Strongman Sycophants

What first got me interested in leaders were followers. Specifically, followers of leaders who were bad. More specifically, followers of leaders who were very bad. Such as Hitler. Such as Stalin. How, I wondered years ago, and still do, do single individuals get legions to follow their lead when their lead is clearly corrupt and even malevolent?

Let me be clear. I am not here correlating America’s Donald Trump or Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Hitler or Stalin. But the degree to which followers in these countries (and others similarly centralized) are ready and willing to fall into line with leaders who want nothing so much as to abrogate the freedom and independence of anyone other than themselves, remains, even after all this time, astonishing.

Turkey, which, just a decade ago, was becoming more democratic, is now clearly autocratic. At some political risk, Erdogan, who has already held power for over a decade and a half, called for early elections, which were held on Sunday. But, instead of denying him additional powers, a solid majority supported the president’s wish to further extend and harden his reign.

To be sure, the election was not fair. Erodgan has suppressed and oppressed his opponents for years. Moreover, there is evidence that the desire for democracy in Turkey is not dead. But, let’s get real. For the moment, sufficient numbers of Turkish followers have given the Turkish leader just what he wanted: near total control over a system of government that places unprecedented power in his hands.

Sigmund Freud wrote even before Stalin and Hitler that we have a “thirst for obedience.” It’s a thirst that apparently is deeply rooted and never completely quenched.



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