It’s a popular parlor and social media game these days to compare Donald Trump to various dictators. This is tempting, given our 45th president’s indulging in authoritarian habits like rage-tweeting at Federal agencies he dislikes, or showing disregard for the rule of law when it gets in his way. Americans are unaccustomed to casual flirtations with dictatorial-sounding memes like crushing CNN bloodily with Trump’s shoe, and many of them never want to normalize such conduct.
More hysterical anti-Trumpers jump immediately to Adolf Hitler, a ridiculous comparison as well as a violation of Godwin’s Law that says more about them than President Trump. Some prefer Benito Mussolini, who like Trump had a pronounced absurdist side as a dictator manqué who never accomplished much of substance. A more recent Italian leader, Silvio Berlusconi, seems a better comparison, since like Trump he boasted luridly of his sexual conquests and acted like the louche, ineffectual billionaire he was. However, Berlusconi never really set out to do much of anything except gain power, whereas Trump preaches nonstop about his alleged desire to Make America Great Again.
The best comparison is one that won’t be too familiar to many Americans and is frankly disturbing. The dictator whom Donald Trump most closely resembles is Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian strongman who pushed Yugoslavia off the cliff over a quarter-century ago, unleashing wars and genocide, then died in The Hague in 2006 while on trial for war crimes. Although Milošević was front-page news throughout the 1990s, since his death he has faded from Western consciousness. Therefore, it’s worthwhile briefly revisiting Milošević, since his similarities to Trump are startling.
First, let’s get out of the way how Milošević and Trump were dissimilar. While the latter is a much-married reality TV showman who lives for the camera and can’t shut up or stay off social media, the former was a colorless Communist functionary, a private man devoted to his wife and possessing a somewhat dour demeanor. As social personalities they could not be more different.
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