Stalin, Trump, and the cult of personality

Великий Сталин — знамя дружбы народов СССР!

Great Stalin - banner of friendship of the peoples of the Soviet Union!

After reading about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Number 1 fan”, Gene Huber, I was struck by the similarities between the adoration of Trump and that of Soviet leader, Josef Stalin. Throughout his tenure as General Secretary of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union, a cult of personality developed around Stalin. He was often called Великий Сталин (Great Stalin.) Propaganda posters depicted Stalin as a benevolent steward of the needs of the people.

A following similar to that of Stalin is emerging in the U.S. Gene Huber, a used car salesman from Florida left his business to promote Trump full-time. According to reports, Mr. Huber has a life-size cutout of Trump in his home and each day salutes the image and utters his adorations.^[Huber is reported to speak encouraging words to the Trump cutout: “Good morning, Mr. President. I pray for your safety today. I thank you for what you do and let’s have a great day. Thank you, sir."]

The similarities between Trump’s cult of personality and that of Stalin could not be more striking. But history points out a difference. Stalin had a complex and possibly conflicted view of the cult surrounding him. Privately he could be quite self-deprecating. Openly, too, he wrote that the cult of adoration was inconsistent with Marxist ideals. Trump’s need for adoration, on the other hand, knows no bounds. His non-stop campaign-style rallies, held long after his election represent little more than opportunities to solicit the adoration that his cult willingly offers.

Ultimately, Krushchev came to denounce the cult of personality on Stalin’s death. But the process of de-Stalinization required considerable efforts on the part of Party leadership. How much will it take to undo Trump’s hold over his cultish following?