What makes populist cult leaders popular is their bigger than life appeal that is constantly drummed out through various media connections.
A populist cult leader is a big risk taker. When they start their journey, they are not afraid of confrontation. They rely on it to gain exposure. The taunting and insults from a slew of enemies only makes them stronger and more determined. They thrive where others would wilt and fade away.
The populist cult leader does not forgive, they remember keeping in mind that one day they will have vengeance and payback. This gives them comfort, enough to move on and build up that inner anger to be used later.
The focus of a populist cult leader is a message however crazy or unreal, makes his audience feel better about themselves.
Populist cult leaders tend to be a patriarch father like figure. They advocate great care for their family but on the basis that they rule with absolute authority to provide that better life.
It’s very rare to find a humble, good natured, soft spoken person elevated while in their lifetime. How would history have dealt with a Jesus that had not been said to have performed great miracles?
What all populist cult leaders have in common is their ability to garnish an almost religious like following with a large number of people.
They use modern media, but their real strength is in public appearances. The Rally creates more bang for the buck because they are with real people. Hand picked to give the appearance of unanimous and loving support. They purposely put good looking people around them to give the impression, like Hollywood, that you want to be beautiful like them so follow me.
The Rally is loud, fun and gives people a sense of real connection. That is the same reason why.
The Rally is important because:
- In person great props
- Streamed to media
- Covered by the press
The populist is very observant. They find narratives that appeal and double down branching out with reinforcing true, false or unprovable rhetoric to support their claims.
They don’t do this in a vacuum. There are plenty of people, journalists, politicians, criminals, businessmen and religious leaders who look for such people to further their own gains. These technical supporters themselves don’t have the public skills or don’t want the exposure.
Initially they use the populist cult leader as a proxy, riding the wave of their stardom to further their own ends. Eventually, they are either absorbed into the cult as technocrats or are cast aside.
The coattail riders may have become alarmed that what they first through was a fluke has become a dangerous reality. They slowly remove their support and plot to undo what they have helped create.
The populist cult leader has a knack for timing, knowing when to transition from a man of the people to adulate to a man the people should adulate, fear and obey.
Once in power the populist becomes and autocrat/dictator and will shy away from risk taking, wanting to eliminate as much risk as possible.
The now autocrat/dictator remembers whomever slighted him in the past and moves to take revenge and determines what the payback will be. He loves to make mysterious public examples of treachery and deny it with a wink.
The autocrat/dictator has really become thin skinned not tolerating any confrontation as everybody else is way below him and not worthy of a seat at the table.
The autocrat/dictator has come full circle and like evolution there is no going back to being a nice guy. There will be no change of heart as long as he has power. Things will only get worse if his power is threatened. Peace will only be had if everybody plays along.
So, how to beat populism in the 21st century? Let’s list the ingredients of a populist.
- Bigger than life appeal — not humble, self aggrandising (miracles?)
- Big risk taker — no fear, doesn’t get embarrassed, no humility
- Early confrontation builds determination — trouble maker, divider
- Good observer of public messaging vulnerabilities — digests media, reads the crowd and acts accordingly
- The Rally Persona — The ability to put together a rally that is concert like, backdropped with atypical handsome/beautiful people. To animate the crowd.
- Attracts dark shadow proxies — lets people use him to gain their platforms
- Knows when to transition from populist to strong man authoritarian
Bigger than life appeal
By the time it is evident, it’s too late to fight the bigger than life appeal of a populist leader. Any attempt will only add to the 2nd and 3rd ingredients.
The best way is to compete and do better a large body of people are drawn to a hero. Somebody they can admire as what they imagine in their dreams they would want to be. That is why we have so called celebrities who are followed day in and out by paparazzis.
How to compete? The best advise would be to have a Talent Manager advisor/organiser from, guess, Hollywood. Before you laugh, don’t. Many populist leaders come from such backgrounds and that is where they have a distinct advantage over their political counter parts. Politicians are lousy at building that kind of image. They are good in the halls of government but that’s it. Talent Managers are more qualified to navigate the modern media world than Political Strategists.
The Talent Managers’s role is to “Build a Bigger Than Life Appeal” for the good guy. They should have free rein to organise public events, press, work with Hollywood.
Big Risk Taker
This too is less important to fight directly. There is a better chance a big risk can go wrong. The media will pick up on that and carry on. It would be better for the media to have something else if that risk is about getting media coverage.
The best offence is defence. There should be a team that has intelligence on what kinds of risks the populist cult leader has in mind to take.
The team can preempt advantageous media shocks by the populist by providing advance information and speakers with knowledge of the matter to outlets. Keeping one step ahead is more important that reacting to what has already transpired.
Pick your fights wisely. If there is going to be a confrontation make sure that you have the advantage. For example advance information that the other side does not have. Avoid any confrontation that feeds into the other sides persona.
By reacting to every edict made by the populist, the public will get the perception that the populist is in control of the narrative.
Ignoring can disarm the goal of confrontation. Giving more attention to a lesser opponent when it is suitable is a way out of an embarrassing situation.
Hit and run tactics in absentia are favoured by populists, they can make all kinds of statements as if it is a conversation when their opponent is not there. They make it out as if their opponent is afraid.
All of these things are designed to create confrontation which is designed to make the populist the greater man/women.
The trap can be avoided by having a full and publicly visible schedule of very important things. People will arrive at their own opinion that the Populist is not worthy enough to get time from you.
