The Republican Party, founded in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854, is dead. The “Grand Old Party” as it was known has become a full-blown cult of personality vanity organization beholden to only one person, Donald Trump. National presidential nominating conventions have historically featured the rolling out from convention platform committees the party plank addressing such issues as foreign policy, social security, defense spending, education, health care, the environment, and other factors. The virtual Republican convention this year issued no such plank, a first in recent memory. Instead, the Republican Party issued a statement in which it notified members that there would be no new plank until the 2024 convention. In the meantime, the Republican Party’s plank is whatever Trump says it is.
Nothing says autocratic dictator more than a so-called political party that is nothing more than a docile praise-generating artifice for the “dear leader,” in this case, not the Korean Workers Party of Kim Jong Un, but the Republican Party of Trump.
Trump may have turned the Republican Party into a cult of personality vehicle for his own ego, but with that comes some inherent dangers. The history of autocrats who have created their own political parties to emit an air of democratic legitimacy is not a good one, that is, for the despot.
In almost every case where a dictator has created a vanity party, the nation is either a one-party state—the dictator’s party being the only legal party—or it has permitted other smaller parties that only exist to support the dictator’s party.
In China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not the only legal party. The CCP is actually part of a larger coalition called the United Front, which consists of eight other parties that all support the CCP and its government. Today, Xi Jinping has established a cult of personality around himself that is so pronounced his critics call him “Emperor Xi.” The Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey has become a vanity party serving the egotistical needs of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In East Germany, the Communist Party, called the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), was a member of a larger alliance of smaller parties, all of which pledged loyalty to the Communist government. These smaller “rump” parties included the Christian Democratic Union, Liberal Democratic Party, Democratic Farmers’ Party, and National Democratic Party. The mirage of a multi-party system came crashing down in 1989, when the Communist government was overthrown. Until that time, the East German Communists governed by establishing cults of personality around their leaders, including Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker.
In other Eastern Bloc countries, similar cults of personality and vanity Communist parties were established around Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, Poland’s Władysław Gomułka, Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, Hungarian leader Janos Kadar, Czechoslovak boss Gusav Husak, Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov, and the most extreme of all, Enver Hoxha of Albania. In 1989, Ceausescu and his Romanian Communist Party were overthrown and Ceausescu and his wife were shot by a firing squad.
Today, similar cults of personality have been established around Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party and Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko, the latter governing with a Communist-style party alliance, Belaya Rus. Belaya Rus is totally beholden to Lukashenko and it includes the Liberal Democratic Party, Belarusian Patriotic Party, Agrarian Party, Communist Party, and Republican Party of Labor and Justice. All are fiercely loyal to Lukashenko, who rule is currently being besieged by mass protests throughout the country.
From 1964 to 1985, the Brazilian military dictatorship ruled in conjunction with a single legal political party, the National Renewal Alliance (ARENA), the policy of which was solely to support the military dictatorship. The Imperial Rule Assistance Association (Yokusan Seijikai) was the only political movement permitted in wartime Japan. The party existed to support the Emperor, the war effort, and the policies of the War Cabinet, including Hideki Tojo. The party was modeled on the National Socialist Party of Adolf Hitler in Germany and the National Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini in Italy and all of which became personality cult parties.
Other personality cults parties included the National Unity Party of the Haitian father-son dictators Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, the Rastakhiz Party of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, the National Rally of pro-Hitler Norwegian leader Vidkun Quisling (whose name has become synonymous with traitor), Hungarian Prime Minister Bela Imredy’s [right] pro-Nazi National Unity Party, the National Union of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, the Falange of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, the United National Workers’ Party of Equatorial Guinea President-for-Life Francisco Macia Nguema (the inspiration for the dictator in Frederick Forsyth’s “The Dogs of War”), the Arab Socialist Union of Libya of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the Grenada United Labor Party (GULP) of Prime Minister Eric Gairy, and the Popular Movement of the Revolution of Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.
There is a cautionary tale for leaders who surround themselves by personality cults and vanity political parties. Awfully many of them met their ends in front of firing squads or on the gallows, targets of assassins’ bullets, or overthrown in military coups.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).