Trump and Ahmadinejad: The Delusional Duo

by Jim Lobe

It was almost a year ago that Shervin Malekzadeh published a brief but incisive essay—which we republished immediately after the November 8 election—on the striking parallels between then-candidate Donald Trump and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Among other similarities, he noted:

As populists gifted with a preternatural ability to understand their country’s low mood, Trump and Ahmadinejad possess the authenticity of the non-politician and newcomer who says what he means. One is a brash businessman from the outer boroughs and the other a blacksmith’s son, but they both give voice to those who feel like they have no say. They are impervious to good manners or the pieties of good politics, their rhetoric is corrosive to the prospect of civil discourse, and they represent permanent thorns in the sides of their respective political establishments. And both men have nonetheless forced their societies to reckon with truths long unspoken, a necessary precursor to the improvement of the polity. In their reckless, emperor-has-no-clothes style of politics, Trump and Ahmadinejad demonstrate why it is necessary to destroy taboos as a salutary act, even as they remind us of why we need taboos in the first place.

One week into the Trump presidency, the thrust of Malekzadeh’s essay seems very much confirmed. The belligerent, “America-First” surliness of the new president is well on the way to isolating the United States from the rest of the world, beginning with Mexico, much as Ahmadinejad’s gratuitous provocations, such as Holocaust denial, succeeded in isolating Iran, even from those countries that were open to establishing better ties. Similarly, both presidents may rely heavily for their policies and ideas on rather mysterious, nationalistic, and possibly sinister grey eminences determined to take on their respective ruling “establishments.” In Ahmadinejad’s case, it was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei; in Trump’s, Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon.

But in the last week, other, almost uncanny similarities have materialized in the realm of psychology cognition and possibly religious experience.

Trump, for instance, seemed sincerely convinced about the size of his followership and how they and perhaps even the cosmos respond to him. At CIA headquarters the day after his inauguration, he famously went on and on about what he still sees as the historic and almost supernatural nature of the event:

I looked out, the field was—it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well.  I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech.

In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops.  And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured. But, you know, we have something that’s amazing because we had—it looked—honestly, it looked like a million and a half people.

Those remarks couldn’t help but recall those of the former Iranian president. According to an account based on a transcript and video recording originally published by the Iranian site, Ahmadinejad made the following comments in a meeting with a leading cleric about his first address as president to the UN General Assembly in September, 2005.

[Someone present at the speech] said when you [Ahmadinejad] began with the words ‘in the name of God,’ I saw that you became surrounded by a light until the end [of the speech]. I felt it myself, too. I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there, and for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink.

I am not exaggerating when I say they did not blink; it’s not an exaggeration, because I was looking. They were astonished as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic.

That passage, in turn, recalled Trump’s interview on ABC broadcast Thursday in which David Muir asked him about his remarks about the Inaugural at CIA headquarters. His reply:

That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox, OK, I’ll mention you—we see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming and—and they were all CIA. There was—somebody was asking Sean—”Well, were they Trump people that were put–” we don’t have Trump people. They were CIA people.

That location was given to me. Mike Pence went up before me, paid great homage to the wall. I then went up, paid great homage to the wall. I then spoke to the crowd. I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time. What you do is take—take out your tape—you probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it.

According to the videotape of Ahmadinejad’s remarks, Ayatollah Amoli reminded the Iranian leader that the duties of officials of the Islamic Republic included, above all, “carrying out promises and restraining from fooling people.[Emphasis added]” Although it wasn’t clear whether he was responding specifically to Ahmadinejad’s claims about the effect of his UN speech, the advice seems to resonate today.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Ahmadinejad’s statements should be considered in the cultural context, of lay piety that is not comparable to anything found in the US. These sorts of appeals to higher powers are just poetic license in Iranian culture, not meant to be taken literally. If anything Ahmadinejad — who was not a cleric but a technocrat — was a progressive, opposed to morals crackdowns and even favored allowing women to attend football stadiums and was reported smacked by a cleric for those views. He also repeated Iran’s offers to cease higher enrichment levels, and was criticized by Mousavi for being too soft in the nuclear negotiations.

  2. I always wondered how a country like Iran would end up with Ahmadinejad for president, Now, I’m wondering how can a culturally rich, diverse and well educated nation like the US pick Trump? In the first week he’s been in office, he has turned Mexico into a foe and irreparably damaged the US image abroad. Many don’t know what to make of this person… Ahmadinejad, managed to ruin Iran, Trump will ruin the whole blo_dy world.

  3. Ahmadinejad went up against the system as Trump wants to do, that doesn’t mean it is going to be pretty, fair or successful but they were/are both supported also by secular liberals who had just had it with the system but specially the Democrats/Reformists who were supposed to represent them but instead got the shafted by them. The average Joe has been suffocating at the hands of elitist like Obama, Bush and Clinton. Opposing Ahmadinejad was Rafsanjani and his reformist stooges. It’s quite simple but the Democrats and Reformists are still keeping their head in the sand. The minute it was obvious AN was going to expose some top corrupt officials with hands in the security service he was shunned and the wrap to destroy him started at home and abroad sometimes in coordination. This is what is in the works for Trump by system cronies on both sides in US. They will turn everything he does into a big deal and are going after him hard. These are the corrupt elite who don’t want somebody from outside billionaire or not. Trumps method is going to be raw because he is not a seasoned politician. As for the people the media is doing its best to turn everything against Trump. The Muslim countries on the list were put there by Obama administration but they are making it Trumps fault. Obama destroyed two counties after Bush, Syria and Libya and devastated millions but there were no demonstrations by anyone. People voted Trump because of this type of double standard and complete political partisanship. Keep it up! Ahmadinejad was president Two terms and so will Trump.

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