Letters to a Dictator: How to redefine the image of a ‘good leader’

A deadly smallpox virus known as “The Red” has swept the world and wiped out a significant portion of the population. Society as we knew it crumbled, but from its ashes new city states and even small nations began to arise. Some in the North American areas attempted to resurrect the old ways and rebuild a democracy in the new world; others sought control, security, and power at any cost.

The Singular State of Liberty (SSL) thrived off of control. Off of subservience and a strict class system. They prized power over all else.

The following is a series of letters sent approximately 50 years after “The Red.” Former Minister of Propaganda (ret.) Silas Kent seeks to mentor the newly inducted dictator of the SSL, Representative Rufus Conway…

~ ~ ~ ~

Representative Conway,

Forgive me if I should be so blunt, but your current Minister of Propaganda has yet again let you down. He is publishing video and printed content that all have vastly contradicting messages. He’s making you sound benevolent toward your enemies in one statement and trying to sound tough in the next!

I’d fire (or hang) the young minister for his inability to push a little simple propaganda. Today’s youth should not be entrusted with such tasks; even if they have their “finger on the pulse” of society, they know nothing of planning extended propaganda campaigns that will last for decades.

You need a plan when presenting an image to the people. This is a marketing job as much as anything else, and you have to market yourself successfully if you hope to retain order and peace within the Singular State of Liberty. Unfortunately, we live in the information age — you cannot just write yourself off as a deity and call it a day. You tout yourself a god one day, and people will find a video of you coughing or stumbling the next and the gig will be up.

So how do you present yourself?

Imagine that the people have a painting in mind, an artistic masterpiece depicting their ideal leader. This person probably resembles some heroic figure straight out of the novels or films written before the Red — some idealistic soldier-servant who would foolishly jump on a grenade for them or kiss their feet as he fights off legions of evil. For some reason, people tend to default to a desire for this “knight in shining armor” if their daily ingest of information is not properly handled.

Now, there is another painting — the image people have in their heads of you, their Representative and ultimate leader. No one in the upper echelons of the Singular State of Liberty, yourself included, resembles the idealistic painting of the peoples’ knight in shining armor, nor should they. Our qualities are more useful, like tenacity, ambition, and the guts to do what is necessary and excel. These are the only qualities that allow us to get our hands dirty and keep the people safe from themselves.

So how do we justify these two starkly contrasting images? Do you try and pretend like you’re this knight in shining armor? Is it possible to look like their hero while simultaneously carrying out necessary evils? Do you simply ignore their desire for a heroic, empathetic leader and rule with an iron fist?

Well, it’s a bit of both. But let’s take the painting metaphor a bit further.

Every piece of information you offer the people is like a brush stroke, each stroke comprising a portion of the entire picture. If you put out a statement discussing a series of executions, it will color the peoples’ opinion of you, one way or another.

Though the people have an idea of what they think the overall picture ought to look like, they don’t usually sit down and think about the brush strokes that comprise the picture.

The first step is to get them to focused on your individual brush strokes. You want them honed in on soundbites, short clips of video, or anything else easily recyclable. If their ideal painting of a leader involves a lot of blue, paint a slightly off-color blue — they will accept it if it looks like it’s headed toward the accurate, larger painting. So, you color with similar paints, dabbing in off-greens and off-blues, instead of true greens and true blues. They won’t notice that you’re painting another picture entirely.

You can stoically lament the death of an enemy, visit wounded soldiers, express grave hesitation at the declaration of war, and give out recycled platitudes that make them cheer and cry out for joy — they will be so intently focused on these individual brush strokes that they forget what they thought a hero was made of in the first place. They might forgive a bit of off-color behavior, like trading with morally devoid folks in the southeast, or the hanging you just ordered (with “grave sorrow,” of course), all because they’re focused on these individual brush strokes.

Of course, if you are supposed to be painting blue and you start painting red, they will notice. If they have an idea of an empathetic leader and you laugh as you execute your enemies, they will notice — this is common knowledge, on some level.

The final step is to get them back to looking at the bigger picture, but by now we’ve convinced them that you were the true image of a hero all along. They have bought each and every brush stroke, so how could they not buy the entire painting? The staggering majority of people, in my experience, do not have the balls to admit that this new painting is not, in fact, the same as the old one they have imagined. If you are successful enough in this regard, they will look at that old knight in shining armor and they’ll scoff at him, because he looks nothing like you.


Silas Kent

~ ~ ~ ~

Read letter one here.
Letter two here.
Letter three here.
Letter four here.
Letter five here.

If you like this series, check out my book The First Marauder here on Amazon. It’s set in the same universe!

Featured image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

“The staggering majority of people, in my experience, do not have the balls to admit that this new painting is not, in fact, the same as the old one they have imagined.”


2 years ago
Reply to  Luke Ryan

Cool! I say “Yikes!!” only because the snarky, cynical old guy is correct (but morally deficient) in many regards. 🙂

2 years ago

Always food for thought, these letters. As intended. 🙂 I’ve been slowly working my way through a book, “Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t.” Some of it is familiar due to my own interactions, but a surprising amount of information in there has been eye opening, particularly the way Congress has changed over time….in large part due to precisely this problem: “Unfortunately, we live in the information age — you cannot just write yourself off as a deity and call it a day. You tout yourself a god one day, and people will find… Read more »

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
%d bloggers like this: