Macho men have throughout history dominated societies—kings, warlords, military leaders and assorted demagogues. Despite the advance of democracy in the past few centuries, modern societies still have their share. Three good examples today, presidents all, are Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. These men all subscribe to a “manly” society in which women seem an afterthought.

Putin is notorious for taking off his shirt for stagy photo-ops of riding a horse or wrestling a bear. He has a powerful dislike of gay people, a prejudice reinforced by his spiritual buddy Moscow Patriarch Kirill I. Putin’s kind of guy is President Bolsonaro who he flattered at a summit meeting with the kind words, “You have demonstrated that you have the best masculine qualities, such as courage and great willpower.”

Bolsonaro’s “best masculine qualities” include misogyny, homophobia, racism and his admiration for military dictatorships, including their use of torture and the execution of dissidents. And, perhaps his greatest failing, his admiration of Donald Trump.

Xi Jinping, like Putin, wants Chinese men to be more “manly.” His government has been fighting what it called a “masculinity crisis,” warning that “effeminate” men in popular culture were corrupting this generation. Television regulators have banned “sissy men and other abnormal aesthetics” from appearing on TV. Apparently Xi is particularly offended by boy bands, which just happen to be popular among his country’s youth.

Why do macho men like this trio so often rise to positions of leadership? To begin with, they are hyper-aggressive, often ruthlessly so. And not infrequently they are psychopathic, which releases them from the need to consider the harm they do to others. Putin, for example, pursues his goal of restoring Russia to its imperial glory without having to fret about how many Ukrainians—or Russians—have to be sacrificed to his vision.

But we cannot blame their rise entirely on them. The masses are often awed by the aura of power that surrounds strongmen. They see them as literally strong men, men who will get things done and protect their people. People will sacrifice a lot to feel secure. Unfortunately they often pay dearly for their security, tragically illustrating over and over again, that we do indeed get the leadership we deserve.

The passion for strong leaders regardless of their moral compass has been devastating to generations of people. Today, following in the footsteps of Hitler and his need for lebensraum, Putin brings catastrophe both to his own people and others. Yet, despite his known proclivities for theft and murder, he has been highly popular among the Russian people.

I have focussed on three of these men. There are many others around the globe: Recep Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, and so on. I find it depressing just listing their names.

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