The One Way History Shows Trump’s Personality Cult Will End

The One Way History Shows Trump’s Personality Cult Will End

In the summer of 2020, Ruth Ben-Ghiat was putting the final touches on her history of modern autocracy. She had to do it, though, without the benefit of knowing whether one of her most important subjects would remain in power come November. But she wasn’t exactly in the dark either. She had seen enough of Donald Trump’s behavior over the preceding five years to know how neatly he lined up with other strongmen she had studied and how his autocratic tendencies would influence his behavior whether he won or lost. “I just predicted that he wouldn’t leave in a quiet manner,” Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University told me recently. “He’s an authoritarian, and they can’t leave office. They don’t have good endings and they don’t leave properly.” Nearly two years later — after a riot, an impeachment, and a monomaniacal campaign to punish the Republicans who tried to hold him accountable — Ben-Ghiat has ample proof of her thesis. And she professes even more concern that Trump’s sway over the GOP has permanently transformed the party’s political culture. “He’s changed the party to an authoritarian party culture,” she told me. “So not only do you go after external enemies, but you go after internal enemies. You’re not allowed to have any dissent.” With the midterms and some key governors races approaching, Ben-Ghiat is looking around the corner again. She sees dangerous signs of autocracy seeping into state houses and governors’ mansions where […]

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