film, The Great Dictator. Yet in both Russia and the United States – polar opposites that have become near-mirror images – the Chaplinesque dictators’ divisive, populist messages could be considered anything but comical.

Grappling with these absurd and disturbing characters requires that we consult more than just classic cinema. We need literature, the kind that reminds us why we are what we are. Great stories offer moral roadmaps, and when common sense is in short supply, they can keep one grounded amid chaos and uncertainty.

In the case of the US, for example, there is Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, or Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America. In Roth’s alternative history of the 1940 US presidential election, Charles Lindbergh, representing the America First Committee, plays the role of the vulgar populist. But, unlike Lindbergh, who defeats US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the novel, Trump’s recent performance has merely made him weaker: he is now trailing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate, by ten points.

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