Here are five strategies used by dictators or authoritarian leaders:
• Discredit the democratic institutions held by previous leaders, administrations or governments. They slander the long held institutions to boost their own privately held beliefs. Whether it is instilling doubts in their citizen’s minds about the efficacy of voting methods, or falsely claiming wide ranging fraud without any evidence. Dictators – or dictator wannabes – steal the trust of ordinary citizens in their long held beliefs about government. For example, a dictator wannabe might claim that a system of voting – long proved to be sound and reliable – is now corrupt. It’s what psychologists would call “projecting.” That is the dictator is the corrupt individual, but he/she claims the system is rigged thus drawing attention away from his/her own misadventures.
• Instill fear. Authoritarians want their citizens to be afraid ... but not of them. Again projecting an attribute they will later employ, dictators spin falsehoods about the danger of common people, or their opponents, or government oversight agencies, or even fellow citizens. Their goal is to frighten the electorate against questioning anything the supposed “strong man” would do to remove the “danger” even if that anything deprives someone of their individual rights. Fear can inspire normally law abiding gun owners to take the law into their own hands against the “danger” cunningly described by the dictator to include not only lies, but half-truths and even some small truth. They might even shoot at people protesting the dictator’s policies out of fear for their own safety.
• Portray the above mentioned protestors as terrorists. This extends the fear into citizens already “primed” by years of real terrorist organizations causing chaos in the far flung corners of the world, or even at home. Now the future dictator has the people right where he wants them – scared, misinformed and ready to fight against his opponents. In the dictator’s eyes all peaceful demonstrations are attacks on his/her goals. By deception he turns citizen against citizen. Normal political discourse becomes an attack on all the good the dictator is trying to accomplish. It’s a plot. It’s a conspiracy against him/her and it must be stopped.
• Claim he or she is the only individual who can successfully overcome all the horrible dangers facing “his people.” Democracy kind of goes out the window here. It becomes pretty much a one-man-show. No one in his/her inner circle of advisors is safe. They are all expendable, especially after they point out flaws in the wannabe dictator’s plans. It’s not hard to discredit the staff, after all they all have a skeleton in the closet or are “damaged goods” in some way or another. After all, that’s why the dictator hired them in the first place: morality was never their strong suit – just like the dictator.
• Do away with oversight and the built in protections of a government with three branches – for instance – and a balance of power. Once again using false claims of conspiracy against him/her and corruption of his/her opponents to distract, the would be dictator uses his increasing unchecked power to discredit or even fire anyone who would dare suggest he/she did something wrong. To compound this last assault on democracy, a dictator in waiting will create or adopt his/her own media outlet to further control the news cycle. By flattering media personalities or perhaps promising them future wealth, position and power, an authoritarian leader figure co-opts news for his/her own purpose: establishing a narrative that reinforces strategies 1 through 4 ... especially number 4. He/she becomes the benevolent leader of his base, who protects them, destroys all the “dangers” he’s invented, and solidifies the idea in his supporter’s minds that multiple voices and cooperating agencies are no longer necessary.
These strategies are proven by history and are in use throughout the world today. For reference please refer to Italy and Germany during the 1930s, Nicaragua, Venezuela more recently, and the last three years, seven-plus months of the United States under the administration of Donald J. Trump.