Featuring Ruth Ben-Ghiat on January 11, 2021

When President Trump incited his followers to storm the US Capitol on January 6, interrupting the certification of the election, it marked the first time since the Civil War that the transfer of power from one president to the next could not be called peaceful. And yet, the peaceful transfer of power is a principle at the heart of our democracy — one that countries around the world have tried to emulate. As the world watches, the core of American civic values are being threatened by our president. Some Americans have expressed shock at the insurrection, but historians who have studied autocrats, have been warning us about this type of violent threat to our democracy ever since Donald Trump entered the political arena. Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat has spent her career writing about the stealth strategies authoritarian leaders use to gain power. In her new book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, she outlines the “strongman playbook” used by authoritarian leaders including Donald Trump. She argues that the January 6 insurgency by far-right extremists, meant to facilitate Trump’s self-coup, lays bare just how much the 45th president has in common with dictators like Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin.

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