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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg

Dec 31, 2020

This is an early repost of a recent interview for which no apologies are made. As the 45th incumbent burns out the last days of his Presidency in a downward spiral of self-destruction and bad behavior, this conversation for @KGNU by @claudiacragg with @RuthBenGhiat holds even more resonance. The central challenge of Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present” is revealed early, in the book’s introduction, when the author lays out her expansive cast of characters. “I focus on Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Muammar Gaddafi, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, Mobutu Sese Seko, Silvio Berlusconi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump, with Idi Amin, Mohamed Siad Barre, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, Nahrendra Modi, Viktor Orban, and others making cameo appearances,” Ben-Ghiat writes. This is an overwhelming dramatis personae — one that spans not just the globe but a number of ideologies, types of government and two centuries.

Ben-Ghiat makes a convincing argument for including Trump in these less-than-august ranks, most of all when laying out the specifics of his corruption. For the reader inured by the drip-drip-drip of stories of brazen corruption over the course of years, it is bracing to see a half-decade’s worth of reporting so carefully distilled and to recall that it is in fact aberrant to see a son-in-law enriching himself at taxpayer expense, or to watch the Trump Organization’s coffers fill, golf outing by golf outing, with the aid of the Secret Service. As Ben-Ghiat shows, such self-enrichment is more in line with a Gaddafi or a Mussolini than a transparent or accountable democratic leader. Trump’s violence, too, is laid out chillingly: “In the tradition of the fascists, Trump uses his rallies to train his followers to see violence in a positive light,” she writes of his frequent exhortations to violence and demonization of immigrants at these spectacles.