The PREVAIL podcast is on hiatus until next week. In the meantime, I will re-run notable episodes.
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Usually when the 80-year-old gaffe machine goes off script during a live speech televised to hundreds of millions of people around the world, disaster ensues. Not so Tuesday, when Joe Biden, turning on the classless fascist hecklers at the State of the Union, took the opportunity to not only call out GOP hypocrisy regarding cuts to Social Security and Medicare, but basically made the Republicans promise not to touch the programs at all. Dark Brandon FTW!
REPLAY: STRONGMEN: DEMOCRACY UNDER ATTACK (with RUTH BEN-GHIAT)
Fascism is on the rise in the United States. I talked to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history, expert on authoritarianism, author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, and writer of Lucid, one of the best Substacks going, about Mussolini & Hitler, Putin & Trump, and the dictator’s “tools of rule.”
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote when the episode originally aired 13 months ago:
In her book Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, the historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat identifies five key “tools of rule” employed by dictators of the last century.
The first is what she calls “A Greater Nation:” the strongman vows to restore his country to its proper place in the global hierarchy. Thus Putin seeks to bring back the Soviet Union (if not the Russian Empire of the tsars), Berlusconi conjures up memories of ancient Rome, and Trump—who never grew as powerful as Pinochet or Mussolini but was absolutely a strongman—promises to Make America Great Again. Three of the other “tools of rule” are obvious: propaganda, corruption, violence. The fifth, by contrast, is not something much seen in scholarly work on dictators. Ben-Ghiat calls it “virility.”
“The strongman would be nothing without bodies to control,” Ben-Ghiat writes. “He needs crowds to acclaim his projects of national greatness on camera, taxpayers to fund his follies and his private bank accounts, soldiers to fight his wars, and mothers to birth all of the above. The systems Mussolini and other leaders created to procure bodies for sexual pleasure may be seen in this context. Far from being a private affair, the sex life of the strongman reveals how corruption, propaganda, violence, and virility work together and how personalist rulers use state resources to fulfill their desires.”
Strongmen present—or try to present—as what Trump’s acolytes would call “alpha males.” They don’t let women push them around or hen-peck them. Instead, they “grab ’em by the pussy.” Heck, if you’re a dictator, they just let you do it.
Many strongmen boast of their virile powers. Bare-chested photographs advertise the fitness and potency of Mussolini and Putin. Gaddafi, Berlusconi, and Trump vaunt control of desirable women . . . . Some broadcast their sexual stamina. “I can love four women at the same time,” says Duterte; “If I sleep for three hours, I have the energy to make love for three hours after that,” claims Berlusconi.
Far from being seen as tacky, outrageous, pathetic, or just plain gross, this disgusting behavior is part of the strongman’s appeal. Fawning men envy him—who wouldn’t want to cavort with Miss Universe contestants, or get with Stormy Daniels? Trump does what they can only dream of. He’s living their best life. “The appeal of these leaders for many,” Ben-Ghiat writes, “rests on their having the power to get away with things that ordinary men cannot, whether in the bedroom or in politics.”
What was a main reason voters went for Trump in 2016? They liked that he said whatever he wanted. He was a living middle finger to political correctness, a fuck-you to the woke mob. The Access Hollywood tape didn’t end his campaign, I’d argue, because it was both an extreme example of him saying whatever he wanted and a bedroom boast. A lot of dudes liked what he said to Billy Bush. Here was a guy who had four dozen sexual assault or rape claims against him, and kept right on going. Red Pill misogynists eat up that kind of thing.
Virility is an essential component of the strongman’s toolbox—but not one much written about by historians. Strongmen, Ben-Ghiat told me on today’s PREVAIL podcast, “is the first book to take masculinity and body politics seriously, and place them up there with propaganda, corruption, and violence as tools of rule. Nobody else has done this before.”
THE FIVE 8: SEASON 3 PREMIERE
Stephanie Koff and I are back tonight for Season 3 of The Five 8. After a week away—I was in Berlin; see photo at top of the page—there is much to break down. Please join us at 8pm EST.
If you’d like to support The Five 8, you can become a member, for as little as $1.99 a month. You can also subscribe, which is absolutely free and would help us out a lot. Just go to the page and click the SUBSCRIBE button.
RECOMMENDED READING & VIEWING
My friend and fellow fascism fighter Heidi Cuda, host of the Radicalized podcast and author of the “Bette Dangerous” column on Substack, has a (steamy) new book out called Fox Undercover, a semiautobiographical novel about her years as a TV producer at Fox 11. I burned through this last week on the flight to Berlin. Here is my blurb:
If Raymond Chandler was a punk rock chick moonlighting as a TV news producer who maintained four passionate lover affairs to supplement a stressful work life—and he wrote a steamier-than-a-hot-shower roman à clef about the experience—you’d get FOX UNDERCOVER, the delightful new novel by Heidi Siegmund Cuda. I’d say it’s The Big Sleep 2.0, except that, despite the many bedroom scenes, there’s not much sleep happening. Part erotic memoir, part workplace drama, part commentary on media and culture, part coming-of-middle-age story, FOX UNDERCOVER is full-on fun.
You can pick up the e-book here.
Not only that, but my friend Aja Raden, who has been a guest on both The Five 8 and the PREVAIL podcast, has some content dropping this very day on a wee little outlet called Showtime. “Nothing Lasts Forever”—love that title!—is an expose about the secret world of the diamond industry. She’s one of the experts interviewed in the doc. I can’t wait to watch this!
The PREVAIL podcast returns next Friday. I’ve already recorded three interviews for the new season. I can’t wait to share them with you.
Enjoy the weekend!
Photo credit: Me, at a bar in Berlin.
Thanks, Greg. Have fun in Berlin!
As Randy Rainbow described Trump:
A very stable genie-ass
With a very tiny peni-ass.
Viel Spaß in Berlin.