Monday, January 9, 2017

"He is Never in Error"

Could this description of a certain authoritarian leader be any more spot on?
As a child, a young man, praised for the sweetness of his nature and his golden looks, [he] grew up believing that all the world was his friend and everybody wanted him to be happy. So any pain, any delay, frustration or stroke of ill-luck seems to him an anomaly, an outrage. Any activity he finds weary or displeasant, he will try honestly to turn into an amusement, and if he cannot find some thread of pleasure he will avoid it; this to him seems reasonable and natural.

He has [advisors] employed to fry their brains on his behalf, and if he is out of temper it is probably their fault; they shouldn't block him or provoke him. He doesn't want people who say 'No, but...' He wants people who say 'Yes, and...' He doesn’t like men who are pessimistic and sceptical, who turn down their mouths and cost out his brilliant projects with a scribble in the margin of their papers. So do the sums in your head where no one can see them.

Do not expect consistency from him. [He] prides himself on understanding his [advisors], their secret opinions and desires, but he is resolved that none of his [advisors] shall understand him. He is suspicious of any plan that doesn't originate within himself, or seem to. You can argue with him, but you must be careful how and when. You are better to give way on every possible point until the vital point, and to pose yourself as one in need of guidance and instruction, rather than to maintain a fixed opinion from the start and let him think you believe you know better than he does. Be sinuous in argument and allow him escapes: don't corner him, don't back him against the wall.

Remember that his mood depends on other people, so consider who has been with him since you were with him last. Remember he wants more than to be advised of his power, he wants to be told he is right. He is never in error. It is only that other people commit errors on his behalf or deceive him with false information. [He] wants to be told that he is behaving well.
If you thought this description is from an observer's biography of President-elect Donald J. Trump, you'd be wrong.

It's from Hilary Mantel's fictional history of the England of Henry VIII. It's a description of Henry as seen by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel's novel was published in 2012 but as recent events have shown, it's timeless. Henry VIII, of course, lived in the 1500s, a distant mirror to our own age. The similarities between Henry the Eighth and Donald the First are stunning. The more things change, the more they stay the same. (h/t J)

I reviewed "Bring Up the Bodies" in 2012.

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