Public messaging vulnerabilities
Know where the Populist gets their ideas from and have a team follow and document every detail. Sooner or later these clues will end up in a message and a drum beat.
Observing your own support is necessary but not enough. Alone, it provides either a false sense of victory or defeat. It is better to know what people think of the Populist and to have a solid counter message.
They want a wall? Give them a wall of sorts. It doesn’t have to be a real wall. It can be a program called a Wall of Fame, a Wall of Love, a Wall of Science. It would be better for people to choose between some kind of wall than a wall or no wall. Make a theme about a Wall that is not what his wall is about. The message will be confused. People will think, they both have a wall. Mmmm.
If the masses are not sophisticated, don’t provide sophisticated messages. They will not understand. Worse they will feel belittled. Populist messages are always dumb sounding because that is what people understand. They appreciate what they can understand.
Americans absorb information visually with audio they don’t read much and don’t debate using the vocabulary they hear. Therefore their messages should be more about visual and audio.
The lack of intellectual engagement is why Rallies are so important. In a Rally the words are dumbed down and the visual delivery supports the buy in for the message.
The Rally is like a rock concert. It lets people get together to have fun. It’s a carnival environment. Rallies let people feel they are part of the movement.
The Rally is a like church. Attend, get enthusiastic and leave enlightened.
The Rally goers are the boots on the ground for door to door and evangelical preaching for the Populist. They plant signs and ague the case for their candidate.
The Populist is the rock star. Think, grungy concert. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how you sound, as long as you are the focus on stage. People want to be part of something, someone.
There is a reason why the Populist does not want to share the stage with anyone. They need to be the focus. When the vote comes, they don’t want people to be confused about who is the rock star.
Have Rallies, be the Rock Star. Don’t divide the people’s attention by introducing too many protagonists. They will forget you, they will be confused.
It seems to go against humility to be the star of the show. To want to share the so called glory. Don’t. Populists have no trouble hoarding the lime light. The Rally is not a contest to see who is the most humble or quiet. It is a process of focus.
Name and face recognition will become one of the most important things in a political race. If they can put a face they love to a name adore. They will vote for you.
The best people for organising a Rally are not politicians or campaign strategists. They are those who manage rock stars and concerts. The people who know how to move and engage with a crowd.
Who are the powers that support from behind the scenes. Why are they there and what do they want.
Politicians — Jump on board the gravy train. They either want a position or endorsement. They want to influence peddle or be seen as part of the movement for their own reasons. A Populist cultivates these creatures to his own needs and lets them think they or tells them they are going to get something. He wont deliver, but that is not the point.
For an honest person they can be a detriment, especially if they have baggage. For the dishonest that is not a problem. It is only a problem for the honest person. The best bet is to vet every single politician that wants to get involved and better yet, no involvement is better. There is little need if the focus is on the Rock Star.
Journalists — Are useful but very dangerous. Their nasty fix is the big story, and big stories are not about humble, nice, quiet politicians. The Populist has a big advantage because they are more likely to provide a big scoop. Mr. Nice-guy/Lovely-gal will not be of much interest. The press is not the enemy of the people, it’s the ugly news junky of the people. They are the land mines of every word and action you will ever take. They are to the politician what the paparazzi is to the celebrity.
The best strategy with the press is to feed them at a distance with regularity and in sufficient detail as to acquiesce their appetite just enough.
Keep in mind the press talk plain folk language so whatever sophisticated way you put something will come out with plenty of twists and turns. Best strategy is plain simple english.
You provide facts with a spin (fiction) to get out a message. The result is unpredictable because what you provide may only be a small piece of the story.
It pay’s to know the journalists, what is their style and if they are working on a big story. Spoon feed them if they are dangerous. Not that you are doing anything wrong, but if they bias your message.
Fact: Meeting with dictator X. Fiction: It is supported by everybody. Message: I am a problem solver and not afraid to deal with X.
Story: Politician B thinks meeting with X will solve problems, but is only doing so to demonstrate he is not afraid. This is a waste of taxpayer money and will do nothing to change X.
Business, criminals etc.: Best leave them for the Populist, but keep track of who is who. There is always a price to pay for free help.
The new Populist once in power is a totally different beast to handle. More vulnerable, more predictably unpredictable and very dangerous. There has never been a good dictator who gained power through populism and kept it.
At this point the gloves are off. There is no safe way to deal with a dictator/authoritarian except to fight them where ever and however you can. The conflict will be and no amount of niceties will appease the dragon. They must be isolated and encircled by overwhelming forces.
One at a time. How to fight powerful enemies is to be more powerful, richer and smarter.
Leadership by example. Strong decisive and unapologetic in doing the right thing.
Avoid armed conflict but fight like hell commercially and technologically. Make sure military forces are far superior, well trained and willing to fight if need be.
Make sure commercial enterprises pay a hefty price for being disloyal to the American cause. Bar entry to those who defy and support those who adhere and follow the rules.
Marginalise any other politician that is sympathetic to the unjust and unkind and make a public example of their lack of fealty to the Constitution of The United States.
Start new programs to educate Americans about history and why nations fail. Reward educated people, but make it easy to be educated.
Create new incentives for Americans to be more fit better educated and less reliant on social media and games.
Support real science and elevate those who go the extra mile to be better.
The best way to put out a fire is to remove the oxygen. The fire is conspiracies and fear and the oxygen is the lack of a foundational real education. Education is not about computers and technology. It is about history, literature and knowledge about the world in terms of geography, nature and cultural differences between peoples.