"Trump vs. Putin, or the Dynamics of the Charismatic Imperative in the Twenty-First Century"
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russia stands at the center of the political conversation in the United States. The US-Russia relationship is personified in the outspoken and controversial figures of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, whose oversized personalities and eventful life stories positively beg for a paired biographical treatment in the tradition of Plutarch. The two men share a flamboyant style of leadership, a populist and nationalist orientation, and the promotion of a real or reimagined national past, even though their public careers, political skill sets, ideologies, and domestic contexts are very different: Straight Outta Queens meets Straight Outta Leningrad. As ruling charismatics cum global celebrities who have forged their own presidential brands, Trump and Putin are a thoroughly twenty-first-century phenomenon. Their political modus operandi may be conceptualized with reference to the three types of authority (Weber) and the five categories of charisma (Tempest). Charisma is not a collection of personality traits, and possesses no inherent ethical content, but rather is “the ability to influence without logic” (Quentin Crisp). Through this metaphorical lens the signs and signals of power are transmitted to the target audience, which is engaged, inspired, and induced to project its aspirations and expectations upon the body of the ruler. He sustains his charismatic appeal, which evokes the archetypes of myth, by means of emotive rhetoric, mobilizing actions, and public rituals of revalidation such as campaign rallies (Trump) and “Direct Line” TV press conferences (Putin). Hence the controlling function for Trump and Putin of the charismatic imperative, that is, the overriding need to maintain this essential connection to their publics, which is the driver of the actions undertaken by the two presidents in the political realm.