Trump’s Praise for Dictators Is Rooted in His Own Insecurity

The American president has something in common with the dictators he praises: insecurity.

Michel Temer Donald Trump
Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil and Donald Trump of the United States meet at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Donald Trump’s flattering comments about Kim Jong-un are shocking but not surprising. They are wholly in line with the American’s authoritarian personality.

In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, who reminded Trump of the appalling human-rights abuses in North Korea, the president praised the young tyrant as a “tough guy”.

When you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have — if you can do that at 27 years old… I mean, that’s one in 10,000 that could do that. So he is a very smart guy. He is a great negotiator.

Not the first time

The comments were especially jarring coming only days after Trump berated the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, for criticizing aluminum and steel tariffs and they call to mind similar comments Trump has made about Vladimir Putin.

In 2015, when MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough pointed out that critical journalists are killed in Russia, Trump replied: “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”

Two years later, when Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly pressed the point again, Trump’s reply was: “You think our country’s so innocent?”

Trump has similarly praised the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as “strong” leaders, but insulted democrats in Europe for being “weak”.


Being able to boss people around, and punish your opponents, is the bully’s idea of strength.

Dictators like Erdoğan, Kim and Putin aren’t strong. They jail and murder their opponents, and repress their own people, because they are deeply insecure. They have power but not legitimacy, without which regimes tend to fall.

Insecurity is what Trump shares with autocrats. It is why he continues to agitate against the “establishment” and an imaginary “deep state” despite being the most powerful man on the planet.

Boy from Queens

Matthew Yglesias of Vox has argued that the key to understanding Trump is that he was brought up in working-class Queens and tried to use his father’s money to join the Manhattan elite.

“It never worked out for him,” according to Yglesias, “basically because he has terrible taste.”

Trump’s gold-plated condo and other ostentatious ticks are considered horrifically gauche by his fellow Manhattanites.

Trump never understood this. He spent his entire life trying to get into an upper class that wanted nothing to do with him. The harder he tried, the more ridiculous he seemed to them.

That made Trump who he is. At 72 years old, he is not going to change.