Strongman

Later in life, newsman Edwin Newman wrote Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue, which were largely about straightforward language but also delved into news tropes. I didn’t know much about Newman, but I loved those books. In the first, he complained that news anchors tended to repeat certain phrases long after they had lost their original punch. Referring to how newsmen handled Salvator Allende, he wrote:

“You would have thought Marxist President was the position Allende had run for and been elected to, …”

One of those TV news tropes was the Strongman. On the evening news, Manuel Noriega was always, “Panamanian Strongman” Manuel Noriega.

“So what is to become of Panamanian Strongman? He could go the way of Right-Wing Laotian Strongman Phoumi Nosavan, who turned out to be Right-Wing Laotian Weakman Phoumi Nosavan.”

We like to laugh at these small countries with their tinpot dictators, but I think we have one running for US President right now. People are so discouraged by the failures of career politicians to change anything, that Donald Trump appears to me more and more like a strongman-in-the-making. In the near future some BBC anchor may be speaking weightily about American Strongman Donald J Trump – the J to distinguish him from that other Donald Trump. (US news will be required to refer to him as, “our great and humble leader.”)

How strong? Well, I have already heard or read many people comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler (which violates Godwin’s Law), but I don’t think Trump is nearly as psychotic as der Fuhrer – just arrogant and self-centered. I do think he could be another Benito Mussolini, who would probably have been an unremarkable strongman if not for his alliance with Nazi Germany.

(Update 20151210: Josh Marshall compares Trump to Mussolini at TPM)

All of that depends on whether Trump can get the support of the oligarchy. Strongmen need strong backers. So far Trump may have scared off hedge fund managers, anyone that depends on cheap immigrant labor, and the military-industrial war machine, but there are other oligarchs that may be willing to see him in the White House.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, will never be a strongman, nor will Uncle Joe Biden. If Hillary Clinton gets in they might have to come up with a new trope (StrongWoman? IronWoman?), but she’s doing so badly right now that I’m not too worried about it.

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