Andrew Bjelland: The Ultimate Playbook for Aspiring Dictators

Keep up the rallies, instill fear, spout threats, encourage violence and dangle pardons.

(Carolyn Kaster | AP photo) In this July 17, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C.

If you’ve always harbored autocratic ambitions and have set your sights on becoming America’s first President for Life, this eight-step program is just for you.

Phase One: Achieve a marked degree of transgressive celebrity, attract moneyed supporters and then run for president as the candidate of an already regressive party. Throughout your campaign, play to the fears and anxieties of the most aggrieved citizens. Specifically target those who believe themselves to be gravely victimized by the existing socio-political-economic order. Promote yourself as the sole candidate who “tells it like it is and who alone can fix this broken system.”

Pseudo-patriotic propaganda, distractive manipulation, endlessly abrasive media exposure and not-so-veiled threats driven home at emotionally charged rallies are essential. Scapegoating of racial and religious minorities and promotion of xenophobia are musts.

Identify with an ultra-conservative strand of the nation’s dominant religion and pledge to advance its political agenda. Display allegiance to both religious and patriotic symbols.

Big lies, endlessly repeated, will win the loyalty of an alienated and belligerent portion of the voting public. This critical mass of voters will ensure your election. Post-election your loyalists will keep more moderate members of your party fearfully in line and will undergird your post-election political dominance.

Phase Two: Once elected, further foment division and civil unrest. Reward media enablers who spread inflammatory disinformation and drown out dissidents, critics, and political adversaries.

Surround yourself with sycophants who are eager to tell you the lies you want to hear. If investigated for malfeasance in office, claim you acted in good faith—that you relied on your sincere belief in the truth of whatever advisor X, Y or Z happened to tell you.

Keep up the rallies.

Phase Three: Appoint lackeys to key positions within investigative agencies and the Department of Justice. Fire independent inspectors general and other watchdogs. Replace people of conscience and principle with shamelessly ambitious loyalists. Appoint ideologues to the judiciary.

Keep up the rallies.

Phase Four: Use executive power and your restructured justice system to punish enemies and reward allies. Rewarding the latter, however, better promotes your interests than does punishing the former. Presidential pardons are prime rewards. Dangle them. A self-pardon is also an option.

Keep up the rallies.

Phase Five: Encourage followers to incite violent responses from those who protest you. Send in your troops and incite violence-prone supporters at opportune moments. Promote yourself as the law-and-order protector of property interests and the scourge of leftist extremists. Embody strength. Never admit an error. Never apologize. Never miss a photo-op or TV appearance.

Keep up the rallies.

Phase Six: When you stand for re-election, pressure state officials to utilize voter suppression, poll closures, voter-registration purges, and absentee-ballot disqualifications to rig the outcome in your favor.

If you do not win, declare the election stolen and your successor’s presidency illegitimate. Incite an insurrection to prevent the ratification of your opponent’s victory. If this attempted coup fails, steadfastly maintain that the Big Steal occurred, refuse to concede defeat, absent yourself from your rival’s inauguration, proclaim the entire electoral system is riddled with fraud and declare you will run again just to set things right.

Keep up the rallies.

Phase Seven: In advance of the next election, engage in all out electoral sabotage. Make sure your political allies further suppress voter turnout and can subvert electoral outcomes. Pressure them to replace independent election officials with loyalists and to establish legal frameworks within which dependable state legislators can nullify the popular vote.

Keep up the rallies.

Phase Eight: When once again empowered, selectively utilize elements of Phases One through Seven to sustain your continued authoritarian rule. Establish a dynasty. Ensure increased wealth and power for yourself, your family, and your allies. Sustain the levels of mendacious propaganda and emotive manipulation necessary to render your populist base increasingly aggrieved and unswervingly loyal.

Above all keep up the rallies, instill fear, spout threats, encourage violence and dangle pardons.

Andrew G. Bjelland

Andrew G. Bjelland, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, Philosophy Department, Seattle University. He resides in Salt Lake City.