I recently discovered a gem I’d like to share with you. The book “Why Don’t We Learn from History?” by B.H. Liddell Hart published posthumously by his wife Lady Kathleen Sullivan Liddell Hart in 1971 is an interesting historical and philosophical treatise. It is really a summary of Hart’s life’s work in military history and strategy.
In it he details a pattern of dictatorship.
While the book itself is ranging in scope, a particular passage caught my attention. Barrack Obama has many of the traits of a dictator. And comparisons between the simple appeals of the Obama 2008 campaign and Donald Trump’s campaign are appropriate. But consider the deeper pattern of dictatorship that both fit drawn from the course of history.
We learn from history that self-made despotic rulers follow a standard pattern.
In order to gain power:
They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people.
They attack the existing regime violently and combine their appeal to discontent with unlimited promises (which, if successful, they fulfill only to a limited extent).
They claim that they want absolute power for only a short time (but “find” subsequently that the time to relinquish it never comes).
They excite popular sympathy by presenting the picture of a conspiracy against them and use this as a lever to gain a firmer hold at some crucial stage.
We, the American people, appropriately distrust our political and party leaders. They have proven wholly inadequate for the job of governing. Not because they have failed to cooperate but because they have deceived us and attempted to deceive us. They continue to lie even when they’ve been outed. And they persist in an agenda that is antithetical to the betterment and wellbeing of the majority of American citizens.
Donald Trump is using this populist cynicism as fuel for his campaign. As an outsider to the current regime he has positioned himself as a reformer. This is how dictators gain power. And he has stoked the flames of division and hostility between groups to divide and conquer the whole.
His promises are flat and hollow. Even if he could successfully implement his bullet pointed thin plans they would not accomplish the stated goals, and he knows it. In order to achieve his vision he will need to acquire more power. This is the state of affairs that Obama has left for this nation, ripe for a dictator.
Like Obama, Trump positions himself as opposed to powerful forces. In Trump’s case he is up against the establishment and GOP elites in DC and NYC. Their efforts to stop him only strengthen his claims that they are conspiring against him. The convention may be only one example of his ability to use popular support to thwart party rules and subvert the establishment by gaining more power.
Once they have gained power:
They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it.
They suppress criticism on one pretext or another and punish anyone who mentions facts which, however true, are unfavorable to their policy.
They enlist religion on their side, if possible, or, if its leaders are not compliant, foster a new kind of religion subservient to their ends.
They spend public money lavishly on material works of a striking kind, in compensation for the freedom of spirit and thought of which they have robbed the public.
They manipulate the currency to make the economic position of the state appear better than it is in reality.
They ultimately make war on some other state as a means of diverting attention from internal conditions and allowing discontent to explode outward.
They use the rallying cry of patriotism as a means of riveting the chains of their personal authority more firmly on the people.
They expand the superstructure of the state while undermining its foundations—by breeding sycophants at the expense of self-respecting collaborators, by appealing to the popular taste for the grandiose and sensational instead of true values, and by fostering a romantic instead of a realistic view, thus ensuring the ultimate collapse, under their successors if not themselves, of what they have created.
Trump will purge his team and endorsements once he gains the throne. Beware Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions, your heads may be on the pike.
Trump is likely to take a Lincoln like approach to the media and suppress opposition. He may even “open up libel laws” and sue papers and other media outlets including individuals with twitter and facebook pages that would criticize him as president. We will have to start calling him Dear Orange Leader.
Would Trump coopt religion and religious leaders to his ends? Of course. He may even go as far as founding the First Trump Church. Why stop at a University?
The public works ploy is a given. Great Walls will be built. Labor and capital will be employed. Jobs will boom and dissent will be punished. Who could argue with economic success even it is breeds totalitarian control? Those who resist will be threatened and erased.
Monetary manipulation will be part of parcel of an isolationist trade policy with tariffs as payback for foreign currency manipulation. While US based businesses will grow Trump will exert greater control over Treasury and the Fed.
War against Radical Islam is a given. What may start as targeted strikes will expand into all out warfare across the globe. This is part and parcel of Us vs. Them or In group vs. Out group thinking that characterizes dictators. Nationalism and patriotism will serve as cover for the reforms Trump will institute. While the flavor of Americana will be strong the recipe is artificial and chemically induced. The Cultural Revolution may look like American pie but it is based on counterfeit values and distorted principles that are hollow.
Trump will take economic short cuts and create “conspiracy for mutual inefficiency” in government agencies and the military as a result of this cultural revision.
Hart continues “This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation.”
Our greatest angst will be the observation that this approach should not be effective. Men should not be able to manipulate the population with media and deception. But they can and always have.
Thus the title of Hart’s book: Why don’t we learn from history? Perhaps human beings are incapable of thinking about or understanding these lessons from history. The natural view of history extends only a far as the day of our birth.