On the 16th of June in 2015, Donald J. Trump, a realtor and reality television icon, descended an escalator in his namesake Trump Tower in Manhattan to announce his now-infamous presidential run for the following year. This was not your ordinary presidential run, however—this was a carefully-planned series of events which had been months in the making. It came as a result of news from NBC’s headquarters, with salary reports for the year showing that Trump was to be paid significantly less for starring on The Apprentice than singer-songwriter Gwen Stefani would for The Voice, best known for her hit ‘Hollaback Girl’.
He had paid hundreds of extras to pose as ecstatic, manic-driven supporters in Trump Tower, with attendees earning $50 each for their efforts, in order to prove his sheer popularity to NBC versus his competitor in hopes that he would receive an improved salary. The announcement was met with much ridicule and criticism, with many citing the campaign as ‘quixotic‘. As he took the podium at his first rally, he proclaimed that “the American dream is dead.” In an ideal world, he would be the one to resuscitate it and give it new life. The statement had sent shockwaves throughout the U.S.—had the American people been too blind sighted by their patriotism to notice that no-one respected them as a superpower anymore?
His speech involved various allegations against minorities, which led to NBC sacking him of a job the very next day. His plan had backfired, but his sons ushered him to attend to his next two rallies he had scheduled. He reluctantly agreed. Mass hysteria was generated around the rallies and hundreds were in attendance to witness the future of America. Upon seeing the crowds he could pull in, Trump decided to see the election campaign out, without any real hopes in place beyond the plan to host the actual announcement.
The following year encompassed one of the scariest political campaigns in American history. He received unprecedented media coverage of his rallies and a multitude of followers on his Twitter account, a medium he used as his primary source of communication with the public, unfiltered and without the threat of being censored by the “fake news media.”
With fearmongering, blatant racism, and a call to ‘appeal to the working class’ under his belt, Trump’s election efforts resulted in a upset win for many across the States. The fact that Trump was a complete newcomer to politics in the U.S. spoke volumes of the public’s frustration with their previous leadership. Many figure that businessfolk, across the world, are more capable of running a country than their counterparts—by running their country like a business. Or, in Trump’s case, like his businesses. The dedication which Trump had to spare for his campaigns was very little—thus is the case for superstars entering the political space. They must do very little, as their social media supporters rampage every corner of the internet looking to spread their idol’s name in order to guarantee their market share increase. Their losses do not matter, as they can simply be boiled down to a infestation on the person in question by the fake news. They are superstars who are untouchable.
A similar story of superstars entering politics can be found in Pakistan.
Imran Khan was already a renowned figure in Pakistan, best known for his efforts in having led the country’s cricket team to win the World Cup in 1992. He portrayed a flamboyant lifestyle in his day-to-day activities, being regularly photographed with celebrities and royalty from all over the globe. A close confidante of Princess Diana, Khan was a household name everywhere.
This mass-popularity led Khan to establish a new political party, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf, or Movement for Justice, in April of 1996 in Pakistan. He launched this as a centrist response to the dual-party system which had ruled the country for years. A hardline nationalist party with promises to develop the nation into a welfare state, the P.T.I. repeatedly failed to win the popular vote for years. By promoting a non-dynastic approach to running the country (as compared to the Sharif clan’s PML(N) and the Bhutto family’s PPP), the party began to earn a share of votes in general elections on the back of Khan’s star, populist image.
An appeal to the working class is not, necessarily, a bad thing. Populist politicians have existed for centuries, claiming to harness the rare ability to pick up the pieces from where their predecessors left off and develop those pieces into a utopia. In 2010, American linguist Ben Zimmer wrote for The New York Times: “When politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself, we’re living in a world of optics.” Mr Khan has been a curator of his optics since the inception of his fame. This is no secret—in 1982, he agreed to a photoshoot for a London newspaper in which he wore only a pair of briefs. The journalist who interviewed him expressed his confusion after the incident, “Imran Khan is worried in case I portray him as a sex symbol … This is possibly why Imran is stretched across his hotel bed wearing only a petulant expression and a pair of tiny, black satin shorts.”
