The Strongman Era

How tough guys came to rule the world
Clockwise from top: Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Viktor Orban and Recep Tayyip Erdogan

IN RESPONSE TO THE SOCIAL UPHEAVALS OF the 1960s, Hollywood produced a series of highly popular “angry man” crime dramas in the 1970s. These are the stories of vigilantes and renegade cops, played by the likes of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, who push past weak-willed bureaucrats, corrupt politicos and political correctness to restore justice in violent times. These are men who never let law undermine order.

The U.S. is now emerging from another period of sweeping social change, economic anxiety, urban crime and pointless wars, which again has stoked demand for a tough-talking vigilante to pay weak-minded liberals a lesson. But this time, he isn’t a creation of Hollywood. He lives in the White House, and he’s playing his role with gusto.

This trend is not confined to the U.S. In every region of the world, changing times have boosted public demand for more muscular, assertive leadership. These tough-talking populists promise to protect “us” from “them.” Depending on who’s talking, “them” can mean the corrupt elite or the grasping poor; foreigners or members of racial, ethnic or religious minorities. Or disloyal politicians, bureaucrats, bankers or judges. Or lying reporters. Out of this

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