Trump l’oeil: the atrium of Trump Towers.

Sultanism. It’s a good descriptor for what’s passing for government these days here in in good ol’ uStates.

Alfred Stepan and the late Juan J. Linz of Columbia University argued that sultanism is both a regime type (like democracy and authoritarianism) and an adjective describing a style of personal rule that is possible under all regime types, including democracy. They wrote:

“The essence of sultanism is unrestrained personal rulership … unconstrained by ideology, rational-legal norms, or any balance of power.”
Sultanism, in other words, is most common under authoritarian and autocratic rule, but it can also be present in democracies, when leaders personalize decision-making instead of following established institutional or legal processes.


Most modern American presidents have risen through the institutions of U.S. democracy – state political parties, Capitol Hill, the military. They have been vetted and embedded in institutional rules, attitudes and relationships. Someone like Trump, coming in “from the cold,” in contrast, brings his family and close associates and makes decisions outside of those formal and informal institutions.

Having masterminded his unexpected victory based on an unconventional campaign, Trump has already shown a tendency to trust his instincts on major decisions of governance, creating impulsive, unpredictable decisions. His past record as CEO and his outsider status make Trump self-reliant and assured that most of the world is misguided and only he and his few trusted advisers, including his family, have the answers.


The U.S. presidency has always been prone to sultantistic tendencies, but under a Trump presidency what were once isolated incidents have predictably become a way of governing. When the closest advisers, both institutional (like Ivanka and Kushner) and informal (in the case of his two adult sons), are dominated by family members, the decision-making process will not only be erratic and possibly influenced by private family interests but also tend to ignore legal procedures that have also met the test of time.

Instead of a “team of rivals” under the rule of law, the Trump presidency may be akin to medieval monarchy, with decisions made by court politics, not legal procedures.

Very interesting reading over at The Conversation.


  1. says

    I remember once seeing a led-sledded mark 2 Ford Zodiac with four-foot high fins, painted day-glo orange with a top coat of multi-coloured metal-flake in clear lacquer. After seeing the photo above, I now realise that that car was not the most tasteless thing I will ever see in my life.

    Sorry, I know the picture’s actually the least important part of the post, but Jebus H Christ!

  2. says

    Why not use the ‘traditional’ term: “Plutocracy”?

    I’m a big fan of language, but coming up with new names for the same stuff just gives us: more names for the same stuff.

  3. says


    Sorry, I know the picture’s actually the least important part of the post, but Jebus H Christ!

    Oh, it’s important. I chose that deliberately, because it defines Trump: cheap, crass, showy, gold-plated crap. It’s his idea of Sultanistic.

  4. says

    Marcus, this isn’t a new name. It’s been around for quite a long time. It’s one people may not be familiar with, however, and I think as far as names go, it’s more accessible, as a concept, than plutocracy, especially when you’re dealing with Trump, who would certainly match the definition of Sultan well enough.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    I find the present US regime also a paragon of insultanism, and much of the world agrees with me.

  6. bobmunck says

    My apologies for the Trump l’oeil comment publishing twice. Hope this one doesn’t.

    Btw, the dialogue between Honey and J.J. makes no sense, as they had been roommates in college some ten years earlier.

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