So I am sitting here finishing up today’s Cinema Cycle and pondering the future. (I do this a lot). Freeway shootings, police-on-black violent and religious extremists make the future a bit fuzzy and unpredictable at this point.
Gas is cheap but it won’t stay that way. The Islamic State is only going to get worse before it gets better. Donald Trump continues to rise in the polls. As an amateur student of history, Mr. Trump has me wondering right now.
The Donald might actually be a good president, it is too early to tell. However, the real question is how do we define “good”.
The election is still over a year and half away as I write this so anything can happen. Past elections have always produced dark horse candidate that captured the public interest but soon faded from the political landscape (anyone remember Ross Perot or John Anderson?). But the Donald appears to have some legs and may be in this for the long haul.
As my wife and I have watch the nightly news and Sunday morning talk shows, we have been fascinated and interested in how the media is handling Mr. Trump and his high jinks. What I find most interesting in the broader context of history is how much Mr. Trump reminds me of past historical figures that have sought political power.
As I have watched the Donald, three historic figures keep springing to mind:
The first is Joseph Goebbels. If you don’t know who he was, he was an ardent Nazi and the head of Adolph Hitler’s propaganda department. But what he is really famous for is the refinement of propaganda and spin-doctoring in the media age. Goebbels understood that the media could be manipulated and in so doing the masses could be manipulated. Goebbels was famous for proclaiming that the Wehrmacht would crush the allies even as Patton was rolling his tanks across the Rhine and Germany lay in ruins. (Goebbels committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner at the end of the war, he had his wife and 3 daughters also commit suicide with him, now that is commitment.)
Similarly, The Donald proclaims that we will be ‘winning’ if he is elected. He believes that it is possible through force of will and by his cunning and business experience. Might be true, might not. Great leaders can turn a situation around. Is Trump a great leader? Doubtful, but history will be the judge.
The second similarity is Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy ran for President on the same platform as Mr. Trump and won (they were both Republicans). Ted was going to clean up government, reduce taxation and control the wealthy while making America great again. He spoke plainly to the American People and they loved it. He is remembered for many great accomplishments, but what stands out most to me was his “Big Stick” foreign policy approach. He took all 16 of the U.S. Navy Battleships, painted them white and then had the fleet circumnavigate the globe the let the rest of the planet know that America had ‘arrived’ on the world scene and was not to be trifled with. Sound familiar to Trump’s concept of foreign policy? Instead of the “Great White Fleet”, I can envision the “Great White Drone Armada” under Trump.
Finally, there is Mike Ditka. The famous football coach of the Chicago Bears. (You can substitute Vince Lombardi here as well or any other famous football coach.) Because that is how Trump rallies voters at campaign stops. He is a motivator and a coach telling the ‘team’ that we are going to win. The voters are loving this because it is the opposite of what political candidates have been doing for years. Most other candidates use Politico-Speak, which automatically turns almost all voters off. Trump ‘motivates’, the other candidates ‘explain’. In a time of crisis the populace does not want an explanation or a committee, they want a leader.
When seen from this view of history, Trump displays many of the same earmarks of these past figures.
They focused on:
- Dissatisfaction with the status-quo.
- Target minorities to focus public anger. (Mexicans / Chinese)
- A 'Winning' outlook (i.e. we are going to kick ass)
- A signature look (the hair, THE HAIR!)
In times such as these, voters often look to a dark horse that can turn the clock back and rebuild an empire. What the rest of the candidates offer is Neville Chamberlain. What the voters want is George Patton. What the voters don’t understand is that charismatic leaders that are placed in power can often become dictators. The reigns of dictators never end well and the voters that elected them always suffer.
I am neither for or against The Donald at this point. I am sitting back with my warm brandy and watching the saga unfold. It will be an interesting election year, I will be watching with a 50/50 split of excitement and fear.