From Trump to Hitler …. and Populist Mahinda Rajapakse

Richard A. Koenigsberg

Abstract: All the nonsense about “diagnosing” Donald Trump: calling him a “malignant narcissist,” for example: The delusion that giving identifying or naming Trump’s pathology–somehow constitutes an “explanation.”

I understand 70 million people voted for Trump in the recent election. The question is WHAT WAS TRUMP SAYING AND/OR DOING THAT APPEALED TO SO MANY PEOPLE?

I’ve analyzed Hitler for years. There are things one might say about Hitler’s “personality.” However, the central question is: What was Hitler saying–that the German people found so appealing?

He was the most popular political leader of the 20th Century. The will to vote for or support a leader is based on what the words he utters (and the way he moves when he utters these words). One may hypothesize that words spoken by a sucessful leader articulate a PHANTASY that appeals to members of his audience. Something the leader says FULFILLS PEOPLES’ DESIRES.

Norman O. Brown said: “The chorus is the author.” Trump may be a narcissistic or psychopath or may be suffering from a borderline personality disorder. He may be possessed by paranoid delusions.

These words EXPLAIN NOTHING. Politics is interaction between a leader and his constituents. The leader is the “chosen one:” chosen by the people to fulfill their desires.

The Leader is the Bearer of the Collective Will

Nazi political theorist Ernst Rudolf Huber stated that the leader is the bearer of the “collective will of the people.” In the will of the leader, Huber said, the “will of the people is realized.”

Hitler’s will was not the “subjective will of a single man.” Rather, the collective national will was embodied within Hitler. A people’s collective will, Huber explained, is rooted in the “political idea which is given to a people.” The political idea is present in the people, but the Führer “raises it to consciousness and discloses it.”

By “disclosing” a people’s political idea—a leader brings into consciousness that which had been unconscious. The leader brings forth—makes manifest—ideas and desires that had been latent within a people. His ideology reveals and crystallizes a people’s shared fantasies.

The leader invents images, metaphors and phrases to convey these fantasies. He processes his own fantasies and those of his people—and “returns” information to his audience in the form of a societal discourse.

By virtue of being transformed into a societal discourse, energies and passions bound to unconscious fantasies are released for action. The ideology transforms latent desires and fantasies into the “collective will” to act.

Hitler & Mussolini walking past an honor guard in Rome in 1938

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  A NOTE from Michael Roberts:

This short essay is presented as a link between the Trump phenomenon and the article on Bonapartism by Uditha Devapriya and my older essay on Mahinda Rajapakasa’s “populist” style and appeal. 

Obviously scholars need to investigate the local and surrounding political circumstances in which an authoritarian leader emerges and sustains his power  [or seeks to do so… as with Trump at this moment]. 

Such investigation demands grounded argument. There is a danger of circularity in explanations: viz that the proof of the pudding is in the pudding. I perceive this problem in Koenigsberg’s short presentation on Hitler. 

My own work on the cultural groundings of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s emergence and  poilitical style explores these strands as one dimension of his groundings without necessarily claiming that it was the sole or main factor in his emergence as a power-figure in Sri Lanka. Hierarchical practices are deeply ingrained in Sri Lankan society and I have personally benefited from  these tendencies even where I was not demanding or antiticpating them,

The difficult issue for social science studies: how do we investigate and assess the weight of such practices in studying the emergence of a populist leader with a patrimonial authoritarian cast?

Mussolini acknowledges crowd adulation


Uditha Devapriya: “Bonapartist Autocracy in Sri Lanka from 1977 onwards, 12 Decmber 2020,

Michael Roberts: “Mahinda Rajapaksa: Cakravarti Imagery and Populist Processes,” 28 January 2012,, …………. courtesy of Groundviews, where a different title was deployed: “Mahinda Rajapaksa as a Modern Mahāvāsala and Font of Clemency? The Roots of Populist Authoritarianism”

Anne Applebaum: “Trump pays Mussolini-like Attention to His Own Image,” 7 October 2020,


Filed under accountability, centre-periphery relations, chauvinism, cultural transmission, disparagement, economic processes, European history, fundamentalism, governance, historical interpretation, Hitler, landscape wondrous, life stories, modernity & modernization, nationalism, performance, political demonstrations, politIcal discourse, power politics, Presidential elections, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, unusual people, world events & processes

4 responses to “From Trump to Hitler …. and Populist Mahinda Rajapakse

  1. Vinoshka

    Unfortunately,  your analysis breaks down in the face of evidence. Mahinda held frequent free and fair elections, and cohabited with the TNA-dominated NPC. Hitler did not hold elections. Mahinda left office even before all the results came out. Trump is refusing to go, long after the results came out.
    Mahinda protected the state sector, renationalising insurance and bunkering. He belonged to the centre-left, rather than the right.
    On the other hand, the Yahapalana mob kept delaying elections… The major Yahapalana constituent, the UNP burnt people, both Sinhalese and Tamil alive. They have much more in common with Hitler than does MR

    • Your arguments are on the ball …but my juxtapositions were not meant to be taken literally. The placement was//is meant to highlight the TOP-DOWN processes and inclinations at play.
      The grounded events in SL in MR’s time do indicate important differences. Thank you for marking the critical differences

  2. When a people lose confidence in themselves as a “sovereign” people who can make sensible decisions with good outcomes ie as a people, they fail to be successful in maintaining their integrity of national decision-making (eg.Germans lost WW1;USA was attacked on its soil for first time ever on 9/11; Sinhalese were bombed over and over again in their own backyard, lost control of large parts of Jaffna and EP and were occupied by a foreign (IPKF) force; post-imperial UK lost military, economic and political power/ influence), then they turn to leaders who will “Make America Great Again”, “Bring a Thousand Year Reich”, “Make Sri Lanka a Great Buddhist Kingdom as in the Past”; ‘Brexit Will Bring Back Our Freedom and Prosperity” etc etc — ie they choose leaders who can replace the sense of powerlessness in the face of a fate that was neither envisaged nor planned for with a slick slogan of over-promised success that can never be realised .

    The whole people seem to be going through a nervous breakdown, a crisis of confidence, which makes for irrational decisions. The leaders they choose reflect their irrationality. Only when things get infinitely worse under those irrationally chosen leaders, do the people (hopefully) wake up and decide that survival is better than being destroyed and they return to making rational decisions again…..just a theory although rather long-winded !!

  3. Pingback: Trump and Hitler in Same Bed? Generating Love and Hate? | Thuppahi's Blog

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