The dictator as heuristic: Trump, Zuma, and the hazards of comparison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay investigates the hazards of comparing Trump and Zuma, invoking “hazard” in its negative as well as potentially positive senses. Focusing on the recurrent association of Trump with (often former) strongmen of the erstwhile Third World–as in the Daily Show’s 2015 segment, “Donald Trump: America’s First African President”–I posit that the critical value of such characterizations is undercut by the assumptions they reveal about Africa and the Global South. But I do not entirely discard the critical utility of comparing Trump and Zuma. I argue instead for a comparison rooted in an understanding of “resonance” (as loose or fleeting similarity), which allows for significant difference, including the very different positions these two actors occupy in the global hierarchy of power. Ultimately, Trump and Zuma are best understood as heuristics for the other: figures of thought or learning aids that help in working through a particular problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-463
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'The dictator as heuristic: Trump, Zuma, and the hazards of comparison'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this