Donald Trump, Made in America
Regardless of the final outcome, the 2020 US presidential election has confirmed that nearly half the electorate still prefers a politics of division and hatred to one of decency and unity. That is not Russia's fault – and never was.
MOSCOW – The 2020 US presidential election challenges – indeed, it should lay to rest – the popular notion that US President Donald Trump is a lackey of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even if Trump loses, his performance – receiving millions more votes than he did in 2016 – suggests that it is he who is the master of propaganda, and that Putin is the one who should be taking notes. In fact, Trump’s campaign of lies could well become the new template for how failing democracies (and autocracies posing as democracies) choose their leaders in the twenty-first century.
There is no denying Trump’s mastery of social media, where he issues a predictable stream of semi-coherent yet emotion-packed rhetoric to cast doubt on established truths while smearing his opponents and puffing himself up. This digital black magic – which leading social-media platforms, as well as Fox News, duly amplify in the interest of profit – has become the core element of Trump’s style of “leadership.” As Putin’s own popularity continues to decline, he may well try to mimic it.
Beyond Trump’s signature methods of self-aggrandizement and democratic subterfuge is his unmatched use of propaganda to avoid any and all forms of accountability. To be sure, the world’s other autocrats are hardly novices when it comes to manipulating public opinion. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan uses holograms to appear, Allah-like, at multiple rallies simultaneously. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has worn bespoke jackets in which the pinstripes spell out his full name. And everyone is now familiar with Putin’s bare-chested horseback photo-ops.