Anyone can ride a train, only a wise man knows when to get off. — Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)


In his book, "The True Believer," a classic on mass movements, Hoffer writes about the personality traits of figures like Lenin, Hitler and Mao. "Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality," he said, "seem to be neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable."


Then he added these requirements: … audacity and a joy in defiance … faith in his destiny and luck ... a capacity for passionate hatred … delight in symbols … disregard for consistency and fairness.


Anything above sound familiar?


Hoffer’s book was published in 1951. It was a turbulent time in America. Anti-Communist hysteria after the Maoist takeover in China made the country ripe for demagoguery. An obscure U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, stepped into the limelight. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Fast-forward to 2020. How would we recognize an authoritarian personality posing as a populist? Are there any telltale clues?


If Eric Hoffer were observing the political scene today, he’d most likely make up a whole new list of traits and behaviors manifested by a whacked-out wannabe dictator with 89 million Twitter followers, and it might look something like this:


1) Takes narcissism to level that is the stuff of legends.


2) Exhibits contempt for constraints, including the U.S. Constitution.


3) Displays disdain for traditions, norms and laws.


4) Spreads lies and provokes the most violent elements in society.


5) Raises the level of anger and deepens the divisions in society to a level just short of open incitement to violence.


6) Encourages white supremacists, neo-fascists, conspiracy pushers and QAnon.


7) Gives credence to disinformation in social media and helps it go viral.


8) Vilifies the opposition and belittles his critics.


9) Calls the mainstream news media "the true enemy of the people."


10) Fires staff members who don’t meet his expectations for abject loyalty.


11) Loses an election but refuses to concede defeat.


12) Uses the power of his high office to destabilize the government and undermine national security.


13) Is associated with dark rumors of a planned coup attempt.


14) Does not spike such rumors.


15) Shows no compassion for children and separates babies from parents at our southern border.


16) Refuses to wear a mask and discredits medical science in a public health crisis.


The most dangerous man in America is not a deep-cover agent or terrorist or mass murderer. Instead, he is a former reality TV star famous for saying "You’re fired!" The rest of the world has known it all along. How is it possible that more than 47% all Americans who voted in the 2020 presidential election had still not figured it out?


If you got on the train by mistake believing it was going in the right direction, that’s OK — to err is human. But the country is heading for a train wreck. People really need to get off. Now. Before it’s too late.


Thomas Magstadt, of Westwood Hills, is a writer and educator.