In his April 2019 article, “Psychoanalyzing History’s Most Merciless Tyrants”, The Washington Post’s Herbert Wray discusses several “Tyrannical Minds” throughout recent history, delving into their childhood and financial upbringing, mental evaluation, and political decisions. While his use of the word “tyrant” is correct in modern context, it is equally as fitting to definition prior to the rise of democracy.
Wray’s argument begins by listing well-known political influencers that have been profiled as tyrants, such as Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jung Un, and Saddam Hussein, noting the vast differences in their childhoods- removing this factor from contributing to the tyrannical profiling. Wray argues that personality and psychological profiling are the most contributing factors in tyrannical analyzation.
Delving into personality, Wray quotes Machiavellianism as the “consistent use of deception, lying, manipulation and exploitation of others in order to achieve a goal or maintain power” (Haycock). This, along with moral disengagement and a malignant personality, are common themes among modern-day tyrants. Wray transitions to discuss President Trump and the qualities he encompasses which may align with the aforementioned political tyrants. Among the most notable are Trump’s “narcissistic personality profile,” egotism, and manipulative behavior.
Although these qualities closely align with (and in Wray’s opinion, overshadow) those we consider to by tyrants, Wray concludes that President Trump is not diagnosed as mentally ill, psychotic, legally insane, or encompassing of a mental disorder of any kind, and therefore cannot be considered a tyrant.
Tyrant is defined as “A cruel and oppressive ruler” (Oxford English Dictionary- online); a definition I believe to closely resemble modern-day context of the word. I would therefore agree with Wray’s usage of the word “tyrant” throughout his article, understood in a democratic society. I argue, however, that these modern political tyrants also fit the definition of a tyrant in a pre-democratic era. As discussed in class, tyrants were defined in two ways before the rise of democracy: leaders who came to power by an alternate means, and individuals who attempted to solve civic strife. Each of the classified tyrants discussed in this article had a similar motivation to fix a problem they identified in society. While their means were unarguably insane and their ideal societies clearly flawed, they inherently believed they were a necessary and positive solution to a problem.
Similarly, I would include President Trump in this categorization, as he has taken relatively drastic measures to address, and attempt to fix, issues that have been identified in American society. In fact, I include a majority of Presidents, politicians, and world leaders in this category- especially those considered to be activists.
Pre-democratic tyrants also were noted as leaders that came to power by an alternate means. In ancient context, this can often constitute overtaking a throne or acting in violence. While less dramatic, I further argue that President Trump (and other current politicians) came to power by through a relatively unorthodox method. A current trend is to elect leaders that break the trend of “career politicians” in America. Trump managed to rally a population of America that hardly votes, and took an aggressive approach in his campaign against those that have been stagnant in offices prior. Just a few years ago, this would have been unheard of. For these reasons, I believe “tyrant” as it is used in Wray’s article does in fact agree with in modern context, as well as its definition prior to the rise of democracy.
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Wray, Herbert. “Psychoanalyzing History’s most Merciless Tyrants.” The Washington Post, Apr 28, 2019, https://search.proquest.com/docview/2215727515?accountid=14748 (accessed August 28, 2019).
Haycock, Dean A. Tyrannical Minds: Psychological Profiling, Narcissism, and Dictatorship. Pegasus Books, 2019.
One thought on “Trump the (almost) tyrant”
It is interesting that Wray claims that “personality and psychological profiling” are the two main factors that bring someone to become a tyrant. This makes sense since most tyrants come to power in order to achieve personal success or fame. The quote Wray uses to define a tyrant is as follows; “consistent use of deception, lying, manipulation and exploitation of others in order to achieve a goal or maintain power” (Wray). It was mentioned earlier in the post that Wray’s definition of tyrant fits the modern day definition as well as the definition prior to the rise of democracy. However, I would disagree. In ancient times, it was possible to be a productive and “good” tyrant. Wray’s definition includes words such as “deception” and “lying” which are associated with cruel and unjust rulers. Wray goes on to state that President Trump cannot be considered a tyrant since he is not “mentally ill, psychotic, or legally insane” (Wary). This further proves the point that Wray only views tyrants as bad whereas tyrants could also be good during the time preceding democracy.