Like Trump, Khan was a staple in his heyday of the various clubs and parties which were hosted around their localities. In New York, Trump was a staple of nightlife. In London, they had Khan. Both individuals, nonetheless, hold conservative views on the role of women in a modern society. Trump, although a figure who has been very proud of his playboy past and has even featured on the cover of Playboy, is not particularly a voice for women’s rights. He regularly degrades women on their appearance and character, expecting them to act as hyper-feminised versions of themselves. The same goes for Khan: the Prime Minister’s recent comments on women’s clothing have sparked protests by all in Pakistan, particularly for exclaiming that men are not “robots” in response to his remarks on victim blaming victims of rape in the country. When asked about this hypocrisy—especially when one brings up the Prime Minister’s womaniser past—he brushed the comments off; “this isn’t about me.”
Authoritarian rule, ruled out by many to simply be an antique of a country’s dark past, holds an exceedingly pre-eminent hand even over today’s supposedly egalitarian society. Most authoritarians can be categorised by their stark opinions as to the power a leader holds. They believe that the person at the top should be fierce, and opposed to their own country’s judicial and congressional systems. They support a limited press, as they believe that free, unbiased media is a challenger to their free rein. Any movement in opposition is an enemy of the people, and their right to challenge the establishment is one which should be able to be revoked at any time by the leader. This troubled pattern of thinking plagued American society throughout the presidency of Donald J. Trump—and it has since reflected to Pakistani society. Taking a page out of Trump’s book, Mr Khan’s government is no stranger to carrying out the actions needed to classify a country as being held hostage by authoritarian government.
Both gentlemen have been marred by paparazzi their entire adult lives. Being bombarded by constant media attention is pleasant to some, and extremely invasive to most. Trump has been a major opposer to the media as it exists. He regularly dubbed news channels which criticised him as “fake news … with even poorer ratings.” The same form of conduct can be found within the Khan cabinet. Fawad Chaudhry is the current Minister for Information and Broadcasting in Pakistan, oft spending his days tweeting articles in favour of the Prime Minister (which is, not surprisingly, very similar to the duties afforded to what the Director of Communications and Director of Social Media, Dan Scavino, would carry out during the Trump administration) while spending the rest of his time cutting off the availability of cable news channels to centi-millions in the country. Barely 41% of Pakistanis have access to the internet—about 89 million people—which means that the only outlet most people have to turn to in order to receive the latest news coverage for the country they live in is through satellite television and radio. Anyone who dares to speak against the country’s leadership is an instant traitor. Recently, on an interview with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, Chaudhry claimed that he did not consider Talat Hussain, one of Pakistan’s most notable anti-establishment journalists, a journalist at all because he did not “see him on television,”—eerily similar behaviour to what Trump’s reactionary ‘ratings’ argument.
Both Trump and Khan are sticklers for military power. The Pakistani army is the 10th most powerful in the world. For jingoistic individuals, a strong army is a symbol of national pride. Both Trump and Khan realise this, and have based most of their political campaigns on promising to dedicate as many funds as possible to strengthen their respective armies even further. In fact, many claim Khan won the 2018 general election on the back of military rule, a theory perpetuated by many news organisations globally, even going as far as being advocated for by former First Lady Hillary Clinton. It is therefore not out of the limits to question the legitimacy of the election altogether, with Khan holding extremely close ties to both the chief of the ISI, the country’s intelligence operation, as well as the country’s military chief, more so than any previous leader had.
Trump’s presidency was notable for the amount of misinformation which had been spread throughout his tenure. Consistently contradicting himself, many news organisations throughout the U.S. had to adapt to these circumstances and develop ‘fact checkers’ in order to establish whether the President was telling the truth, or conjuring up some sort of falsification of the events he was recalling. In Pakistan, Khan receives the same treatment for his consistently changing narrative of events.
Volatile social media usage has been a keystone factor in the sheer popularity of both men’s political careers. Their raving tweets, which are almost instantly then shown on national television so political pundits can begin to dissect their words, is their preferred medium of communication with their followers. Like Trump, Imran Khan posts all his tweets himself; a fact which therefore allows for the illusion of the population having access to a seemingly direct approach to contact the country’s leadership without the fear of having their words twisted.
At the end of Trump’s presidential career, he turned from being a voice of reason for Middle America to becoming a power-trip driven individual whose actions, both before and after the announcement of the election results, was embarrassing to witness. After losing the 2020 election, he made inane claims against his opposition and repeatedly challenged the official election results; the people who had been around him since his 2015 campaign began to distance themselves from him. If one is to take a lesson from this, it will be interesting to see how the 2022 campaign for Khan’s re-election will play out.
In all, these two men are not so different from one-another. But what does Mr Khan himself think about this comparison?
“Compare me to Bernie Sanders, instead,” he says. “I’m the opposite of Trump.”